A CBC News investigation has discovered it’s almost impossible for homeowners to get compensation if something is missed during a home inspection, despite new regulations introduced by the B.C. government in 2009 requiring all home inspectors to be licenced and insured.
Buyers like Lindsay Denton, a 39-year-old single mother, are finding out the hard way they have little recourse if they believe an inspector misses an obvious, visible defect. Complaints to the inspectors’ association might cost an inspector the loss of his or her license for a week, but financial settlements are only awarded through the courts.
Denton was battling breast cancer when she bought a $750,000 home in East Vancouver after an inspector’s report found no structural defects.
"It’s been a nightmare, like I wish I’d never set foot in this house. I just wanted a place to live," Denton said.
"It doesn’t mean anything that they have a license or that they have errors and omissions insurance."
Denton has filed a lawsuit against inspector Christopher Stockdale, who used to be the president of the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors of B.C.
In her notice of civil claim, she alleges Stockdale failed to follow the standard practices of his association.
Denton claims he missed the fact that her home was structurally unsound, with extensive water damage, a hole in the roof, asbestos in the air ducts, and visibly rotten sill plates and posts.
She also claims Stockdale examined her one-storey roof with binoculars instead of climbing up with a ladder and failed to carry a tool to prod any potentially rotten wood.
Denton said she discovered some rot in the structure after the tenants in her basement suite moved out.
"I went downstairs to paint and I touched the wall and it was wet and soft and the wood on top of the foundation was rotten," she said. "It was crumbling away."
The crumbling wood Denton refers to is the sill plate, which sits underneath the posts that hold up the structure. She said the inspector should have seen rotten posts next to the furnace he inspected.
Inspections ‘do not constitute a guarantee’
In her claim, Denton says Stockdale of Home Sweet Home Inspections returned to her house, looked at the problems and offered to refund her the $565 inspection fee.
She claims she told Stockdale he also should have seen rot on the side of her house.
"I’ve borrowed $40,000 and I’ve spent more, and I’m looking for another $100,000 to fix my suite because it’s been 18 months without being rented."
Denton says she’s struggling to make her mortgage payments and is waiting for another inspector's report to assess the defects allegedly missed in her home, a report which will go before a judge in her civil case.
Inspector denies negligence
Stockdale declined requests for an interview, but said in an email he "expects to be fully vindicated of any perceived errors or omissions."
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Helene Barton, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors of B.C., says inspectors are rarely found guilty of any wrongdoing.
But she says the association is watching Denton's court case closely.
"Of course it concerns me, and it would all of our inspectors in our association, that something as major as that was missed, if in fact it was. It is a concern," she said.
‘No authority to offer damages’
Barton says a home inspection is simply a visual inspection of a home.
Inspectors are supposed to check roofs if possible, and should poke any structure that appears rotten. They are also supposed to ensure windows, appliances and furnaces are functioning.
If something gets missed, Barton says homeowners can file a complaint.
"We have an excellent professional complaint review system, process, however like any other association we have no authority to offer damages," she said. "Unfortunately the courts are the only ones that can do that."
But finding a lawyer to take on a home inspection case can be expensive, finding another home inspector to testify can be difficult, and getting any kind of payout can take years.
CBC News found only one case in B.C. where a homeowner successfully sued a home inspector. In that case, the homeowner was awarded $192,000.
One lawyer who specializes in construction law cases told CBC News they advise clients to take inspectors to small claims court, where the award is capped at $25,000.
The lawyer says the problem is the standard clause in many contracts homeowners sign limits an inspector's payout to the cost of the inspection fee.