Assessment of the responsibility of a home inspector
Q: We bought our home almost four years ago and just discovered a major roofing problem that was not reported by our home inspector. The added solarium recently developed a leak so we called a roofing contractor. It almost fell from the roof due to severe dry rot. In fact, there was so much rot that the addition had to be demolished, reducing the size and value of our home. We believe the home inspector should be held responsible for not disclosing this condition, but we cannot find his report. When we called his office he said he didn’t have a copy. How should we deal with this unfortunate situation?
A: There are several variables or uncertainties that affect the home inspector’s responsibility in your situation. For starters, four years have passed since the property was inspected – enough time for a fungal infection to develop, causing the structure to rot. On the day of the inspection, there may have been no rot or the rot may not yet have progressed to the point where it was apparent. In addition, the damaged wood was covered with roofing material and may not have been discovered on visual inspection. The inspector that day may have been able to walk on the roof without noticing any significant problems.
A second consideration is that the home inspector did not have the opportunity to inspect the damaged structure before it was removed from the property. It is a common mistake made by home buyers when property defects are discovered as a result of a purchase. A faulty condition will be found, repairs or demolition will be carried out, then inquiries will be made to the inspector. Instead, the inspector should be notified immediately and given the opportunity to assess faults and take responsibility for repair costs, if liability is appropriate.
Another point to consider is the scope of the home inspection: did it include the detection of wood-destroying organisms, or did this aspect of the property have to be determined by a pest control operator? If a pest control inspection has taken place, the company that carried out the inspection should have been contacted before the demolition of the damaged part of the building.
At this point, you should go through your files to find the original purchasing documents including all inspection reports. In all likelihood, a pest inspection company was responsible for uncovering rotting in the wood, while the home inspector’s job was to assess the condition of the roof.
By the way, the home inspector probably has a copy of the report. Denying possession of an inspection report is a common tactic used by some home inspectors as a way to avoid liability. Nevertheless, he is probably released from any liability due to:
• the time elapsed since the inspection;
• demolition without allowing re-inspection of damaged materials; and
• the fact that an inspection for wood-destroying organisms is not part of a normal home inspection.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write to AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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