Reader Question: We recently moved into a beautiful home that is 14-years-old. We live in a gated subdivision with an HOA that was developed by the same real estate company which sold us our home. We are the third owner of the house and so far have had no issues.

Recently I discovered that my son’s toilet in the upstairs bedroom flushes hot water. I discovered this by accident when my son was cleaning his bathroom, and after flushing the toilet a couple of times, our dog decided to get a drink. She licked once and then walked away. My son and I wondered why so I stuck my finger in the water and it was sweltering. I’ve had a plumber come out to look, and he said that the original builder had mixed the lines up and it was an easy fix. He described how he would tear out the wall, cut the original supply line and then reconnect to the sink which was next to the toilet. He then said I would have to hire someone to come in and repair the tear out. My question is “why am I responsible for an original error in construction and should I be?” Has the statute of limitations run out on the home builder being responsible for this error? The plumber said he had not seen this before, but he thought the builder should take care of it. There is no evidence that anyone has tampered with the install and the water on the other side of the wall connecting my washer and dryer is connected correctly.

What do you think should be my next course of action? I have read about homeowners winning a case on some homes that were over 8-years-old but not anything that is 14-years-old.

Monty’s Answer: The error is a public relations issue for the builder, rather than any litigation or formal complaint to the home builders association. What it will cost to repair the error will pale in comparison to attorney fees, to say nothing of your time and energy.

The sandwich complaint letter
Consider determining the identity of the company’s CEO and mail that person a letter to their home address telling them how happy you are with their product. Then explain the problem, but leave out the plumber’s solution. I would not threaten, or complain, only share the issue. Consider crediting your dog with the discovery.

Then request they send someone over to inspect the hook-up and give you an estimate of what it will cost you to have them repair it.

Close your letter with a statement about what an excellent reputation they have and how you wish all construction companies could follow the benchmark they have established in the community and how proud they must be of where their hard work has taken them.

Place the matter in their hands
The CEO has two choices here. He or she can take the high road and demonstrate the integrity and sense of responsibility the company holds for their product by repairing their error at little or no cost or charge you for the repair. Many CEOs take situations like this and turn them into a lesson to build loyalty, train personnel and grow the fan base. To do otherwise may tarnish their reputation, particularly in a subdivision they developed.

More possibilities
They may also see an alternate method to repair the error. For example, fishing a cold water line from the sink behind the wall and installing a mixer valve out of sight under the sink may solve the problem at a much lower cost.

A third contractor inspecting the situation may have a third solution and at yet another price point. It is not uncommon for repair issues to have several potential resolutions. Moreover, sometimes the obvious choice is also the least expensive.

Another consideration is to ignore the error. Do a bit of research to see if hot water makes the toilet easier to clean or to flush. Compare the repair expense to the cost of the hot water. The specifications on the water heater state what it costs to heat the water, and the specs on the toilet tell you how much water per flush. You may never recover the cost of the repair. Many dog owners dislike their dog drinking out of the toilet, and we already know your dog’s disposition.
— Richard Montgomery is the author of “House Money - An Insider’s Secrets to Saving Thousands When You Buy or Sell a Home.” He is a real estate industry veteran who advocates industry reform and offers readers unbiased real estate advice. Find him at DearMonty.com.