I am a realtor, and during the home inspection of one of my listings, damage was caused. The inspector was inspecting the attic from inside a closet hatch when a shelf and belongings gave way causing the ladder to crash and the inspector to fall.
When the ladder fell it somehow tipped over and went into the adjacent bathroom and broke the vanity top. Who is responsible for the cost of repair?
Great question, Liza.
First it is important to know that during a home inspection an inspector is not required to enter any area likely be hazardous or to go where there is a potential to damage the property or its systems or components.
In addition, home inspectors are not required to access confined spaces or spaces not readily accessible. The seller has a responsibility to provide access to areas of the home that are expected to be accessed.
From time to time home inspectors feel obligated to overlook this exclusion because of pressure to do so, and acciden ts can and do happen.
You may want to check with your purchase contract to see if there is a clause in the potential buyers’ contract that may hold them responsible for any damage that occurs during a home inspection. You may find that the potential buyer is liable to the seller. This, however, doesn’t necessarily absolve the inspector of liability on the basis of professional ethics.
Most, if not all home inspectors have caused or paid for some kind of damage during their professional career. My colleagues have told stories about expensive flower vases getting broken, improperly hung paintings knocked to the floor, natural gas appliances left on, and, in rare cases, overflowed sinks.
I’m happy to report that in the above examples, the inspector accepted professional responsibility and, in some cases, made reparations. Most homeowners understand that accidents happen, and that everyone makes mistakes. Not all homeowners see compensation as the sole way to make amends.
From your description, it seems clear that the homeowners did not provide clear access to the attic hatch. Their personal belongings and the shelves from the closet should have been removed to allow the inspector access. That this was not done put the inspector in the poor position of either refusing to inspect the space, which could have upset the sale process, or potentially causing damage to the owners’ belongings or to the inspector himself.
Everyone makes mistakes, and one quality of a good person is accepting the consequences when it happens. In this case, the homeowner should share some responsibility for not providing unobstructed access, and the inspector should share responsibility as well.
A 50/50 approach to repairs seems appropriate in this case.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.