Deck Inspection - Imminent Safety Issue

I spent a lot of time reviewing the deck inspection course, the DCA 6 manual, and discussions on this site (all multiple times) to ensure that my deck inspection went well. I’m a buyer knowledgeable in construction, not an inspector. That being said, this deck was so bad that even if I don’t purchase the house due to the deck, I’m worried for the safety of the current sellers and future owners. I know that inspectors are limited to a certain scope but I don’t know how forceful he could have been with regards to warning/condemning the deck. As a fellow human being I feel like the seller’s really need to understand the risk they currently have or may pass on to someone. I’m worried that if this deck isn’t immediately addressed it’s going to kill someone, not just cost them money.

I’ve attached a few picture collages with multiple examples of very poor support. There are many more I could have added. The deck was built at the earliest in 1986 but no later than 2011. The main summary of this deck is:

1.) No bolts used to anchor the ledger board. Not a single bolt in the entire structure, only nails or screws are used, with many attachment points unused.

2.) Ledger board is a 2x6 attached to a 1x6 attached over brick veneer, using only nails. Very large gapping over the entire attachment. More than half of the joists are not flush to ledger/rim joist and are sitting forward in the hanger. Many joists do not contact the rim joist at all.

3.) There is a long ~2ft deep overhang that the ledger board is directly attached to with no additional support.

4.) Each one of the 7 primary posts (4x6) has very large vertical cracks running the length of the post. Every post is either warped, not sitting completely on its brace, lacking a proper brace, or sitting on gravel/dirt in the case of the stairs.

5.) No flashing anywhere. Extensive moisture, algae, rot, and areas where nails rotted out. Plates and nails are rusted.

6.) They removed the bottom half of the chimney to put in a door downstairs. The top half of the chimney, or the wooden frame is still in place and rests on the deck. There is extensive moisture damage directly underneath it.

7.) A million other problems, boards spanning only two joists. Board spacing all over the place. Boards not being properly staggered. Balusters spaced too far apart. Stair risers are too high. No diagonal bracing.

I previously walked on the deck. I assume the current homeowners use it as well. It just seems completely unstable, in very poor condition, and simply dangerous… but I’m not an inspector or engineer. Maybe if I had inspected hundreds of decks this wouldn’t seem as bad.

My fear is this: I won’t accept the house without negotiating in the replacement of deck, end of story. But the seller had many other offers and it seems as though they may fight this and attempt to try their luck with someone willing to accept it ‘as is’ or with some repairs. I won’t be getting killed or injured on that deck, but if everyone tries to skirt around it or not deal with it properly then someone could be seriously injured or worse. As a human being I don’t feel right walking away without trying to get the homeowner to understand that this is serious.

The inspection said they recommended a structural engineer evaluate it and a licensed contractor to repair it. I know this doesn’t go to the seller or their realtor but it felt like someone should be telling them to stay the hell off the deck. Again, I’m not an inspector and haven’t seen enough other comparisons. I just wanted to hear from other experts on the danger of the deck.

I apologize if this isn’t the right place to discuss this or if I shouldn’t be posting here as a non-inspector. Thank you for your time.

Where are you located? When you sent in your repair requests is there any reason your Agent did not send the entire report instead of cut & paste?

I would not worry about it. You did yourself due diligence.

Why someone always calls for an engineer is beyond me. A good licensed contractor experienced in deck construction as well the deck should not be used until repairs or replacement can be made should be sufficient.

Your realtor should be the one to inform the sellers realtor of the dangers (of not being used) if that was in the report other wise no one will understand the seriousness of the problem.
My comments are based off your OP only as I am not there to see everything for myself.

I am located in Texas. We are still in the process of attempting to negotiate the replacement. The realtor said they will just come back stating that the deck is functioning as intended, and that we should just replace the rot and beams. At the point that you replace the rot, beams, cracks, properly support the deck, etc. you’d have a new deck.

Also I attempted to find the permit for the deck through the city planning office and nothing came up (not entirely surprising). Judging by the half chimney I’m guessing that the deck was not original to the house. Assuming that there was never a permit issued to build the deck, is there even a question of whether the deck has to be torn down?

I think I’m just going to write a letter to the realtor that quickly explains a ledger board with a picture or two I took. If they truly aren’t aware of the danger then I think explaining this problem would get it across. I think that would make me feel better in terms of future safety.

If you are still interested in purchasing the home, are still in your option period and have time, and with your situation I would follow the Inspector’s recommendation with regards to a licensed Structural Engineer’s (SE) inspection. Since you would be bringing an SE in, and paying for it, this would be an opportune time to perform a full structural evaluation of the home with emphasis on the deck. Then you should have your Agent submit the SE report to the seller as part of your negotiations along with the entire Inspector’s report. Once the seller has been made aware of a significant issue they are required to disclose that to the next prospective buyer unless they have it corrected. If the SE condemns the deck in its entirety then the next buyer will see that report as well if they request it. On the other hand if you are interested in the home still that might well help meet your negotiation needs.

An alternative to this is to speak with the local building Inspections Department/Code Enforcement’s and have them review the deck for safety during your option period. You should be aware though that they most likely are not SE’s and might not have in depth experience with how decks are built and this could work against you instead of help you.

It is sad in any location that anyone attempts to use the “functioning as intended” excuse in an attempt to pass issues onto a new buyer! In theory if the deck is truly “functioning as intended” then it would have been built in a safe manner and not have any issues with it. However this tactic can only be controlled by the buyer as they are the ones that control how the final money is spent, i.e. you buy everyone gets paid, you don’t buy and nobody gets paid. All you can do as a buyer is understand how the system of real estate buying and selling works and use what tools you have available to you one of which is the SE.

Good luck and let us know how this transpires so other consumers reading this can learn from it as well.

Agreed, and well said. The ledger attachment to brick veneer is enough for me to rope it off as unsafe / do not use.

Well, for someone that is not an Inspector or Engineer, you seem to be quite a connoisseur of deck defects. Unless you are a Builder yourself.

I would recommend that you hire a Qualified Building Contractor to review and recommend repairs and an estimate for repairs.
Based on just pictures, it is hard for us to evaluate the full extent of any safety concerns.
Although, in a few of the pics posted, there are obviously sub-standard installs that are well below the common standard of practice for deck building and need some attention.

Cost of repairs can be used as a negotiating tool with the seller.

Also you might use this link on Decks to help you along with the contractor to evaluate the full extent of repairs required to make safe.

Hope this helps a little.

(I should add that my better half is absolutely in love with the house and land. I’d like to get something worked out but I’m not going to eat this deck.)

I suspected that the deck never received a permit from the city. I contacted city planning and according to them no permit for a deck exists (the full FOIA request this time). Now it could have been built the same time as the house, but the post that is directly in front of where the bottom half of the chimney used to be (which is on the far right in the post picture), is poured into the concrete patio. It does not have a brace and does not appear to be a later addition to the slab (which makes me wonder about the patio build too). What was once a chimney on the bottom floor is now a door, and I don’t think they would have put a patio centered on the back of a chimney when the house was built.

I’m really not sure how to proceed with the no permit issue. My first thought is that it works in my favor, she thinks it will make the sellers not want to deal with us and find someone who doesn’t understand the deck or perform due diligence.

A few thoughts on that:

  1. Given the state of the deck I don’t think a theoretical city inspector would give it an after the fact permit. If the inspector deemed it unsafe or beyond repair, then I assume the current owner would have to make repairs our possibly take it down (along with pay any fines).

  2. If the deck is not permitted then it is not covered by insurance. Which means that any damage it has caused to the house or property would not be covered, correct? So if I have a home warranty transferred, take down the deck, find the lack of flashing, etc. caused damage to the house is the insurance going to look it up and go “what deck?”.

  3. The appraiser is supposed to pull permits, if this one does and discovers the deck isn’t permitted, then the value of the deck is $0. This worries me because we liked the land and actually agreed with the choice of interior upgrades enough to agree that we would pay a certain amount of cash if the appraisal was below the offer.

  4. So not only am I potentially going to take some hit in negotiating the cost to replace the deck, but I would potentially take another hit with the appraisal being lower due to the lack of permit. I know this isn’t an appraiser forum but would they look for a deck permit? Or potentially know enough to question the shoddy construction methods and wonder how it got built?

I considered this, though it feels a bit underhanded. Assuming there is no permit then the seller gets hit with potential fines and has to repair or replace a deck on a home they are about to sell. And they would clearly know who called the city. I don’t quite know how that would work if they said we are in the process of selling the house. Would they hold them from doing so?

I’m just torn on that option because logically I could go to them and say “look, I could call the city, they’ll find no permit, potentially fine you, and cost you cash to address it, or you could take a greater amount off the cost plus a little extra for associated house repairs and I’ll demo and replace the deck myself.” The other realtor keeps reminding us they have another good offer still waiting but how are they going to feel now that they have to disclose an non-permitted, unsafe structure that the city knows about?

She’s worried about losing the house asking for a lot to replace the deck when they have other offers, and it is a huge seller’s market where we live. The cost of the house is at the lower end of our budget, all good stuff. I just don’t know if it would be a “oh we tore it down, permit never came up, built a new one with a permit” or “oh **** I didn’t realize that I’d be liable for such and such and this cost me more than I thought.”

Will do. Thank you for everyone’s input, I greatly appreciate it.

just an FYI: often repairs can be made such as sistering damaged lumber vs replacing damaged lumber. That’s would resolve “safety” concerns that are emphasized but may not be aesthetically pleasing. Would that be acceptable? What parts of the deck were not visible when you looked at the house and made an offer? All these things may come into play. Some jurisdictions will allow a post project permit if one was not present at time of construction. The whole “connections to house” concerns could likely be eliminated by adding an few posts on the house side of the deck (possibly beams as well). Its fairly normal that a seller wants to make repairs as cheap as possible on a house they are selling and buyer wants it to be amazing. Price of repairs is always relevant unless someone makes way more money than they know what to do with. I typically see these type of issues dealt with in a credit of some form. In other words, if deck could be made safe for $1200-1500 but you would rather take that credit and use it towards a total rebuild or even reconfigure, it makes sense to go that route.
Good luck.

If the appraisers there work anything like they do here, the mortgage broker will call them and tell them what the accepted offer price of the house it, then the appraiser will drive by it,take a picture appraise it for $1,000 over the agreed price and collect their $600. It is the most unethical joke of a business in this area.

my poor mother was a completely ethical appraiser for 20 years. It worked out ok for her until the housing market crashed, then she just couldn’t compete.

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