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

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We purchased our first home about two months ago, and we hired a home inspector to check it out. But two months after moving in we discovered black mold in the basement. The inspection report says there were no visible problems in the basement, but the mold is clearly visible. My concern is that there may be additional mold inside the walls. If the home inspector had simply alerted us to the problem, we could have resolved the issue with the sellers. Do we have any recourse against the inspection company for nondisclosure? Jim

Dear Jim: Recourse against the home inspection company depends on the inspection contract you signed and the laws that govern inspector liability in your state. The contract, for example, may specifically exclude mold from the inspection process. Mold is usually disclaimed in home inspection contracts because there is so much legal and financial liability associated with mold issues and because it takes special expertise to evaluate the severity of mold infection.

On the other hand, the basic imperative of a home inspection is to disclose conditions that are visible and accessible. If black mold is visible in a home, how can it serve the liability concerns of a home inspector to say nothing about it? There is more liability for the inspector who ignores visible mold than the one whose report says, “Black stains were noted on the basement walls. Further evaluation of this home by a qualified mold specialist is recommended.”

There are many home inspectors who firmly debate this position, who believe that home inspectors should make no mention of mold for fear of being held to a higher standard with regard to mold disclosure. But home inspectors are hired to provide pertinent information regarding property defects, not merely to dodge liability exposure. The avoidance of unreasonable liability is important to every inspector because many frivolous claims and lawsuits have been filed against good home inspectors. But regardless of such threats, home inspectors should remain focused on the essential reason they were hired: to serve the interest of the clients who hire them by disclosing apparent defects.

As for the mold in your basement: Keep in mind that mold is not always a serious problem. Mold is not always toxic, and mold removal is not always expensive. Before assuming the worst, notify the home inspection company of your concerns and request that they conduct a reinspection of the basement. Then, have a professional mold specialist evaluate and test the mold. Samples should be tested by an environmental lab to determine which kinds of mold are present, and bids from local mold removal contractors should be obtained. Again, not all forms of mold have adverse health effects, and the mold in your home may be limited to a small area. If the mold infection is small, mitigation may not be costly or involved. If it is large or involves hazardous mold, you can weigh the pros and cons of liability with the home inspector.