Different standards among home inspectors

Q: After moving into our house, we noticed the smell of gas near the fireplace and immediately called the gas company. They found a leak and shut off the gas service until our plumber could fix the problem. It cost us about $ 500. When we contacted the inspector, he told us that detecting gas leaks is not part of a home inspection. If he reported the outbreak as “operational,” should he not take some responsibility for the undisclosed gas leak?

A: There are two general approaches among home inspectors regarding the scope of inspectors’ responsibility. One is to consider the scope of an inspection in strict accordance with minimum industry standards. The other is to make all reasonable efforts to uncover as many property defects as possible, within normal limitations.

There is something to be said for both approaches, although one is clearly more laudable as a way to best serve the interests of homebuyers.

The approach that relies on standardized limitations is the inevitable response to the contentious business environment favored by liability lawyers. Home inspectors, like most business people, operate in a general state of apprehension about the likelihood of unnecessary prosecution. To deal with this threat, professional home inspectors have limited the scope of an inspection to defects that are visible and easily accessible. Many gas leaks, in fact, occur in places where they are not easily detected. Therefore, gas leak detection has been excluded from home inspection industry standards of practice. Unfortunately, some inspectors have used this exclusion as a way to avoid liability for gas leaks which were in fact quite detectable.

The approach of other home inspectors is to find faults to the best of their observational ability, regardless of industry standards and limitations. In the event of a gas leak in a chimney, normal olfactory sensitivity may have been sufficient to allow the leak to be discovered. However, the gas leak may not have occurred on the day of the home inspection. No one will ever know for sure.

Hopefully, no other major defect has been overlooked by your inspector.

Q: Our neighbors asked us for permission to build a shed in their yard. We said OK, but then the hangar turned into a big, unsightly office. Now that they are selling the property, we have asked them to remove the structure, but they refuse. We don’t want to have a conflict with the new owners over this unauthorized building, and we wonder if the sellers have disclosed the illegal status to these people. How do we deal with this situation?

A: If the “hangar” was built without a permit, a complaint to the building department should produce results. This does not mean, however, that the removal of the building will be ordered. If construction is made in accordance with local building codes, the building department can approve the structure with an as-built permit. In this case, you can plant trees or shrubs, the possible growth of which will obscure your view of the unsightly building.

• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write to AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

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