DEAR BARRY: Before buying my home, I hired a home inspector. He found a few minor defects, but the report was basically clean. Then, after moving in, I found a large growth of black mold at the bathtub plumbing access. The mold growth was so pervasive that a large portion of the house had to be gutted and refinished. If our inspector had done a more thorough job, we could have saved thousands of dollars in repair costs. Do we have any recourse against our inspector? –Laurie

DEAR LAURIE: Mold is officially outside the scope of a home inspection, as are all environmental hazards. Conditions of that kind are specifically disclaimed in home inspection contracts and are listed by all recognized home inspection associations as not within the scope of a home inspection.

On the other hand, the prime directive of a home inspection is to disclose defects that are visible and accessible at the time of the inspection. That includes excessive moisture conditions, moisture stains and moisture damage. With that in mind, how can a home inspector say nothing when confronted with a large, visible mold infection? It may be outside the scope of the inspection to identify the infection as "mold," but a competent inspector should at least say, "Black stains were noted at the bathtub access in the bathroom. Further evaluation by a qualified mold specialist is recommended."

As for recourse, it is difficult to hold an inspector liable if he was not allowed to see the problem before it was corrected. Once the evidence is gone, it may be hard to convince him that the defect was visible and accessible at the time of the inspection. He could argue that it was concealed behind the construction or that the access was blocked by personal property such as furniture or storage.

If you have photos of the problem, you should call the home inspector and request a meeting at your home to discuss the issue. …CONTINUED

DEAR BARRY: My husband and I are first-time homebuyers. We recently saw a bank-owned house that we love, but it looks like the previous residents built additions without permits. What does this mean for us if we purchase the house? –Jessica

DEAR JESSICA: If the home has unpermitted additions, you need definite answers before you purchase the property. You should determine which portions of the property are original and which are added. You should find out if any aspects of the additions are in violation of building standards. You need to know what the city building department might do about these additions in the future.

A qualified home inspector can advise you regarding the extent of substandard conditions, but you should talk to the people at the building department to see if they will conduct an inspection and advise you accordingly.

The additions to this house could require moderate upgrades or major ones. They might be acceptable additions, or they could be ones that would never have been eligible for a permit. The bottom line is to learn what you are buying before you consider buying it.

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

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