When purchasing a new home, you will most likely need to obtain a home inspection in order to determine whether the home is structurally stable. Home inspections also assist in the determination of value. Some of the most common examples of circumstances which would necessitate a home inspection include, but may not be limited to:

  • Determining the value of a home or property for an appraisal;
  • Inspecting the safety of the home;
  • Overseeing land use matters or zoning matters; and
  • Preparing the property for renovations and improvements.

A home inspector is a professional who considers the condition of a piece of real estate property. They put their evaluations into a report, which is then used to determine various factors when the piece of real estate is put up for sale. Home inspectors perform routine inspections for the purposes of purchase, sale, or maintenance.

Home inspector responsibilities and duties may vary; generally speaking, a home inspector will assess and inspect the overall condition of the property. The following are some of the most common examples of what a home inspector assesses:

  • Heating and cooling systems;
  • Plumbing and electrical systems;
  • Water and sewage;
  • Evidence of insect, water, and/or fire damage; and
  • Some limited fire and safety issues.

Simply put, a home inspector is looking for any issues that could affect the property’s value. They will identify any material defects, which is any fact that could have a significant or reasonable impact on the property’s value. A home inspector will also look for any issues which could be considered a violation of local housing codes. The home inspector will create a report of such details, which assists the property’s owners in avoiding failure to disclose violations.

Home inspectors may be hired by many different parties, such as:

  • Prospective homebuyers;
  • Homeowners considering selling their home;
  • Real estate agents and/or brokers; and
  • Mortgage loan companies.

Can a Home Inspector Be Liable for Failing to Identify Defects?

As previously mentioned, home inspections are intended to detect and identify defects or repairs that must be addressed prior to selling the home. Generally speaking, an inspection is required by a local municipal board in order to ensure that the home meets local safety and zoning standards.

The majority of mortgage lenders require that any individual purchasing a home obtain a professional home inspection, before the lender will provide the financial means to purchase the property. If the home does not pass the inspection, or if the home inspection report shows significant property issues, the lender will most likely refuse to provide the buyer with their requested financing.

A home inspection may also be used to assess:

  • Home value after an accident that causes damage to the home, such as an earthquake or flood;
  • Home value for refinancing or sale;
  • Whether the home was originally constructed according to code;
  • The property value, such as for property tax purposes; and
  • Possible additions or improvements that may increase the property value.

As you can see, a home inspector is responsible for a significant amount of the home buying process. In terms of home inspector liabilities, a home inspector must conduct inspections in a reasonable manner that is consistent with current industry standards. If they were to fail to discover an important material defect, and that defect later affects the dwelling, the home inspector could be held liable under the theory of negligence.

Negligence holds one party accountable for the harm they have caused another party with their carelessness. Simply put, negligence refers to:

  • One person owed another a duty of care;
  • They breached that duty;
  • The breach resulted in injuries, that would not have occurred otherwise; and
  • The breach of duty caused damages, such as property damages or emotional harm.

What Else Should I Know about Home Inspectors?

Because the laws regarding home inspector liability vary from state to state, a home inspector may or not be held liable for broken or breached contract provisions, or for failing to detect a defect. Something else to be aware of when hiring a home inspector would be home inspection fraud. 

Home inspection fraud occurs when an inspector creates a false or fraudulent report. Such a report may state that a specific repair must be made, when the repair is in fact unnecessary. This type of fraud frequently occurs when an inspector advertises their own repair services alongside their inspection services.

For this reason, you should be wary of inspectors who offer repair services as a package with their inspection services. In order to avoid this type of fraud, a number of states do not permit inspectors to make repairs on a home until a specific waiting period has passed. This is generally one year past the inspection.

Another type of home inspection fraud may occur during the sale and purchase of a home. The home inspector may conspire with the purchaser in order to create a false report, such as stating that the seller is required to make certain unnecessary repairs or installations prior to the buyer purchasing the home. In such cases, the buyer receives free repairs or installations while the inspector is paid for their extra work.

In other cases, the inspector may conspire with the seller in order to force the buyer to pay for false repairs. This type of home inspection fraud is especially dangerous due to the fact that these reports are not always communicated between the buyer and seller. As such, the parties may fail to verify with each other that the home inspection report is true and accurate.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind what a home inspector cannot legally do. Home inspectors are prohibited from: 

  • Making repairs to a dwelling that they are inspecting, unless state laws allow for repairs after a waiting period;
  • Inspecting a property that the inspector or the employer of the inspector has an interest in;
  • Have the report’s outcome contingent upon payment of the inspector; and
  • Waiving liability by contract with any of the parties involved in the transaction.

How Do I File a Complaint against Home Inspectors?

In cases of home inspection fraud, or if there is a substantial disagreement regarding the findings of a home inspector, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit against the home inspector. They can be sued directly if they are working independently, or through a private organization. Legal action is generally based on the contract between the client and home inspector.

However, if the inspector was hired by a city, municipality or the government, you will likely need to file a complaint with the specific agency that employs or is responsible for the inspector. Generally speaking, the agency will conduct an investigation into the issue before a lawsuit is filed against the inspector.

It is imperative to remember that home inspectors may not be able to find or be aware of every single fault or defect within a home. Some defects are not detectable, while others will develop over time. However, if the home inspector was negligent during the inspection, they may be liable for losses or injuries that resulted from their negligent conduct. 

Legal remedies generally include a damages award intended to reimburse the plaintiff for the losses resulting from the faulty inspection. A court may also order another inspection. Additionally, if a home inspection report is misleading, the buyer may request an injunction. This is a court order which prevents the sale from going forward.

Should I Consult a Lawyer about Home Inspectors?

If you are having issues related to home inspectors and their inspections, you should consult with an experienced and local property lawyer. State laws vary in terms of home inspector liability, as well as how long a person has to file a lawsuit against an inspector. 

An attorney will be best suited to helping you understand your state’s specific laws and what your legal options are under those laws.