The third-party home inspection is one of the final (and most important) steps in buying a home. Inspectors are trained to look for things that most people wouldn’t notice, to list everything they find, and to inform the buyer (and seller) which items require immediate attention and those that don’t.
What if you find something after you move in that the inspector missed? What if a defect they listed as minor turned out to be significant and costly to repair? Can you sue them? It depends. If they were negligent and you suffered harm (even in the cost of repairs), you might have a case.
What you need to know if you’re considering legal action
It’s important to remember that most inspectors are fully aware of their potential liability. That’s one reason their reports are extremely detailed and they typically have well-crafted liability waivers. If you go up against them, be prepared to confront stacks of evidence and probably a good law firm.
It’s also essential to understand the scope of the inspection. For example, a general home inspector typically doesn’t inspect wells or septic tanks or test a property’s structural soundness. They likely don’t inspect for termite damage. They may, however, suggest that you bring in a specialized inspector to look more closely at things they may find concerning.
If there are areas of the home they’re not able to access, they should make a note of this so that you can decide whether you want to have a follow-up inspection. Inspectors aren’t allowed to force open doors or move homeowners’ items without permission.
When should you consider legal action?
There are situations in which an inspector can and should be held liable. For example, if they:
- Failed to report defects that were visible and accessible (like a leaky water heater)
- Made a significant error on the report
- Intentionally hid or downplayed an issue
- Agreed to repair an item they missed or pay for the cost of repair to avoid legal action and then failed to follow through
The best thing to do if you discover a problem for which you believe the inspector is liable is to talk with an experienced real estate attorney. They can review the inspection report and any waivers and contracts and advise you about the best way to proceed.