Dear Barry,

Now that I’m selling my home, I’m concerned about improvements that were done without building permits. In some of your articles, you stressed the importance of disclosing nonpermitted work to buyers. But will this disclosure really protect me from liability? –JoAnna

Dear JoAnna,

Dear Barry,

Now that I’m selling my home, I’m concerned about improvements that were done without building permits. In some of your articles, you stressed the importance of disclosing nonpermitted work to buyers. But will this disclosure really protect me from liability? –JoAnna

Dear JoAnna,

We live in a sue-happy world, with no absolute protection from legal liability. Regardless of what we do, we can be sued for doing something wrong, and we can be sued for doing nothing wrong. Fortunately, we can take steps to reduce our levels of liability, but we can never eliminate that liability completely.

When selling a home, full disclosure of nonpermitted work reduces your liability, but the way that you frame those disclosures can make a critical difference. A common mistake that many sellers make is to state or imply that all work was done correctly or "according to code," even though it was done without permits. Such statements can get sellers into deep trouble.

Unless sellers are professional building inspectors, they have no idea whether improvements were done according to code. Building codes are voluminous and exhaustively complicated, and only the most informed experts are totally familiar with their intricacies. When disclosing that work was done without permits, you should state that "no guaranty is made regarding compliance with building codes." You should also recommend that buyers hire a qualified home inspector to evaluate the condition of the improvements, as well as the rest of the property. With that kind of disclosure, you should be reasonably safe from complaints after the close of escrow.

Dear Barry,

In one of your articles, you faulted a home inspector for failing to disclose mold that was present in a home. As a professional home inspector, this misinformation concerns me. Your readers should be told that mold and all other environmental issues are not covered under the standards of practice for the home inspection profession. No home inspector is required to investigate or report on such things, and your readers should be informed of that fact. Please clarify this in an upcoming article. –Wayne

Dear Wayne,

Home inspectors are not required to disclose mold infection in a home. A contrary impression from a past article was a misunderstanding. Environmental hazards are not within the scope of a home inspection, and home inspectors are not expected to report on such issues. But that does not let home inspectors off the hook completely. So let’s have some clarity on this issue.

In cases where mold is visible on accessible surfaces — beneath a kitchen sink, on a bathroom windowsill, in a plumbing access, or the corner of a closet — what should a home inspector do? Should the inspector ignore that condition and say nothing about it, simply because mold is not within the scope of the inspection? To do so would constitute professional negligence. Instead, the inspector should point out the "stains" and recommend further evaluation by a mold specialist. If that was not clear in the article you read, then this one should provide that clarity.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

***

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