Code violations not found by inspectors
Q: Last year we bought a newly built home. Our home inspector found absolutely no defects, but now we've learned there are some electrical code violations. How could the house be sold if it didn't meet code, and why weren't these things found by the home inspector or the city building inspector who signed off the construction? How do we find out who did the code inspections during the building process? What do we do next?
A: Home inspection reports that disclose no defects should be regarded with suspicion, regardless of the newness or overall quality of construction. There simply are no homes, new or used, without a small or large list of defects -- even homes that are well built. Defects, great or small, are universal, confirming that all things made by hands are imperfectly made by imperfect people.
Proceeding against a municipal building inspector for failure to discover code violations is typically a "dead end" effort. Code-enforcement inspectors are precluded from liability by the very provisions of the building code itself. What's more, the time allotted to municipal inspectors in the course of a typical workday is not sufficient to perform the task of a detailed and comprehensive evaluation of each building being inspected. Most building inspectors do the best they can under very constraining circumstances, with cramped departmental budgets and limited personnel.
As for home inspector liability, that depends upon what specific problems were missed. Home inspectors do not perform code enforcement inspections, but they are responsible for disclosure of visibly discernible defects in accordance with industry standards, and this includes faulty electrical conditions.
In the case of new homes, liability for correcting defects ultimately resides with the builder. Since you purchased the property last year, the warranty should still be in effect. To obtain a comprehensive list of the inherent defects in your new home, you need a more complete home inspection than the one you have thus far received. Therefore, try to find the most qualified and experienced home inspector in your area. Then present the list of findings to the person or company who constructed your home.
Q: I bought my home less than a year ago. At the time, the house next door was under construction. Unfortunately, the surface of the lot was improperly graded, as revealed by the first rains. Water runoff from that property drains into my yard, covering my patio with a layer of mud. Are there any laws that require developers to avoid water drainage onto other people's properties?
A: Builders and contractors who alter the drainage characteristics of a construction site should assume responsibility for the effects those changes have on adjoining properties. However, laws governing these situations vary from state to state. Therefore, you should consult your local building department, and possibly a construction-defect attorney, to determine your legal position and the liability of those who regraded the lot next door. If the law is in your favor, which is likely the case, then those responsible for the problem should divert water flow away from your yard and the yards of any other neighbors.
• 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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