One of the key steps in the home buying process is having an inspector check out the property. A home inspector will evaluate the house and let you know whether it is structurally sound, with all the major systems and parts in working order. But what happens if something goes wrong after the sale is completed? What if it’s a detail that the home inspector should have noticed but didn’t – and now you’re on the hook for significant repairs? In today’s blog, we’re discussing how you can legally and financially recover from a faulty home inspection.
General Home Inspections
A home inspection is a visual, non-invasive examination of a house. Home inspectors will take a close look at all the mechanical systems and physical structures on a property and let you know if there are any flaws. Some common issues that will come up on a General Home Inspection report include: cracked roof shingles, leaky walls, cracked windows or doors, improperly wired switches or outlets, faulty plumbing, pest infestation, or worn-out mechanical systems. Home inspectors highlight issues that could cause a significant physical injury or financial risk to the next homeowner.
While home inspections are not legally required in Georgia, it is a good idea to have a house inspected prior to purchase.
Contacting the Previous Home Owner
Before filing a lawsuit against the home inspector, you may want to consider taking your grievances directly to the previous homeowner. Although Georgia does have a “buyer beware” policy, the seller has a legal duty to disclose any known defects in the house, especially if those defects are not easily discoverable.
If you can prove that the seller knew about a material defect at the time of the sale and failed to disclose that information, the seller could face liability. They may be responsible for the cost of the repairs. A material defect is not a minor issue (ex: chipped paint, broken floor tile). It’s a flaw that will cause significant issues and will be expensive to repair. Examples of material defects include: foundation cracks, rusted pipes, hidden water damage, termite-damaged wood, outdated wiring, gas leaks, or cracked driveways.
Filing Suit Against the Home Inspector
If the seller didn’t know about the defect, and you cannot prove that they concealed the defect, another legal option is to file a lawsuit against the person or company who inspected the property. There are two legal theories to obtain financial relief for a faulty home inspection: negligence and breach of contract.
Negligence, in general terms, is the failure to act as a reasonable person would in a similar situation – and because of that negligence, damages result. In other words, the home inspector’s evaluation did not meet the reasonable, professional standard of care, and now the current homeowner must pay to fix the damages that the inspector didn’t find. One way to show that the home inspector was negligent is to have a second inspector evaluate the house and see if they are able to find and identify the defects.
Breach of contract is when you enter into a contract with another party, and then the other party violates the term(s) of that contract. Concerning a home inspector, you may have a breach of contract if they agreed to perform certain tests but never actually performed them. For example, the inspector may have agreed to test the paint for lead, but instead of performing the test, simply told you that the results were negative.
If the home inspector is found negligent or in breach of contract, they may be held liable for consequential damages. These are damages that are reasonably foreseeable, such as the cost of removing and replacing lead-based paint or repairing damage from a pipe that the inspector didn’t notice was broken.
Beware of Contract Waivers
As you build your case against the home inspector, be sure to review your contract for any waivers. Some home inspectors will add an exculpatory clause into their contracts, which will limit liability if any defects are found after the inspection. So, for example, if the home inspector fails to notice a cracked roof but has an exculpatory clause in their contract, they may only refund the price of the inspection and not the repairs to the roof. Contracts with these waivers will only pay out a small portion of the defect. Inspectors may also disclaim liability for areas they could not see or access.
Have Additional Questions? Contact Our Team of Real Estate Attorneys
No one wants to discover problems after they’ve completed the purchase of a home. If you think you may have legal claims against the seller or the home inspector, please reach out to Brian M. Douglas & Associates’ team of experienced real estate attorneys. We can review your home inspection contract and advise you on the best course of action. To schedule a consultation, you can call (770) 933-9009 or use our online contact page. We’re always happy to help.