Evaluating home inspector liability
Q: We bought our home nearly four years ago and just discovered a major roof problem that was not reported by our home inspector. The added sunroom recently developed a leak, so we called a roofing contractor. He nearly fell through the roof because of severe dry rot. In fact, there was so much rot, the addition had to be torn down, reducing the size and value of our home. We feel the home inspector should be liable for failing to disclose this condition, but we can't seem to find his report. When we called his office, he claimed not to have a copy. How should we handle this unhappy situation?
A: There are several variables or uncertainties that affect home inspector liability in your situation. To begin, four years have passed since the property was inspected -- sufficient time for fungus infection to have developed, rotting the structure. On the day of the inspection, there may have been no rot, or the rot may not yet have advanced to the point it was apparent. Also, the damaged wood was covered with roofing material and may not have been discoverable during a visual inspection. The inspector, on that day, may have been able to walk on the roof without observing any significant problems.
A second consideration is that the home inspector was not given the opportunity to inspect the damaged structure before it was removed from the property. This is a common mistake made by homebuyers when property defects are discovered in the aftermath of a purchase. A faulty condition will be found, repairs or demolition will be completed, and then demands will be made upon the inspector. Instead, the inspector should be notified immediately and afforded the opportunity to evaluate the defects and take responsibility for repair costs, if liability is appropriate.
Another point to be considered is the scope of the home inspection: Did it include detection of wood destroying organisms, or was that aspect of the property to be determined by a pest control operator? If a pest inspection occurred, the company that performed that inspection should have been contacted before the damaged portion of the building was demolished.
At this point, you should ransack your files to find the original purchase documents, including all inspection reports. In all likelihood, a pest inspection company was responsible for discovery of wood rot, while the home inspector's job was to evaluate the condition of the roofing.
By the way, the home inspector probably does have a copy of the report. Denying possession of an inspection report is a common tactic employed by some home inspectors as a means of avoiding liability. Nevertheless, he is probably clear of liability due to:
• the lapse of time since the inspection occurred;
• the demolition without allowing reinspection of the damaged materials; and
• the fact that inspection for wood destroying organisms is not within the scope of a normal home inspection.
• 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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