Dear Barry,

Last year we purchased a newly built home. We hired a home inspector before closing, and no defects were reported. But now we’ve learned that some things were not built to code. 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? How do we find out who did the code inspections during the building process? What do we do next? – Sara

Dear Sara,

Home inspection reports that disclose no defects should be regarded as deficient, incomplete and erroneous, regardless of the newness or overall quality of the home. There simply are no homes, new or used, without a small or large contingent of defects. Fortunately, these shortfalls do not always reflect negligent construction or substandard workmanship. In many cases, they simply confirm the fact that all things made by hands are made imperfectly, to lesser or larger degrees.

As regards inspector performance, the code violations you mentioned were not specified. Therefore, no specific comments can be offered in that regard. In general, however, proceeding against the municipal building department or one of their inspectors for failure to discover code violations is a “dead end” effort. As noted in previous articles, code enforcement inspectors are precluded from liability by the very provisions of the building code itself. What’s more, there are built-in limitations imposed by the very nature of bureaucratic realities. In practice, the time allotted to municipal inspectors is not sufficient to perform the task of a detailed and comprehensive evaluation. They do the best they can under very constraining circumstances, with cramped departmental budgets and limited personnel.

As to 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.

In the case of brand-new homes, liability for correcting defects ultimately resides with the builder. To obtain a comprehensive list of the inherent defects in your new home, you need a more complete home inspection than the one you’ve thus far received. Therefore, you should find the most qualified and experienced home inspector in your area. Then present the list of findings to the person or company who constructed the home.

Dear Barry,

I bought my home less than a year ago. At the time, the adjacent property was being prepared for construction, and the lot had just been regraded. But the regrading created problems, as revealed by the first rains. Water from that property now drains into my yard. Are there any laws of statutes that require developers to avoid drainage onto other properties? – Annie

Dear Annie,

Builders and developers who alter the drainage characteristics of a construction site should assume responsibility for the effects such changes have on adjoining properties. However, laws governing such situations vary from one state to another. Therefore, you should consult your local building department, and possibly a private attorney, to determine your legal position and the liability of those who regraded your neighbor’s lot. If they are legally responsible, then drainage improvements should be made to divert water flow away from your yard.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


Send tips or a letter to the editor to or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 124.

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