Monday, March 11, 2013

Your Basement Should Be In Pictures (And Videos)!

Unfortunately, many of you will have leaky basements this week.  The snow is slowly melting in southeastern Wisconsin, causing the water table to rise.  Add over a inch of rain in many areas over the past weekend, and you have a perfect recipe for a leaky basement.

As I advised in this previous post, you need to take photographs and videos of the water in your basement.  Photographs and videos MAKE or BREAK a leaky basement case.  If you have awesome photographs and videos, your sellers will be forced to explain how the conditions depicted therein just magically appeared after they transferred title to you.  Your case should settle on favorable terms long before trial.  On the other hand, YOU will be on trial if you do not have any photographs of the alleged leaky basement.  The sellers' attorney will call you a liar, especially if you claim that there was standing water throughout your basement or property damage.

This advice applies even if you're not considering civil litigation against that "nice old couple" that sold you your home.  You should still take photographs and videos because you might have a homeowners insurance claim, particularly if you have a sewer backup or sump pump overflow endorsement.

Here are some pointers for taking photographs of your leaky basement:
  • Use a digital camera;
  • Ensure adequate lighting;
  • Keep a notebook and document the date, time, and location of each photograph;
  • Capture the depth and breadth of the water;
  • Capture your efforts to clean up the water;
  • Capture any damaged building materials, such as drywall, paneling, tile, studwall, and tack strips;
  • Capture any walls or floors with staining, bubbling block, or mold;
  • Capture any products in your basement that may have been used to conceal evidence that the basement leaked in the past, such as DRYLOK or KILZ; and
  • Capture any damaged personal property, such as furniture, exercise equipment, entertainment centers, musical instruments, wedding dresses, etc.
Here are some good photographs from my clients:

Rotted Wood Stud Wall
Waterproofing Paint
Leaky Basement Wall
Iron Ochre
Videos of water leaking into your basement or of you cleaning it up are even better, but PLEASE resist the temptation to narrate your video.  In the heat of the moment, you will inevitably say something that we will not want the jury to hear.  You may fault yourself for not discovering or further investigating this issue prior to closing.  You may make derogatory or sarcastic remarks about the sellers, real estate agents, or home inspector.  You may use profanity.  These are all natural responses in the heat of the moment, but they risk offending the jury.  You will have a chance to narrate your video and/or describe what you were trying to depict at trial.