Buying a home is a huge investment, and most buyers do all the right steps to ensure they are buying a solid property with few defects. They inspect the home themselves, scrutinize the seller’s required disclosures, and hire the best home inspector in the area. Despite all of this, defects show up that the buyer knew nothing about and was not expecting. They want someone to be held liable, such as the home inspector. There are many issues to consider regarding who may be at fault, if anyone, and how strongly a home inspector may have contributed to any harm arising from the defect.
Primarily, a homeowner who wants to sue their home inspector must prove negligence or professional malpractice. They must show that the inspector did something wrong, which is usually defined as something another inspector would not have done, and that their actions or inactions directly caused damages. There are several factors to consider when deciding if a case against the inspector is strong enough to pursue.
In nearly every state, a seller must disclose any known defects and other information about the property. The real estate agent is required to ensure the seller’s disclosure is completed and provided to interested buyers. If a seller was not truthful on the disclosure, perhaps the defect was purposely hidden. Some sellers also go to great lengths to cover up a problem or defect, including preventing inspectors from accessing certain areas of the home or mechanical systems. An inspector cannot force themselves into an area that has been physically barred off.
Sellers have also been known to cleverly patch defects temporarily or even stage their homes to hide them. Generally, an inspector will find a leak that has been temporarily stopped with a sealant. Sometimes, sellers are particularly good at hiding defects with non-permanent solutions. If the home is new, the homebuilder, including contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers, could be held liable for defects.
What are the Limitations?
Almost all buyers sign a waiver or contract upon hiring an inspector. These documents usually make it clear that the home inspection is not an insurance policy or warranty against defects, nor is it an all-encompassing list of defects or a guarantee that nothing will go wrong. In addition, standard language in inspections include but is not limited to:
These could include:
- Window air conditioners
- Solar heating systems
- Septic systems
- Portable appliances
- Sprinkler systems
- Alarms and intercoms
Sometimes, an inspector cannot inspect items because of extenuating circumstances, such as weather or blocked access areas. The inspector will note what and why certain items were not or could not be inspected. An inspector should delineate which items are not covered by the standard fee and cost extra, or need to be carried out by another professional. This could include radon and mold testing, termite or gas line inspections, and inspection of swimming pools, hot tubs, outbuildings, or guest houses.
Limitation of Liability
This clause limits the inspector’s financial responsibility for missing or omitting defects. For example, if a home inspector misses a foundation problem, the limitation of liability clause can restrict the client’s demand for payment to a certain amount.
This clause will spell out how clients should file claims and the dispute resolution process.
Statute of Limitations
This provision limits a client’s ability to file a claim against a home inspector to a specific period.
This clause protects the rest of a contract when a court voids a portion of it deemed unfair to the client.
How Well Did the Homeowner Understand the Inspection Report?
An inspector also has professional knowledge in many areas of home building and utilities. They know electrical, plumbing, city codes, and much more. Most homebuyers do not possess the same level of knowledge and experience as an inspector. Therefore, they may not understand the extent or implications of a problem noted by the inspector.
What Proof Does the Homeowner Have of a Missed Defect?
Inspectors generally document everything. Their reports are lengthy and detailed and will most likely include pictures, videos, and thorough documentation of issues. They also often keep records of appointments, emails, voicemails, and phone calls. A homeowner must prove negligence considering this documentation.
What is Considered Negligence by a Home Inspector?
A lawyer can help the homeowner discern potential evidence of negligence, including but not limited to:
- Inspector did not report defects that were within the scope of the inspection, visible, and accessible during the inspection.
- Inspector lied, and there is proof.
- Inspector’s report is not accurate or findings are in error.
- Inspector hid or changed something in the house or report.
- Inspector exaggerated or downplayed issues.
How can a Lawyer Help?
Real estate litigation is complicated, but a lawyer can help a homeowner:
- Build a case for negligence or professional malpractice. Negligence is generally defined as the failure to act as a reasonable would person, which resulted in damages.
- Collect evidence to prove negligence. This could include photographs, recordings, testimonies from other inspectors and professional experts, and other activities that prove negligence and resulting harm or damage.
- Calculate the amount of damages. Damages are generally limited to the actual amount of money a homeowner spent or will spend to fix the defect. Punitive damages or damages for pain and suffering are rarely awarded in these types of suits.
- Build a case for breach of contract. An inspector could be sued for breach of contract if they did not inspect what the contract said they would inspect and damage results.
- Negotiate with the inspector’s legal counsel and insurance company. Most inspectors are covered by insurance and retain legal counsel themselves or as part of their company. An experienced lawyer can ensure that a client does not settle for less than what they deserve.
Towson Real Estate Lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC Help Clients with Home Defects
Our Towson real estate lawyers at Huesman, Jones & Miles, LLC will ensure you are fairly represented when your home has defects that were missed during a professional home inspection. Contact us online or call us at 443-589-0150 for a free consultation. Located in Hunt Valley and Towson, Maryland, we serve clients throughout Baltimore, Baltimore County, Bel Air, Bentley Springs, Columbia, Freeland, Hereford, Hampton, Westminster, Essex, Monkton, Sparks Glencoe, Parkton, Phoenix, Pikesville, White Hall, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County.