One of the most exciting moments in the lives of many people is the purchase of their first home. Such was the case with Michael Stein, who closed on his first home not that long ago. Unfortunately, as also does happen with some regularity, after closing Michael discovered a material issue at his new home that was not properly disclosed by the home inspector he engaged to examine the premises. Specifically, Michael discovered the presence of a tremendous amount of rodent droppings in the attic and elsewhere at the property.
Where there are droppings, there are rodents. In addition, rodent droppings in and of themselves present health hazards.
In this case, had Michael been properly advised on the presence of rodent droppings and an associated rodent infestation, he could have made appropriate decisions before closing on the real estate contract. These options could have included not closing or seeking a reduction in the sales price to compensate for the costs that would be incurred in rectifying the rodent infestation issue.
Michael ended up having to expend $7,000 to rectify the rodent dropping and associated rodent infestation problem at the property. He understandably desires to obtain compensation for this loss.
Legal Duty of Home Inspector
A home inspector has a duty to disclose material defects at a property. Rodent infestation of the nature experienced by Michael at his recently purchased home represents precisely the type of material issue in a property that needs to be disclosed in a home inspection report.
The stark reality is that one of two conclusions can be reached in regard to the failure of the home inspector in Michael’s case to disclose the rodent droppings and associated infestation in the home inspection report:
- First, the inspector consciously left a disclosure about the rodent infestation out of the report. In this case, a real estate agent involved in the transaction provided Michael with a couple of recommendations for home inspection. Understandably, Michael did not know of any home inspectors he could call upon. The home inspector likely relies on real estate agents for referrals. The inspector did not want to burn the proverbial bridge he had with the real estate agent in this instance by scuttling or interfering with the closing of the real estate contract.
- Second, the inspector was negligent. In other words, for one reason or another the inspector failed to undertake a suitable inspection of the premises and negligently failed to identify the rodent droppings and associated infestation.
As an aside, a professional who undertook a termite inspection ultimately advised Michael that he had mentioned the rodent droppings to the home inspector. Thus, a conclusion could be reached that the home inspector has actual knowledge of the presence of the droppings and an issue with rodent infestation.
Regulation of Home Inspectors in California
Unlike many other professionals – like real estate agents, real estate brokers, lawyers, and so forth – home inspectors are not licensed of regulated by the state of California. Unlike some of these other professionals, a person in Michael’s position lacks recourse to a licensing authority after experiencing misfeasance or malfeasance of the nature described in this article.
With that said, some home inspectors voluntarily join the California Real Estate Inspection Association. With that said, this organization does not have the authority to deal with an inspector who has failed to conduct a proper home inspection (beyond removing such an inspector from organizational membership).
For this reason, a person in Michael’s position is left with taking direct legal action against the home inspector in question. That process commenced with crafting a suitable demand letter, which we now discuss.
Crafting a Legally Appropriate Demand Letter
Date: It is important to include the date when the demand letter is being written. This helps establish a timeline and provides a reference point for future communication.
Introduction: Clearly state the purpose of the letter right at the beginning. In this case, clearly state that you are writing a demand letter regarding their negligent inspection. This sets the tone for the rest of the letter and lets the recipient know the seriousness of the matter.
Description of Negligence: Explain in detail how the home inspector was negligent in their inspection. Provide specific examples and evidence to support your claims. Be thorough and precise in describing the negligent actions or omissions of the home inspector.
Consequences: Describe the negative consequences you have faced as a result of their negligence. Explain how their actions or lack thereof have affected you, your property, or your financial situation. It is important to provide a clear understanding of the impact their negligence has had on your life.
Damages: Specify the damages you have incurred, such as repair costs or financial losses. Provide detailed information about the expenses you have had to bear as a direct result of the home inspector’s negligence. This can include the cost of repairs, additional inspections, or any other financial losses you have suffered.
Demand for Compensation: Clearly state the amount of compensation you are seeking to address the damages. Be specific and provide a breakdown of the costs you are seeking to recover. This helps the recipient understand the extent of the damages you have incurred and the compensation you are seeking.
Deadline: Set a reasonable deadline for the home inspector to respond and provide compensation. This deadline should give the recipient a reasonable amount of time to review and respond to the demand letter. It is important to be clear about the consequences of not meeting the deadline, such as pursuing legal action or involving regulatory authorities.
Legal Action: Mention that if the home inspector fails to respond or provide compensation, you will consider taking legal action to protect your rights. This serves as a reminder to the recipient of the seriousness of the situation and the potential legal consequences they may face if they do not address your demand in a timely and satisfactory manner.
Identifying the Nature of Home Inspector Negligence
Determining how and why a home inspector has been negligent as a prelude to pursuing legal action necessitates consideration of the type of nonfeasance or misfeasance that exists in a particular situation. The nature of home inspector negligence certainly varies from one situation to another. With that said, there are some more frequently occurring types of negligent conduct exhibited by home inspectors. We take a moment to consider these more commonplace examples of home inspector negligence.
Structural Damage: Negligence in identifying issues with the foundation, walls, or roofing structure can lead to costly repairs or even collapse. A home inspector should carefully examine the structural integrity of a property, looking for signs of cracks, sagging, or other issues that could compromise its stability. Failure to detect these problems can result in unexpected expenses and potential safety hazards for homeowners and their families.
Plumbing Issues: Plumbing problems such as leaks, faulty pipes, or inadequate water pressure can cause extensive damage if left undetected. A competent home inspector should thoroughly inspect the plumbing system, checking for any signs of leaks, water damage, or improper installations. Failure to identify these issues can lead to water damage, mold growth, and the need for costly repairs.
Electrical Problems: Missed electrical issues like faulty wiring or improper installations can pose serious safety hazards, including the risk of electrical fires. A thorough home inspector should examine the electrical system, ensuring that it meets safety standards and identifying any potential issues. Negligence in this area can put homeowners at risk and may require expensive electrical repairs or rewiring.
HVAC System Failures or Issues: Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems play a crucial role in maintaining a comfortable living environment. Negligence in inspecting these systems can lead to inefficient performance, costly repairs, or even health issues. A diligent home inspector should assess the condition of the HVAC system, checking for proper functioning, adequate airflow, and potential maintenance needs. Failing to identify problems in the HVAC system can result in discomfort, increased energy costs, and the need for expensive repairs.
Pest Infestations: Failure to identify signs of pest infestations, such as termites or rodents, can have devastating consequences for homeowners. Pest infestations can cause extensive damage to the property, including structural damage, destruction of personal belongings, and health hazards. A vigilant home inspector should look for evidence of pests, such as droppings, chewed wires, or nests, and recommend appropriate actions to address the issue. Neglecting to report these signs can lead to expensive extermination costs and further property damage.
Safety Hazards: The safety of occupants should always be a top priority during a home inspection. Negligence in identifying safety hazards like loose handrails, hazardous materials, or faulty smoke detectors can put homeowners and their families at risk of accidents or injuries. A thorough home inspector should carefully assess the property for potential safety hazards and provide recommendations for remediation. Failure to address these hazards can result in liability issues for homeowners and potential legal consequences.
Failure to Compensate Homeowner for Loss and Filing a Lawsuit
If a home inspector fails to compensate a person in Michael’s position for losses incurred as a result of that inspector’s misfeasance, nonfeasance, or malfeasance, the next step is to pursue a lawsuit. In some cases, a small claims case may be a possibility (if losses are a lesser amount). If a “full blown” lawsuit is necessary, an injured homeowner is wise to consult with an experience real estate lawyer.
In conclusion, neglecting to reasonably discover or report material issues or defects can result in a decrease in property value, leading to financial losses for homeowners. A comprehensive home inspection report should include detailed information about any observed problems or deficiencies. By providing accurate and thorough information, home inspectors enable buyers and sellers to make informed decisions about the purchase or sale of a property. In addition to financial loss, depending on the nature of the underlying negligence, errors of this nature can even expose a property owner to health and safety hazards.