Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We’ve owned our home for nearly a year and now have a complaint about our home inspector. During the inspection, he spent about 10 minutes walking on the roof and then reported that there were no problems with the shingles or the skylights. When we asked him about the ceiling stains, he said they were from old roof leaks that had been repaired. But when the rains came, we had leaks all over, especially at the skylights. The leaking, in fact, was so bad that we had to replace the roof. According to our roofing contractor, cracked shingles were patched in many places, especially near the skylights. He also found three layers of roofing overall and four layers in some places. If we had known the roof was no good, we’d have negotiated with the seller, but we accepted the roof on the basis of a false inspection report. Is the home inspector liable for roof replacement? Kerry

Dear Kerry: According to your description of the roof, the extent of leakage, and the lack of disclosure in the inspection report, it would appear that your home inspector was professionally negligent. On that basis, he could be liable for some or all of the costs of roof replacement, depending on the liability limitations set by state laws and those that that are contained in the inspection agreement.

Some home inspection contracts require that you inform the inspector of problems prior to having them repaired. When home inspectors are denied the opportunity to reinspect conditions that are subject to dispute, their accountability may be nullified. If you replaced your roof without inviting your inspector for a second look, you may have relieved him of legal liability.

When home inspectors properly evaluate roofs, they disclose defects that are visible and accessible at the time. That is their primary purpose and objective, or at least should be. If your inspector surveyed the roof by walking its surface, he should have reported all pertinent conditions that were visible, including cracked shingles that had been patched. If multiple roof layers were discernible, he should have disclosed that also, especially since the number of layers was at and beyond the legal limit. If he observed ceiling stains, he should have reported these as evidence of potential leakage, rather than assuming that prior roof repairs had been successful. He should not have assumed that the ceiling stains were old or unrelated to current roof conditions. No home inspector can determine the age of water stains by visual examination. And in most cases, leak status can only be confirmed if the home is inspected on a rainy day.

It may or may not be too late to call the home inspector to account for the lack of adequate roof disclosure. Hopefully, you took plenty of photos before having the shingles replaced. If so, you should contact the inspector for a full review and reconsideration of these conditions. If he denies liability, you can seek legal advice to determine the strength of your position.