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posted: 10/6/2017 7:00 AM

Disclosure laws differ by state

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Q. We bought a house a couple months ago and there are railroad tracks running behind the back fence. The sellers and the Realtor said the tracks were used on weekends only for an old, historic train that takes tourists to the Fort Worth Stockyards. This was stated in the listing flier and in the disclosure statement.

What they concealed from us was a bill that was passed by the city council two years ago opening these lines to commuter trains that will be running as frequently as every 20 minutes. When we asked our Realtor why this wasn't disclosed to us, she said they only had to disclose the railroad tracks' existence and not what will eventually be running on them in the future. We believe this was totally dishonest, but we don't know if we have any recourse. What can we do?

A. If the Realtor and sellers knew about the upcoming change in railroad traffic, it is amazing they can justify this kind of deceptive behavior: to misrepresent vital facts in the transaction; to violate the confidence of trusting homebuyers by withholding information that would significantly affect the value and desirability of the property; and to do these things with no apparent sense of wrongdoing?

Real estate disclosure laws vary from state to state. Some requirements are more strict and exacting than others. In your state of Texas, disclosure standards deal almost exclusively with actual physical defects on the property. In some states, such as California, there are requirements to disclose additional issues, such as "neighborhood noise problems or other nuisances," which of course would call for disclosure of train track usage.

Aside from the stated legal requirements for real estate disclosure, there is a common understanding throughout the real estate profession that agents and sellers should disclose any condition that would affect a buyer's desire to purchase the property in question. This standard of disclosure is based upon two considerations: 1) that failure to disclose is a violation of professional ethics; and 2) that nondisclosure exposes agents and sellers to legal liability and lawsuits.

Whether the sellers and Realtor are liable for nondisclosure is uncertain. Whether they are guilty of unethical business practices is without question, assuming that they knew about the proposed changes in railroad usage. On the chance that there may be more to the disclosure law than is apparent on the surface, you should have this matter reviewed by a real estate attorney to see if you have legal discourse.

It may also be possible to file an ethics complaint against the Realtor with the state agency that licenses real estate professionals. A review of the Realtor's performance can also be posted on Yelp.

Q. We just converted our basement to an additional bedroom. What type of door is required for a bedroom that is located in a basement?

A. Requirements for openings in a basement bedroom pertain to windows only, not to doors. A door that would be acceptable for a standard bedroom would be OK for a basement bedroom, as well. Just be sure to provide a window that meets all of the requirements for light, ventilation and emergency escape. Having the work done under authority of a building permit will help to ensure that the bedroom is in full compliance.

• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

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