Business

How to clean home’s gutters safely, easily

DEAR MR. MYERS: One of the regular home-maintenance jobs I hate the most is climbing up a ladder to my roof, garden hose in hand, in order to clean my home’s gutters. I’ve called a few local professionals to see how much they would charge to do the chore for me, but their fees vary widely. How much should I expect to pay?

ANSWER: I agree that cleaning a home’s gutters and downspouts is a lousy task. But it’s one that most homeowners should do once or even twice a year to avoid backups that can cause water damage to roofs, ceilings, walls and, ultimately, interior furnishings.

The average national cost to hire a pro for the job is $145 for each visit, according to HomeAdvisor.com, a website that matches up homeowners with prescreened contractors. It can be as low as $60 for a small single-family house, HomeAdvisor adds, but as much as $345 for larger homes — especially if they have two or more stories. Some also charge extra fees for other services, such as cleaning downspouts or making minor repairs.

For homeowners who want to do the work themselves, it’s important to remember not to lean the ladder against the gutter itself and to keep it away from electrical wires. Start by scooping out the gutter’s leaves and other debris, then wet down any caked-on dirt so it can be removed with a hand trowel.

Next, use the hose to flush out both the gutters and the downspouts. This will not only get them clean, but it also can reveal any leaks that need to be repaired. Don’t use too much water pressure, though; most gutters and downspouts aren’t designed to handle the same amount of water pressure that the drains inside your house can.

Finally, never lean on the gutter yourself or grab it to support yourself while you’re cleaning. Gutters are made to hold a modest about of leaves and debris, but not the weight of a human body.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: About 500,000 ladder-related accidents occur every year, according to Pennsylvania-based gutter-maker and servicer Starling Guttering Inc., with 100,000 of those requiring emergency medical attention.

DEAR MR. MYERS: What is a “weir box”?

ANSWER: It’s a box, usually found in rural areas, that’s set in an irrigation ditch to measure the flow of water. Typically made of wood or concrete, it’s open on both ends and contains a measuring device that is known as a weir.

DEAR MR. MYERS: I applied to rent an apartment, and the landlord asked if I had ever been arrested. I was honest and told him that I had been arrested only once, on suspicion of armed robbery about 10 years ago, but no charges were filed because the police soon caught the real robber based on eyewitness testimony and his DNA that he left at the scene. But my rental application was denied anyway, despite my excellent credit and good reviews from my past landlords. I think the new landlord was afraid of my past (wrongful) arrest. Do I have any legal recourse against him?

ANSWER: Yes. Federal law prohibits landlords from asking about a prospective tenant’s arrest record, and those who do subject themselves to fines, civil lawsuits and even jail time.

Landlords often ask this type of question in an effort to weed out potential troublemakers. Truth is, they do have a right to know if you have ever been convicted of a crime. If you had, there’d be no reason to lie about it, because the conviction would be included on the standard background checks that almost all lenders perform before leasing an apartment or house.

Arrest records are a different matter. It’s against the law for a landlord to ask about prior arrests, largely because lots of people, like you, are detained but later set free without going to trial or are charged but later found innocent by a jury of their peers.

Contact your local fair-housing council or rent-control board for help. Many of these agencies operate free or low-cost arbitration or mediation programs that may help you get financial compensation from the landlord for his misdeed. If you instead file a lawsuit by yourself, any money you might get from the landlord if you win the case might not be worth the time and effort that you spend.

At the very least, file a formal written complaint against the landlord with your local fair-housing agency in an effort to stop him from asking such illegal questions of potential tenants in the future.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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