Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

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"...But The City Approved It!"

It happens to me several times each year; I inspect a home for a buyer, I point out a construction defect, then I get a call from an angry seller or seller’s agent, accusing me of being wrong.

If someone challenges my call, I’m always happy to provide an authoritative reference to prove that I’m not just throwing my opinion around.  I can give code references to prove my calls if I’m challenged.  This is why it’s important for home inspectors to know building codes, even though they’re not doing code inspections… but I digress.

The crazy argument that I sometimes get from home sellers and seller’s agents is that a defect that I reported on is not a problem, because the defect wasn’t identified as a part of the permit inspection process.  The argument sounds like this:

Angry Home Seller:  ”That hole in my roof is fine!  You had no right to tell the person buying my house that it’s wrong.”

Me: “That hole is not acceptable.  It will leak water in to the house.”

Indignant Home Seller:  ”That roof was just installed a month ago, and the installation meets the requirements for the Minneapolis Building Code.”

Me:  ”What makes you say that?”

Misinformed Home Seller: “The City of Minneapolis approved the permit.  That means it meets the city’s code.”

While a hole in the roof is an extreme example, the logic applied by this home seller is just as flawed when it comes to other less extreme defects, such as improper nails in joist hangersimproper furnace ventingattic bypasses on new construction… you name it.

Municipal inspectors often have very full schedules and don’t have the luxury of taking their sweet time during inspections like I do.  If a municipal inspector misses a violation of the code, it doesn’t mean that the violation was approved.

To prove my point, I’ll even give you a code reference from the Minnesota State Building Code (insert smiley winky face).

1300.0210 Inspections

Subpart 1. General. Construction or work for which a permit is required is subject to inspection by the building official and the construction or work shall remain accessible and exposed for inspection purposes until approved. Approval as a result of an inspection is not approval of a violation of the code or of other ordinances of the jurisdiction. Inspections presuming to give authority to violate or cancel the provisions of the code or of other ordinances of the jurisdiction are not valid. It shall be the duty of the permit applicant to cause the work to remain accessible and exposed for inspection purposes. Neither the building official nor the jurisdiction is liable for expense entailed in the removal or replacement of any material required to allow inspection.

Good times.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections

        

Comment balloon 39 commentsReuben Saltzman • February 09 2010 04:55AM

Comments

The use of a "hole in the roof" wasn't a good example.  However, the point was made that home inspectors, home buyers and home sellers should not confuse a home inspection with the building code statutes.

This is a wonderful post for consumers to remember that, just because permitted work got past a code inspector, doesn't mean that it passed a home inspection.

My advice to consumers when discussing the code is that code inspectors consider safety of the occupants.  I've had many builders try to force my buyer to settlement because they "have the U&O."  To which we reply, "O.K., so the home is safe to occupy.  However, there are still 3 pages of items not completed on the punch list from a week ago." 

The only problem we have with home inspections and the code is when a home inspector tries to use the code as foundation for why a 200 year old home should be "brought to code" which is nonsense.

 

 

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 8 years ago

Reuben,

I was a builder in another life, and I made it a habit of learning about each municipal building inspector's "pet peeve" list.  Life experience channels us all down predictable paths.  All of them worked from similar codes, even before national codes came into existence, but one was more expert in plumbing code, and another in electrical.  Asking in the planning stages generated good will between us, and I developed a (perhaps undeserved) reputation as a better builder as a result.  The axiom that it's easier to get forgiveness than permission doesn't apply to the building code.

Mike in Tucson

Posted by Mike Jones, Mike Jones NMLS 223495 (SUNSTREET MORTGAGE, LLC (BK-0907366, NMLS 145171) ) over 8 years ago

There is a balance somewhere in there. . .is not a game of GOTCHA and amplyfying points for remote scenarios or a challendge to the home inspectors knowlege superiority.

It is a balanced report. .otherwise you could easily end up with 10 pages of not so important items just because the home inspector wanted to extert his power and validate his or her services. .

. .and end up killing the deal

Unless there is a reason to believe that it could become a makor safety issue. . .don't  put it on my report in bold letters

like: 

Stain on the middle of the carpet in family room. Possible blood or unknown substance, replacement $20,000 for a higsh grade customized fabric to match the design of the curtains

You know what. .the seller knew that there was a stain on the carpet when they made an offer at first place . .. find something not so obvious like under the rug. 

The above example has happened to me . . the mention of blood freaked out the buyers and they fled

Posted by Fernando Herboso - Broker for Maxus Realty Group, 301-246-0001 Serving Maryland, DC and Northern VA (Maxus Realty Group - Broker 301-246-0001) over 8 years ago

You are correct - and the tough part is that building codes change all the time...  They should be yelling at the person who installed the roof!

Posted by Barbara Kornegay, Wilmington NC Real Estate, Homes (REMAX Essential) over 8 years ago

Since inspections have become a point of negotiation vs. a description of the property it is challenging. Rules have changed for all of us

Posted by Tony Grego, 317-663-4173 #1 Trade Association for Alternative Inv (REISA - 317-663-4173) over 8 years ago

Rueben:

This is particularly valid in new home construction. The builder will often assert that a home inspection is not necessary because the town has inspected it in order to obtain the occupancy permit. A town inspection is not going to reveal anything about the quality of the workmanship or pick up every possible problem.

 

Posted by Claudette Millette, Buyer, Broker - Metrowest Mass (The Buyers' Counsel) over 8 years ago

Lenn - I couldn't agree more about the 200 year old home.  If someone doesn't want an old home, they shouldn't buy an old home.  If there's something unsafe on an old house, fix it.

Mike - you're absolutely right about different municipalities.  Here in the Twin Cities, everyone uses the same building code, but different municipalities have very different policies on how inspections are conducted.  Right now I'm working on a blog for next week talking about the different way they inspect roofs.

Fernando - that' s laugh out loud funny example you gave.  I'm sorry it happened to you.  I'm sure it wasn't funny for you at the time.

Barbara - That's kind of how I feel.  I just present the facts.  If the seller is mad because the buyer is asking them to make petty repairs, like adding smoke detectors, get mad at the buyers.

Tony - it's unfortunate that home inspections are seen as such a negotiating tool.  As I alluded to in my comment to Barbara, I hear about some pretty silly repair requests.  Used houses are never perfect.  Well, neither are new houses.

Claudette - I had a heated discussion with a seller's agent about joist hanger nails a couple weeks ago, which is what prompted my last two blogs.  You're definitely correct - town inspections aren't even intended to address quality of workmanship.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

Reuben,

As buyer's agents, we can help insert sanity into the process. I always discuss the purpose of the home inspection in advance and help my buyer's decipher legitimate issues from the report.  Hole in the roof yes, stained carpet no.

On the flip side, I help my sellers understand real issues too.

Posted by Irene Kennedy Realtor® in Northwestern NJ (Weichert) over 8 years ago

By the seller's logic, a certificate of occupancy is the only rebuttal needed for a home inspection. There has to be a sane medium. It is always helpful when an inspector explains the malady, what the consequences are, and leaves code out of it. In Yonkers, so many homes predate "code" that you would literally have to move a house to conform. 

Posted by J. Philip Faranda, Broker-Owner (J. Philip Faranda (J. Philip R.E. LLC) Westchester County NY) over 8 years ago

I'm sorry but in some instances the homeowner should have the right to rebuttal for some of the claims made by the buyer's inspector so that the purchaser can void a contract or try to renegotiate the selling price. Many times the inspection is not for the safety of the buyer but a slick tool by the "buyers agent" to reduce a price that had already taken much of the findings into account. Home Inspectors have become pawns in the "negotiations" from unscrupulous agents and their clients (who by the way never signed a buyers agreement). The hole in the roof is not a viable example.

Posted by Gregory Bain, For Homes on the Jersey Shore (Mezzina Real Estate & Insurance) over 8 years ago

There are always two sides to every story, we do know that.  I agreee that one can't and shouldn't confuse the building/city codes with home inspection results and then point the finger at city hall!  Maybe the house hasn't been maintained properly, there's always another side to the story.

Patricia/Seacoast NH

Posted by Patricia Aulson, Realtor - Portsmouth NH Homes-Hampton NH Homes (BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY HOME SERVICES Verani Realty NH Real Estate ) over 8 years ago

I have a problem with things that met code at the time the house was built(even 10 or 20 years ago) that get cited and then used as a negotiating item. I'm not talking about a more major type of  repair, such as a hole in the roof - active issues with consequences should be identified.  If the buyer expects a house to be brought to code, maybe they need to buy new construction(and then still not expect it to be perfect). 

Posted by Susan Thompson-Solomons, Southern MD Real Estate-Solomons Specialist (Berkshire Hathaway Home Services McNelis Group Properties) over 8 years ago

OK I might be putting a foot into my mouth here.  It is also a matter of personality for the home inspector. Even with a home inspector representing a buyer over the seller, they walk a thin line. It is also about going along and getting along; pointing out the problems in portion to the age, condition and sales price of the home, without killing the deal or misrepresenting the issues helps relationships for all.

Posted by Mary Strang over 8 years ago

I have experienced the other side...new construction, code inspector finds problem while my client's inspector disagrees. The home inpsector knew the code better than the code inspector!

Posted by Gary L. Waters, Broker Owner, Waters Realty of Brevard, LLC, ... a small office, delivering big service! (Waters Realty of Brevard, LLC) over 8 years ago

Reuben what I am hearing from some of the comments above is that it may not have much to do with how we as inspectors write what we do but how agents sometimes try to use that information in the transaction that is the issue----kind of a "no-win" situation for the home inspector :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 8 years ago

Negotiating the home inspection is what makes our jobs FUN!  Right?

It's the calls from the buyer's agent 2 months after the "previously inspected" home closes complaining about the blocked clothes dryer vent that REALLY MAKES ME LAUGH!

Posted by Jenna Dixon, Empowers You With a Better Real Estate Experience (DRA Homes | Cobb County Real Estate ) over 8 years ago

Reuben--City inspectors miss things all the time...my own house they forgot to check to see if the attic had been insulated...fortunately the builder did remember and complete AFTER the city approved the occupancy cert. My favorite is when a seller didn't pull a permit so there was no inspection and they say, "well, I haven't had any problems with the plumbing or electrical or whatever, so it must be okay" Working and properly installed are two very different things. Good post!

Posted by Teri Eckholm, REALTOR Serving Mpls/St Paul North & East Metro (Boardman Realty) over 8 years ago

Ah yes, the lovely strict home inspection!  The cause of hte breakdown of several of my deals, but without you my clients would be stuck with some iffy wiring, bad plumbing, cracked foundation.......

Posted by Richard Glick (Kingsway Realty) over 8 years ago

Permits are just that permits to do something it does not say they codes were followed. We were once involved in the purchase of a new home that upon final inspection prior to closing"after an occupancy permit had been given" we found that several floor joist had dry rot in them.

Posted by Kathy Clulow, Trusted For Experience - Respected For Results (RE/MAX All-Stars Realty Inc. Brokerage) over 8 years ago

I agree with your article but a hole in the roof is a little obvious. However, it shows your point and there is a difference in permits and home inspections.

Posted by Ted Tyndall, FL Homes for Sale-Palencia, World Golf Village,Nocatee,St. Augustine (Davidson Realty Inc.) over 8 years ago

It is amazing how many things are approved that shouldn't be. Makes you wonder if the building inspector is out on permanent coffee break.

Posted by Mark Montross, Listing and Buyer Specialist (Catamount Realty Group) over 8 years ago

Code Inspectors are public servants employed by the local government.  They enjoy "Sovereign Immunity" in relation to their work.  Except in very rare cases of gross negligence where there is personal injury or death, you can't bring litigation against the local inspector and expect to get anywhere.

Home Inspectors work for their client.  We are held personally and professionally responsible for every item that we do or do not report on.  Add to that the seller, listing agent, builder, etc...

That is why a really good Home Inspector loves his job!  It is always a challenge!

Great post Reuben, way to stir the nest! 

Posted by Paul A. Perry, Home Inspector - Crossville & Cookeville, TN (Certified Inspections, PC - Residential & Commercial Property Inspections ) over 8 years ago

Not to step on any toes but I think most City inspectors are failed contractors......they were so poor at contracting that they now work for 30k a year.  I don't have a lot of respect for building inspectors in my area.

Posted by Damon Gettier, Broker/Owner ABRM, GRI, CDPE (Damon Gettier & Associates, REALTORS- Roanoke Va Short Sale Expert) over 8 years ago

Inspectors take a lot of abuse, for sure. There's a lot of difference in quality, experience, etc. I hate it when I hear someone treating one of my favorite inspectors disrespectfully.

Posted by Joetta Fort, Independent Broker, Homes Denver to Boulder (The DiGiorgio Group) over 8 years ago

If a home inspector finds areas of concerns that a buyer wants remedied the seller then can hire a pro to verify these concerns---most times its not nessicary. Safety concerns are always #1.  I respect most of the home inspectors in my area, don't have to always like what they have to say but thats another story.   Most are awhere of current building codes and special considerations need to be made with age except if its a safety concern.

Posted by Ross Therrien, Realtor, Broker Associate (Prudential Verani Realty, Londonderry,New Hampshire) over 8 years ago

Reuben...Actually, I don't think the hole inthe roof is all that bad of an example.  I showed a house with a window broken out and the seller said "Well, we don't use the upstairs anyways, so there isn't a problem!"

Posted by William Feela, Realtor, Whispering Pines Realty 651-674-5999 No. (WHISPERING PINES REALTY) over 8 years ago

And different inspectors will pick up or note different items sometimes. It's still an opinion, although it's supposed to be "fact."

Posted by Erica Ramus, MRE, Schuylkill County PA Real Estate (Erica Ramus - Ramus Realty Group - Pottsville, PA ) over 8 years ago

Great points!

Posted by Vanessa Hackleman, Vanessa Hackleman, REALTOR, ABR, ePro (Diamond Realty & Associates, LLC) over 8 years ago

I like the hole in the roof example - makes the point clear in the extreme.  Building it to "meet" code and doing it right aren't necessarily the same thing.

Posted by David Henke, Realtor, Homes Just West of Philadelphia PA (Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc) over 8 years ago

Wow, I should have been sitting by the computer today!  I can't get to all of these comments tonight, but I want to touch on a few.

Greg B - home inspections aren't just for safety items; the whole purpose of the home inspection is to make sure that the buyer is making an informed decision to purchase a house.  You're right, lots of people seem to use home inspections only as bargaining tools.  

My 'hole in the roof' example wasn't supposed to be taken seriously; I was trying to think of something completely preposterous that nobody would ever argue about.  The point is that the city approving something doesn't make it right.

Charles - You're right, that seems to be a common theme here.  Home inspectors should never point out code defects just because they're 'code defects'.  If something is a problem, say it's a problem, and why it's a problem.  When buyers ask sellers to fix stuff because of 'code defects'... well, that's usually just plain silly.

Teri - I believe it.  I just inspected a 2005 built townhome in December, and they had the same thing; no insulation!  And your other example about something not being a problem... I get that all the time, and I just bite my tongue. 

Richard - what is a "strict" home inspection?

Damon - it's too bad that the inspectors in your area aren't worthy of your respect.  There are some extremely knowledgeable code inspectors here in Minnesota, and I have a lot of respect for most of them... especially considering the fact that they do what they do for so little money.

William - hilarious.  I love it.

Erica - my Standards of Practice state that I'm supposed to write my entire report based on my opinion.  Of course, I try to base my opinion on facts though! :-)

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

David - you nailed it.  The hole in the roof example has never really happened to me, and I think I would actually start laughing if it did, and assume someone was playing a practical joke on me.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

This is totally off subject, but this was the only place I could find a real home inspector to ask. :) My friends are currently under contract and just had their home inspection this week. When they returned home after the inspection, they found the inspector had made a hole in the flooring in one of their bathrooms. It is a rather large hole and the linoleum is ruined. Is it okay for a home inspector to put a hole in their house?

Posted by Lori over 8 years ago

Hi Reuben.  Another fine blog article.  I agree it is important to have an authoritative reference.  In addition to the building code there are manufacturer installation instructions, recall notices, research papers, and more.  Of course you already know this, as obvious by the numerous informative postings with diagrams and photos that you write.   Keep up the good work.

Posted by Jim Mushinsky (Centsable Inspection) over 8 years ago

It is unbelievable what some homeowners and contractors will do and how they fix items.  Makes you want to scratch your head. Not always in code either.

Posted by Jody Lautenbach (Century 21 Premier Associates) over 8 years ago

Lori, No, absolutely not!   The home inspection is a "visual inspection" only.  If the home inspector damaged the flooring, he should be honest and forthright and admit to it; and be responsible for its cost.

Are you sure the home inspector made the hole?  When was the last time you were in the house?  Was there a rug in the floor?  I have been a home inspector for a long time and I've seen a lot of things be blamed on the home inspector that were not actually his fault.

Posted by Paul A. Perry, Home Inspector - Crossville & Cookeville, TN (Certified Inspections, PC - Residential & Commercial Property Inspections ) over 8 years ago

Lori - ditto what Paul said.

Jim - I bet you read a lot of installation manuals, huh?

Jody - I see a TON of crazy stuff.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

The last new house I inspected the builders response to almost every item on the list was;

"it met code"

Even when some of the items were not code violations. The best example of this was the attic venting. The home had ridge and soffit venting with gable vents. I called out the gable vents as a defect and said they should be closed off. Very simple repair. The builder flat out refused because he said it met code. Interestingly there is no code that specifies the method of attic venting only the amount based on size. The manufactures provide the information on proper installation of these systems. The local inspector therefore would not have called out the attic venting as defective because it does in fact meet code. It does not however meet the manufactures installation instructions which almost always super cedes code.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 8 years ago

One of my favorite ones was the roofing contractor who insisted that standing water on the flat roof was a good thing.  The roofer told the Client that water will reflect harmful UV rays from the sun. 

Thank you,

Richard Acree

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Comments in this blog posting are the copyrighted intellectual property of Richard Acree, President, HABITEC Home and Building Inspections, LLC, and contributing members of the Active Rain Real Estate network, and are intended to educate and otherwise assist home owners, sellers and buyers, building owners, sellers and buyers, realtors, real estate investors, property managers, and lenders in the process of owning, buying or selling homes or commercial buildings.  HABITEC is a residential (home) and commercial building inspection company serving Middle Tennessee including Nashville, Brentwood, Franklin, Murfreesboro, Smyrna, Mt. Juliet, Hendersonville, Dickson, Belle Meade, Columbia, Spring Hill and more!  In addition to building inspections HABITEC offers Environmental Services for mold assessments, radon testing and water quality analysis.  Additional information about HABITEC can be found on our website at www.habitecinspections.com, or call 615-376-2753. 

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Posted by Richard Acree, Home Inspections - Nashville TN (HABITEC Home and Building Inspections, LLC) over 8 years ago

James - if the installation doesn't meet the manufacturer's installation instructions, it doesn't meet code!

Richard - that's hilarious.  I just inspected a home last week with 2" of standing water... that must have been a really nice roof, right?

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

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