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

Unfair Blaming of Home Inspectors

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: As a home inspector for many years, I’ve been caught in the “you-broke-it,–you-pay-to-fix-it” bind. My question is simple: When is a home inspector responsible for things that break? Tile roofs are not designed to be walked on, so a home inspector should pay for tiles that break under foot. But I’ve been asked to repair wood trim because I pushed my finger through some dryrot. I’ve paid for faucets that would not turn off after being operated, for a garage door that disconnected from its track when I tested it, and for a casement window that fell from its frame when opened. Is it right for home inspectors to bear the costs of such repairs? Marshall

Dear Marshall: Your dilemma is the common experience of most home inspectors. Nearly all can relay stories of unfair liability; of fixtures that chose the moment of the inspector’s touch to leak, break, disassemble, or otherwise fail to function.

There was the main water shutoff valve that wouldn’t reopen after the inspector turned it off. The inner parts of that 30-year-old valve were totally corroded, awaiting the moment when some unsuspecting soul would turn it off. That someone was the home inspector; so he had to buy a new valve.

There was the old garage door opener that would not reverse and might have injured or killed someone caught beneath it. When the home inspector tested it, his resistance caused the chain to break. The old opener needed to be replaced anyway because it did not comply with current child safety standards. But because it broke when tested, it became the home inspector’s responsibility.

There was the microwave oven, which, according to the seller, had worked that morning. But when tested by the home inspector, it was suddenly unresponsive to the control buttons. All the inspector had done was press the time controls, but his presence when the fixture died was enough to require his purchase of a new unit.

There was the forced air furnace that worked perfectly during the course of the home inspection but was suddenly inoperative that evening when the homeowner returned from work. All the inspector had done was turn it on, watch it run, and turn it off. But he was the last one to operate the old system prior to its unexpected expiration. So, repair costs were demanded of the inspector.

And of course, there is the touchy subject of tile roof inspections. Obviously, a home inspector should pay for tiles that are broken during the inspection. But what about the inspector who discovers tiles that are already broken and is then accused of having broken those tiles?

These situations are the real-life experiences of home inspectors who perform their professional duties in an honest and diligent manner. There are times when home inspectors are truly liable for damages that occur in the course of an inspection. But there are as many cases where liability is unfairly imposed on home inspectors. In many instances, inspectors pay for these arbitrary claims, simply to main good customer relations. Justice and equity can be desired in these situations, but can only be found on a hit-and-miss basis.

Walking the Line on Roof Inspections

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I find it hard to understand why home inspectors refuse to walk on concrete tile roofs. I know handymen, cable guys, chimney sweeps, and others who walk on tile roofs all the time and never break a single tile. But home inspectors routinely wimp-out on tile roof inspections, choosing to inspect from the ground, sometimes using binoculars. In my opinion, inspectors who do this are shortchanging their customers. To put it bluntly, there is no way to perform an adequate inspection of roofing tiles from the ground. To do a competent inspection, it is necessary to walk on the roof. What is your opinion on this? Brad

Dear Brad: You raise some valid issues about tile roof inspections, but clarification is needed on a few points. It is true that the best roof inspections include a walk on the roof. It is also true that roof tiles don’t break easily underfoot. Nevertheless, nearly all home inspectors refuse to walk on tile roofs, and here is the reason why:

The majority of tile roofs have one or more broken tiles. In most cases, these are not visible from the ground and are unknown to homeowners. When a home inspector walks on a tile roof that is believed to have no broken tiles and then reports that some broken tiles were observed, the inspector can then be blamed for breaking those tiles in the course of the inspection. This has actually happened to a number of inspectors and is the reason that nearly all home inspectors use other inspection methods for tile roofing.

Fortunately, it is possible, in most cases, to conduct a thorough roof inspection without walking on the tiles. On single story buildings, a competent inspector can place a ladder against the eaves at various places around the building, providing full view of all or most roof surfaces. A comprehensive evaluation of roofing tiles can then be performed from atop the ladder. With second story roofs, decks and balconies enable ladder placement against the eaves. For second story roofs that can only be inspected from the ground, a good pair of binoculars provides an adequate close-up view of the tiles in most instances.

In the minority of cases where the tiles are not viewable by these any of these methods, the inspector should report that the roof inspection was limited and that further evaluation by a roofing contractor is advised.

Dear Barry: The home we just purchased has a swimming pool that leaks badly, but we were not told about this leak before we bought the property. The repairs are estimated to be several thousand dollars. Do we have any recourse against the sellers for not telling us about this problem? Rod

Dear Rod: Whether you have legal recourse against the sellers depends upon the disclosure laws in your state. In most states, full disclosure of known defects is a requirement.

If the sellers lived on the property, they must have known the pool was leaking because the water level would have gone down continually. The sellers should be formally notified about this breach of disclosure. If they are unwilling to address the issue, you should consult an attorney for advice.

Walking on Tile Roofs

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I’m a Realtor and am having a disagreement with another agent. He insists that home inspectors routinely walk on concrete tile roofs. A home inspector I know says that tile roofs should not be walked on by anyone except a licensed roofing contractor. Who is right, and what is the standard for inspecting tile roofs? Karen

Dear Karen: There is no rule that mandates whether home inspectors should or should not walk on tile roofs. But the standards of practice of ASHI (the American Society of Home Inspectors) and NAHI (the National Association of Home Inspectors) exclude walking on tile roofs as an obligation for home inspectors. The reason for this exclusion is to relieve inspectors from the liability imposed by broken tiles, whether or not those tiles were broken by the inspector.

Actually, it is not difficult to walk on a concrete tile roof without causing damage, but sometimes, regardless of care and caution, damage does occur. And home inspectors who break tiles are liable for the costs of repair or replacement. The other risk assumed when inspectors walk on tiles is the chance of being blamed for tiles that were already broken. This has happened to some inspectors and is one of the reasons that most inspectors refuse to walk on roof tiles.

Tile roofs are usually inspected by placing a ladder against the eaves at various places around the building. When the eaves are too high for the inspector’s ladder, binoculars are sometimes used. Walking on a tile roof admittedly enables a more thorough inspection, but unfortunately, liability pressures have had an adverse effect on the conduct of tile roof inspections.