Q. We bought our home seven months ago and recently found cracked roof rafters in the attic. The warranty company denied our claim because the roof framing is over-spanned, and they said this should have been reported by our home inspector. They also found evidence of foundation settlement and suggested further evaluation of the structure. When we were buying the property, our home inspector poked his head through the attic hole and looked around, but he did not actually enter the attic. Is the home inspector liable for the cost of repairs?
A. Whether the home inspector is liable depends on a number of variables, including the wording of the inspection contract, what the inspection report said about the attic, and the wording of state laws governing professional liability.
However, the purpose of a home inspection is to disclose defects that are visible and accessible at the time of the inspection. If the access opening and the attic space were large enough to afford entry, then your inspector should have entered and done his job. Merely poking his head through the access would have been professional negligence. In that case, you should contact the inspector and request a re-inspection of the attic and an explanation of the insurance company's findings.
On the other hand, insurance companies have been known to fabricate excuses for avoiding the payment of claims. Therefore, evaluation of their findings by a licensed structural engineer may be advisable. If the engineer agrees with the insurance company, you'll have a strong case against the home inspector. If the engineer disagrees with the insurance company, you'll have a case for pressing your claim.
If it turns out that the home inspector missed significant defects in the building, you should find a more reliable inspector to conduct a full re-inspection of the property.
Q. We just made an offer on a house and have concerns about possible radon contamination. The owners had a radon test about eight years ago, and the report showed a reading of 6.2 PCI/L. Apparently, no further tests were done. Also, the house has a sunroom addition that was never completed. What concerns should we have when we have the house inspected?
A. If the house had a high radon reading eight years ago, the big question is whether a radon mitigation system was installed in the home. If none was installed, then another radon test should be performed to determine the current radon level. If a mitigation system was installed, a test should have been done at that time to confirm the adequacy of the system. The sellers should provide documentation of any follow-up work or testing that was done. Otherwise, a new radon test should be performed before you buy the home.
As for the addition, the sellers should disclose whether the work was done with a permit and should provide documentation. If the work was done without a permit, the building department should be consulted to determine what is required to make the addition legal.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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