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I am in the process of purchasing a house in Ohio. It has passed inspection/appraisal and we were waiting for closing. The title company ordered a land survey and it was found that the house is over a building line setback by about a foot. The sellers claim they did not know about the encroachment and the house has been sold several times since it was built without issue.

My question is two fold:

  1. What can the sellers do to remedy this and how long would that process take?
  2. If I decide to take possession of this home what kind of risk am I opening myself up to?

Finally, if the answer is to confer with a lawyer on this, what should I be looking for? My understanding is that there are lawyers that specialize in property issues. I am just unsure what to plug into google to get what I am looking for.

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    The best thing to do is to probably talk to the local inspector/town council and see what it would take to get a variance. They would probably approve it without any issues but it would help ease your mind. Depending on the local council though, this process can either be short, or long. My local township council only meets about 4 times a year... – Ron Beyer Mar 22 at 14:07
  • Thanks @RonBeyer! Fortunately both the city planning commision and city council meet twice monthly here. Maybe this is a non-issue. – Ryan Butcher Mar 22 at 14:29
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It would depend on what the local ordinances' history is. If it was legal when the house was built, then it's likely grandfathered unless you try to modify that wall. If the local laws don't have a grandfather clause, or it was always illegal, you can ask the owners to check with the local inspections office to get a variance as mentioned in RonBeyer's comment.

I can't imagine the local inspector ordering a house wall demolished and rebuilt, but I suppose it's possible.

  • It's also possible a variance was granted and the current owner just doesn't know about it. Also, there are land surveys and there are land surveys. If you paid $300 for the survey or it is called something like a "mortgage inspection report" the survey may be junk. A lawyer is your best bet. – Gerard Ashton Mar 22 at 17:38
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    @GerardAshton it was a cheap survey $175 to be exact and seems to fit the googled definition of a "mortgage inspection report". So from what you are saying it should be treated as dubious quality. Should I ask the seller to pay for a more detailed survey? – Ryan Butcher Mar 22 at 18:59
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    @Ryan Butcher, ask your lawyer who should pay for a better survey. Here is a thread on a land surveyor's forum on the topic. – Gerard Ashton Mar 22 at 20:11
  • rplstoday.com has an "Ask a Surveyor" feature. If you tell them the jurisdiction and identify the house/lot, there might be someone local who can say, "oh yeah, variances are easy to get." But they will probably also say, get a real survey done. (I have no connection to the site beyond occasionally posting) – mkennedy Mar 22 at 21:57
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It is possible to buy insurance against such potential problems; if the local authority does decide to make an issue of it, the insurance company will get its lawyers to fight the point, and pay a specified sum in the unlikely event that they both have to fight and lose.

You need to consult a lawyer to avoid the many pitfalls (should the insurance be in your name or the name of whoever owns the house?), but this sounds like a specialised form of title insurance.

  • The title company has stated they will provide insurance for the title but will not cover any issues if they arise from this violation. If it comes out that the seller cannot get a variance in a timely manner I plan on consulting with a lawyer on the matter to judge if I should move on from this sale or stick it out. I would prefer not to have to start completely over. – Ryan Butcher Mar 22 at 19:03

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