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LIABILITY OF CITY BUILDING INSPECTORS, BUILDING OFFICIALS AND BUILDER THIRD PARTY INSPECTOR

Copyright©  2009 by Fred Willcox
TREC Professional Inspector #160
All Rights Reserved

If you plan on buying a new house remember this. The city building inspectors who inspected your new home, the city building official who oversees the building inspectors and the builder’s third party inspector, who is supposedly performing quality control inspections for the builder, have NO LIABILITY TO YOU. If they “miss” any item or “overlook” any item and you or any member of your family is harmed or if your house is damaged, you cannot look to any of those people to recover your damages or to repair your home.

In my 30+ years of experience inspecting houses, I have heard the builders state or I have seen documents from builders that an item or items called out by a buyer’s inspector do not need to be addressed because the “city” passed the item. What difference does that make to you? If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. The “city” is not going to repair it. The “city” cannot be sued for damages unless you can get an enabling act from the state legislature. And, in almost all cases, you can’t such an act from the legislature.

Further, the model building codes require that the provisions of the building code OR the requirements of the manufacturer’s installation instructions, which ever is MORE restrictive, shall be enforced. I have never known a city building inspector who enforced manufacturer’s installation requirements.

Another answer builders often give is that the item is installed or built that way by common practice in your area. Common practice, the always popular ‘but everybody does it’, is not an approved or even safe means, method or measure of construction practices or procedures.

Two states in this country allow for criminal prosecution of building officials who fail to enforce the building codes. Building officials have been imprisoned in those states. Texas has no such statute although I have personally lobbied members of the legislature for such a law for over 20 years.

Suffice it to say that I am not popular with building officials.

Third party so-called “inspectors” who are employed by builders likewise have no liability to you. They have a contract with the builder. Not with you. You are not even aware of the parameters and limitations of that contract. Many, if not all, third party inspectors are not even allowed to walk the surfaces of the roof, to open breaker panels or to engage in any activity that may cause them to be injured. In addition, the third party inspector is often limited to particular items that he can inspect, told what parts or components he cannot inspect and to what limits the builder will accept information from the inspector. Builders, almost all of them, are not really interested in building a quality, or even a safe, structure. They are interested in maximizing profits and in getting past their statutory ten year structural warranty period. That means you are getting a house that is constructed to be serviceable for ten years.

When you hire a real estate inspector, that inspector does have liability to you. Further, if your inspector informs you of a defect or defects and your builder refuses, on whatever basis, to repair the defects noted by your real estate inspector, you have been notified that the deficiency, defect or error exists and your warranty period may be in effect as of that date. Your inspector should be able to provide you with the building code references and/or information from the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Some real estate inspectors include this information in their reports. Your builder, if he disagrees with the inspector’s finding, should also be able to provide you with written documentation from an independent source such as a building code organization, a non-profit, recognized trade association or a recognized testing agency, which does not include “professionals” the builder routinely employs, so that you can make an informed decision on the issue.

Also remember, your real estate inspector has no vested interest in the repairs to your new home. He isn’t going to make any money off those repairs. It will however; cost your builder or, more correctly, your builder’s subcontractors, to make the repairs. The sub contractor may then raise the fees he charges your builder on future projects. Your builder works with the sub contactors on a large number of houses. You are the builder’s client once. Who do you really think your builder is more interested in?

Decide who is working in your interest and what is in your best interest before you close on the house.