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

Home Inspector Ignored Plumbing Leak

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We hired a home inspector before buying our home, but he dismissed a defect that has now become a problem. In the room below the master bathroom, there were water stains on the wall around a drain cleanout. We asked the inspector about it, and he said it wasn’t a problem. At the time, the stains were dry because the house had been vacant for months. But he didn’t even run water in the shower or sink and didn’t even mention the stains in his report. After we moved in and began taking showers, the wall surface became wet. The inspector now says that it was not his responsibility to figure out if the leaking would continue in the future. Besides this, the seller says that she never had a leak while she lived in the home. This seems unreasonable and unfair. What can we do?  John

Dear John: If the seller denies having known about the leak, she may or may not be telling the truth. There is probably no way to prove or disprove her position, so that issue may be a stalemate. The problem with the home inspector, however, is another story and involves three main issues:

1)  It is understandable that an inspector might fail to notice a leak or evidence of a past leak, but to dismiss an issue that is specifically pointed out by a buyer is inexcusable. If your inspector didn’t want to test for leaks, he should have recommended in his report “further evaluation by a licensed plumber.”

2)  Testing showers, tubs, and sinks with running water is normal operating procedure for a home inspector. The idea that a home inspection would not include a routine test of the plumbing fixtures is untenable. An inspector who won’t turn on faucets or test for leaks should find another line of work.

3)  Now that the leak has been affirmed, the inspector needs to be accountable for his failure to provide disclosure. All inspectors miss some defects, regardless of their levels of competency. But an inspector who will dismiss this kind of situation, without assuming some degree of responsibility, is not a true professional.

Hopefully, the repair is not an expensive one. Have it evaluated by a licensed plumber. Hopefully, it is a minor repair issue that will not involve great expense.

It would also be wise to hire another home inspector for a second evaluation of the property. Additional defects will most likely be discovered.

Questions about roof leakage in condo (HOA)

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I own several condos in a large building. Recent roof leakage caused $4,100 in damages to my unit. The homeowners association (HOA) has agreed to repair the roof but will not repair the damage to my unit. Part of the problem is their neglect of normal roof maintenance. They allowed pine needles to accumulate on the roof and in the gutters, and this affected roof drainage. Is there any way to make them repair my unit? Tom

Dear Tom: If the HOA has not maintained the roof in a responsible manner, that weighs against their disclaimer of liability for consequential damages. You should check the documents that govern your condo complex to see how HOA responsibilities are spelled out. If the HOA is required to maintain the roof, that increases their liability for damages to your unit. If they remain firm in their refusal to make interior repairs, you might test the issue in small claims court. For a nominal filing fee and a few hours of inconvenience, you might be able to enforce your position.

No Water Service During Home Inspection

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: The sellers of the house we are buying have turned off the water service. Our home inspector was concerned about this, but dismissed it when the sellers told him they did it because the house was vacant. But this leaves us with lingering doubts. Perhaps there are some plumbing problems, such as leaks, that they’re hiding. What do you think we should do? Yehuda

Dear Yehuda: For a qualified home inspector, the sellers’ reasons for turning off the water service are irrelevant. The inspector’s singular objective is to evaluate pertinent aspects of the property, and that includes the operational condition of the plumbing system. Without water service, a plumbing evaluation is not possible, and the home inspection cannot be completed.

When any utility service is off during a home inspection, the inspection report should state that the inspection could not be completed and that the service should be restored to enable completion of the inspection prior to close of escrow. Without water, it is not possible to evaluate the performance of the sinks, faucets, drains, toilets, tubs, showers, dishwasher, garbage disposal, water heater, etc. Neither is it possible to check the water pressure, to inspect fittings for leaks, or to determine if water volume is reduced when multiple fixtures are in use.

If your home inspector did not stipulate that the water should be turned on to enable a full inspection, then you are not dealing with a qualified inspector. In that case, you should find another inspector and insist that there be functional water service when the inspection is performed.

Dear Barry: When I bought my house, the home inspector found no problem with the fireplace. But now, a chimney maintenance company has reported some issues. First, there is no firebrick on the sides of the firebox — just mortar and stone construction. While these sidewalls are greater than 12 inches thick, I was advised not to use the fireplace until it is verified that these walls are solid masonry, with no cavities. Also, the smoke chamber was built with corbelled walls (stepped) rather than smooth walls. I was told that this encourages creosote build-up, increasing the likelihood of a chimney fire, and was advised not to use the fireplace until a ceramic coating has been applied. Do you think the inspector is liable for repair costs? Bill

Dear Bill: If the sidewalls are as thick as they appear, without cavities, then the fixture is probably safe to use. If the corbelled masonry is intact and does not appear to be causing a build-up of creosote, it may also be safe to use. However, since these conditions indicate noncompliance with current fireplace standards, a home inspector would be prudent in recommending further evaluation by a qualified fireplace expert. If the inspector made no such recommendation, he may be insufficiently familiar with fireplace issues. In that case, he could be liable for failure to report suspect conditions. On the other hand, if these conditions do not manifest any safety-related problems, there may be no cause to take issue with the inspector. Either way, you should notify the inspector regarding your concerns and ask that he take a second look at the fireplace.

Expired warranty

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We purchased a new home, and just before the 10 yr warranty was up, a leak developed in the upstairs bathtub drain. The homebuilder came out, opened up the ceiling below the tub, repaired the leaking pipe, patched the ceiling, and all was well for about two years. Now the leaking has returned and, once again, there is a wet stain on the ceiling. Since the 10-year warranty has now expired, are we on our own with this problem, or is the builder still responsible? Brian

Dear Brian: At this point, the builder may be willing to make the repair as a matter of good will, but he may no longer be obligated to do so unless it can be shown that the repair he did two years ago was done incorrectly or that the new leak is the result of an original construction defect. To answer these questions, an observation hole should be cut into the ceiling to see exactly where the leak is occurring. The plumbing repair itself may not be expensive, but that will need to be determined by a licensed plumber. Regardless of who pays for the repair work, an openable access hatch should be installed below the bathtub plumbing so that future repairs in that location will not involve ceiling repairs as well.

Inspector’s Report Dry on Lawn Wet Spot

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We just bought our first house and hired a home inspector before signing the contract. During the inspection, my husband noticed a wet spot in the yard and pointed this out. The inspector said it was probably due to the recent rain and advised us not to worry. But after we moved in, the spot remained wet during the hot, dry months. We emailed the inspector about this and he said we probably have a leak somewhere. So now what do we do? Dawn

Dear Dawn: When a home inspector sees a wet spot in a yard, all possible causes should be considered; not just one. A more complete disclosure in the inspection report would have been, “Wet spot on lawn may be due to recent rains, but faulty ground drainage or plumbing leakage are also possible causes. Further evaluation is recommended to ensure against leakage. If no leak is detected, site drainage improvements may be needed.”

Incomplete disclosure has exposed the home inspector to some degree of liability. If a plumbing repair is needed, he may be willing to assist in the repair. Faulty site drainage, if it affects the lawn area but not the buildings on the property, and if no soil erosion is occurring, may not be a serious problem. Again, further evaluation is needed.