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 dryrot. In fact, there was so much rot, the addition had to be torn down, reducing the size and value of our home. We feel that 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? –Anita
Several aspects of your case significantly affect the question of home inspector liability. To begin, four years have passed since the property was inspected – sufficient time for fungus infection to have developed and rotted the structure. On the day of the inspection, there may have been no rot at all, or the rot may not yet have advanced to the point that it was apparent. What’s more, the affected wood was covered with roofing material. Damage at that time would not necessarily have been noticeable. The inspector on that day may have been able to walk on the roof without observing any significant problem.
A second consideration is the need to notify a home inspector of defective conditions prior to repairing or removing the damage. Faulty conditions should be jointly reviewed by you, the inspector and other qualified experts to enable a fair and objective determination the damages and of appropriate liability. Now that the evidence has been removed, that issue has been rendered permanently debatable. This, in fact, is a common mistake made by home buyers when property defects are discovered in the aftermath of a purchase. A faulty condition will be found, repairs will be made, and then demands will be made upon the inspector. Instead, the inspector should be notified immediately and afforded the opportunity to evaluate the defect and take responsibility for repair costs, if liability is appropriate.
Also 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 inspectors job was to evaluate the condition of the roofing.
By the way, denying possession of a home inspection report is a common tactic employed by some home inspectors as a means of avoiding liability. In all likelihood, the inspector does have a copy of the report. Nevertheless, he is probably clear of liability due to the lapse of time since the inspection occurred, the demolition without allowing re-inspection of the property, and the fact that inspection for wood-destroying organisms is not typically within the scope of a home inspection.
To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.
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