A person involved in the purchase of a home oftentimes engages the professional services of a home inspector to ensure that the premises are in sound condition. In nearly all cases, a home inspector does an admirable job and provides a reliable report to the homebuyer of the state of the premises. This includes identifying what are known as material defects in the property. Unfortunately, there are some instances in which a home inspector fails to do a proper job. When that happens, a person is going to want to know what recourse he or she has against the home inspector. 

Professional Responsibility of a Home Inspector

A home inspector has a professional responsibility to inspect those elements of a residence that have been identified in the contract. The elements that need to be inspected are generally itemized in the agreement an inspector enters into with the person seeking the inspection.

An example of a specific duty listed in a home inspection agreement would be to inspect the structure of the residence. When it comes to the element of an inspection agreement, an inspector needs to identify any material defects that impact the structural integrity of the premises. For example, an inspector would need to identify and report about issues from a crack in the foundation to roof damage. 

Defining Material Defect

The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors defines material defect as:

 A material defect is a specific issue with a system or component of a residential property that may have a significant, adverse impact on the value of the property, or that poses an unreasonable risk to people. 

Home Inspector License Requirements

Some states have specific requirements for a person to become a home inspector. The state of California is not a part of that cohort of states. In the state of California, there are no requirements for a person to become a home inspector. As a result, if a person has an issue with a home inspector, if a home inspector made some sort of material mistake in an inspection, the person who hired a home inspector has no recourse to a licensing authority in the state of California.

Case Study: Home Inspector Fails To Identify Material Defects

A case study helps to explain a situation in which a home inspector fails to identify a material defect. In this case, a woman we’ll call Belinda hired a home inspector to inspect a residence before she closed on a contract for sale and purchased the home.

The inspector returned a report to Belinda which said the residence was in generally good condition. The home inspector reported that there were no material defects or issues that would impact the value of the residence. 

In fact, for whatever reason, the home inspector failed to report large amounts of rodent droppings in different locations throughout the residence, including in the attic. (Rodent droppings can present a serious health risk. These feces can contain hazardous pathogens capable of causing serious and even fatal illness.) The home inspector failed to report wiring the had been chewed through or otherwise damaged by rodents. (Bear in mind that a significant percentage of home fires are caused by rodents chewing through wires. This presents a very serious situation.)

Belinda eventually discovered these issues with the residence some months after she closed on the sale and moved into the property. She was left wondering what legal recourse she might have in regard to the home inspector.

Overview of Legal Action Against a Home Inspector

Because there is no licensing authority overseeing home inspectors in the state of California, there are two interrelated courses of action a person who hired a home inspector can take if there is an issue with that professional’s work:

  • First, a person who has been damaged by the negligence of a home inspector can file a claim with that inspector’s professional liability insurance company. Home inspector professional liability insurance is discussed in greater detail in a moment.
  • Second, a person who has been damaged by the negligence of a home inspector can also file a lawsuit against the offending home inspector. 

A lawsuit against a home inspector can come into one of two forms, or a combination of both of them:

  • A person can file a breach of contract lawsuit against a home inspector.
  • A person can file what is known as a tort action or lawsuit against a home inspector. This is similar to a personal injury case when someone is involved in something like a car accident. 

Home Inspector Professional Liability Insurance

California does not require that a home inspector maintain a policy of professional liability insurance. With that said, if a home inspector so desires, it is possible for him to obtain what is known as an errors and omissions policy, which is a type of professional liability insurance policy. In other words, a home inspector can obtain insurance coverage to provide compensation if necessary in a situation in which a home inspector fails to fully identify material defects in a residence.