QDEAR BARRY: When I bought my house, the home inspector reported no problems with the main electrical panel. After I moved in, my insurance company wrote to request a photo of the panel. I sent the photo, and it replied with a cancellation notice, stating that Federal Pacific breaker panels are fire hazards and must be replaced. The new panel cost me $1,050.
When I called the home inspector, he admitted that Federal Pacific panels are hazardous, but said he had no obligation to tell me this. He said that 30 percent of the homes he inspects have these panels and that routine disclosures of this kind would cause many deals to fall apart, exposing him to lawsuits from sellers.
This sounds crazy to me and has me considering small-claims court against the inspector. Do you think he is liable? -- Ellen
ADEAR ELLEN: Your inspector has a lot of nerve. Any reasonable inspector would be stunned by such a response.
Simply stated, your inspector failed to disclose an electrical condition that is a known fire hazard. Then he compounded the injury with insult, claiming he was not required to provide disclosure. On the basis of such thinking, a home inspector could avoid reporting any hazardous conditions, including defective heating fixtures, substandard fireplaces or damaged balcony railings.
This inspector clearly has no concept of the purpose of a home inspection, which is to represent the interests of home buyers by reporting observable conditions that could be of concern. By all means, try to recover for your damages by giving him the opportunity to declare his defense to a small claims judge. It would be interesting to observe the judge's response to the inspector's outlandish arguments.
DEAR BARRY: We bought our home about six weeks ago. At the time, our home inspector found no problems with the plumbing other than a leaky sink faucet. But now our tub is backing up and our toilet won't flush.
We think this is a pre-existing condition because the floor under the toilet had been replaced recently. How can we resolve this plumbing problem? Are the sellers liable for nondisclosure? And is our home inspector liable for negligence? -- Julian
DEAR JULIAN: This has all the signs of a no-fault situation. Sewage backups after a house is purchased are often matters of unfortunate timing, arising from causes that may or may not have been known to the sellers.
In your case, it all depends on whether there have been past or ongoing drainage problems. The home inspector would have had no way of knowing that sewage backups might occur unless symptoms were apparent during the inspection. That the flooring was replaced at the toilet is probably unrelated to any sewage problem. Subfloors beneath toilets typically rot when there is a leaking seal.
At this point, the cause of the sewage backup needs to be determined by a licensed plumber. It could be something as simple as roots in the sewer line or something more costly, such as a deteriorated main line. A video inspection of the sewer lines would provide the most comprehensive analysis.
Barry Stone is a professional home inspector. If you have questions or comments, contact him through his Web site, www.housedetective.com, or send mail to 1776 Jami Lee Ct., Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401.
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