wiry dilemma

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We so rarely receive questions of wiring, but here is such a thing from Mike:

I have an ethical dilemma.

I live in South Orange NJ, in a 100-year-old house which we bought last year. The lovely neighbors next door, who were very welcoming to us, including having us over for dinner, just moved to San Francisco on short notice due to a job relocation and put their house on the market last week.

Being a nosy sort I went to the open house to get to see the parts of a house you don’t see when over for dinner, and saw telltale signs of knob and tube wiring. Knob and tube, which I didn’t know existed until las year, is an old kind of electrical wiring which is perfectly legal to leave in place but prone to fires and impossible to fix of there’s a fault, so you can’t get insurance if it’s known to be there. It’s very common in houses of this vintage and it’s one of the things as a buyer you pay for an inspector to look for after you sign contracts. Unlike UK are contracts are done first and are binding unless defined unresolvable defects are found (no gazumping!).

Jonathan, the house inspector who looked at our house, missed it however, and we were stuck with a $10,000 bill getting the house rewired. We told Jonathan last year after the electrician we hired to do some minor work dropped this bombshell on us but he shrugged and said he can’t see everything, although now that I know what to look for it’s completely obvious, so I’d suspect he’d miss it again.

I just looked out the window and the neighbors’ house is under contract and the same inspector is there. Should I say anything to my new neighbors (whoever they are)? What about after they move in?

I’ve seen knob and tube in friends’ houses and my wife insists I keep silent. Is it ever appropriate to point out a potentially costly defect in somebody else’s house or is this something one keeps to oneself in polite society.

Oh Mike, I can smell your conscience from here. Although it’s too late for you (unless you sue Jonathan, which will cost you considerably more than the wiring), you’ll never be able to live with yourself if some other innocent gets hammered with $10,000-worth of rewiring. You have to tell. Doesn’t he, readers? What do you think? Advise Mike in the comments.

PS ‘knob and tube’. Fnarrr!

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3 Responses to “wiry dilemma”

  1. Tom Says:

    “Prone to fires”?! Don’t you have a duty to tell someone, whether it’s the new owners shortly after they move in (… “Oh, by the way, when we moved in, we found out the wiring was pretty dodgy, maybe you should check if yours is knob and tube too?”) or the current residents (come clean you went round on the open day, they probably won’t mind, and might even be flattered!) and mention it’s unsafe and might be an ‘unsolvable defect’ for a buyer, just for them to beware.

    But put it this way, how will your conscience be if you don’t tell anyone, and there is then a fire at the house, which could endanger life and property? I know our houses in the UK our houses are usually a lot closer together than yours in the US, but (purely out of self interest) what if the fire spreads, and affects your property?

    If there’s a serious risk to health or property, whoever it is deserves to know, don’t they? Both parties can get a second opinion if they want too, so the pressure’s not just on you (just make sure it’s not the same surveyor guy!)

  2. Si the Demoninator Says:

    OF COURSE YOU SHOULD SAY SOMETHING. When did everybody become so cowed? This Jonathan isn’t a God or some Mafia don who’s likely to ruin your favourite bed linen with a horse’s head is he. Stick your nose right in and tell everyone you see looking at the property. Then maybe Jon boy will be forced to get his act together.

  3. anna t (@kalamata_olives) Says:

    tell the potential purchasers to get a better house inspector – doesn’t sound like your Jonathon is too bright!

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