libility question

i inspected a house a few months ago, and found some electrical “issues”. one was a 120v breaker wired to an outdoor outlet on a wooden post, probably for an old pool they took down. problem was that the outlet was a 220v dryer/range style plug. needless to say the wire to the breaker was melted (insulation that is) but the circut was dead. the other issue was a bad connection on a 120v breaker that fed one outlet in the rewired kitchen. my question is: my client didn’t buy the house, and the seller was not there, am i obligated to return and advise them of the hazards or will that violate my “code of ethics” and client privlages. my gut tells me to knock on the door and tell them, but they sold the house to someone else and i don’t know if there inspector found it. what would you do.

Good question Jay. Where does one draw the line. When I find a gas leak or a hot (temperature) circuit breaker, I always make sure the seller in informed immediately. These kinds of things can turn into a disastrous situation spontaneously.

I don’t inform the seller of the majority of the safety items like miswired outlets, lack of GFCI’s, loose handrails, etc. These items require homeowner participation to realize the dangerous situation.

I am curious to read some more responses to this post.

Go read the NACHI pre-inspection contract. I believe it states that any safety items will be discussed with the owners. That precludes you having to tell each customer that you are going to share safety violations with the current owner/occupants.


In my view if you note this information on your report and chances are in the sale the buyer is going to make sure the seller gets a copy of the report so this information should be covered within your normal report.

I personally believe that is all the notice you need to give because I can’t recall a single time a selling agent has not requested a copy from the buyer…just common place today and again in my opinion would meet your situation.

I think you should “GO WITH YOUR GUT”.
It’s obvious that it has already creted a little grief, so putting aside all the inspection agreements, do the right thing, and I guarantee you, it will pay off in the end.

yeah, i think your right guys, thanx for the advice. i just don’t want to overstep my bounds or get myself in hot water. and i’m alway afraid of looking like a schmuck. thanx again.

Never fear looking like a schmuck when safety issues are concerned. If you are unsure, or have an antagonistic seller, pull the realtor aside and tell them.
I have done it dozens of times, with things like disconnected chimney flues and other active hazards, but I tend to keep my mouth shut when it comes to latenet hazards, like a badly wired but unused branch line.
One time I inspected a 3 family where the owner decided to try to make a basement apartment for himself buy smashing up the concrete floor and excavating abouty four feet deep, fully exposing the footings under the foundation walls and peirs. The whole house shook and mortar fell from the brick foundation when I probed for termites. I politely back away and asked everybody to leave the basement and ended the inspection right there. I told the seller that this fully occupied house was, in my opinion, in imminent danger of collapse. Of course the buyer bailed, but the realtor and seller were not pissed off. Often they are fully aware of these things and are just hoping that they get an incompetent inspector.
I pass theat house every time I’m in the neighborhood. It is still occupied and I have no idea if they took any corrective action. I fear that I will read about its collapse in the paper someday. But I’ve done all I can do, I am not going to call the municipality, but I did keep the inspection report aside, with the information about all who were present and what I told them.

Home inspectors are considered experts.
If, during the course of your home inspection you find a condition within the house that is an eminent safety hazard to the occupants and yourself, this service should be shut down. You’re not required to re-energize the service that you shut down if a safety issue is present. Doing so places the liability of any personal injury upon you.

Disclosing information from an inspection report may violate contract law but killing somebody from an electrical fire is negligence. You may get away with contract violations but you will never get away with negligence!

I seriously doubt that a jury in a wrongful death lawsuit will look favorably upon your reply that you didn’t inform the current homeowner of an existing condition because of a confidentiality clause in a pre-inspection agreement. You will find that the pre-inspection agreement holds very little water in many areas. The court throws out pre-inspection agreements like used toilet paper daily. We consider it a contract but the court does not. Be aware!

If I found myself in this situation, I would call the AHJ and report my findings. The AHJ has the authority to inspect the structure, determine the safety threat, and if necessary condemn the structure until the necessary repairs are made. If the house collapsed and injured or killed someone, I wouldn’t want it on my conscience.

I refer to Home Inspectors as Generalists myself…Not experts in any one trade…exceptions do apply…( ie: electrical ) but I never pass off a home inspection where I give my take on the roof…that I am a roof expert…I do not try to portray anything in the expert rhelm…only the licensed trade can consider themselves that…sad to say not all are good enough to call themselves that as well.

Ok…another thing…talk about KILLING your business…

I did an inspection about 2 months ago…all i found really a issue was negative grade against the one portion of the back wall and signs of moisture coming through to the unfinished basement…inside…and noted as such and noticed a chimney that had a cricket that was damaged and moisture signs in the attic directly below the cricket area…

Well guess what…the firm ( real estate firm ) called me and said they will never use me again…and the sale is still not going through because of the things I mentioned…now this is a large firm…so the loss of their business will effect my company let say…anyway…I only did my JOB and guess what…now blackballed in that firm…

So either way you look at it the business we are in is a rough one as if you are a good honest inspector you point out things that are needed for the safety and concerns of your client which in this case was the buyer…but the buyers agent and sellers agent are in the same firm…so I got double whammy just for speaking what I saw…go figure.

That, to me, is inconsistency, and I believe it is inconsistency that gets us into trouble in this industry.

And what is currently an unused branch line with the sellers could very well be the most popular branch line with the buyers. So I would suggest always being consistent. Just because it’s an unused branch line now doesn’t necessarily mean that it will always be an unusued branch line, and then when the electrician comes in with a serious estimate for repairs, guess who the buyer is going to come looking for?

That sounds like an engineering determination there, for which one really needs to be careful if one doesn’t have a license to practice engineering. I would simply have documented the condition, what happened, and recommended consulting a licensed civil engineer or licensed structural engineer, along with recommending that a permits history research be conducted concerning the property.

Of course, if you don’t use the NACHI pre-inspection contract, then it’s kind of moot.

However, here in California, if the buyer is using the standard CAR purchase contract, then the seller gets a copy of my report at no charge. So the seller is then aware of everything that I have reported on.

I’m glad I don’t live in Tennessee. Our contracts here are quite good, and the courts generally like them, more often than not.

One also has to be realistic about things. Take the trip hazard in the walkway. Do you immediately report that to the seller because her 84-year-old grandma is coming tonight (you overhead that) and said grandma could trip on that hazard, break her hip, need hip surgery, and die on the operating table from a reaction to the anesthesia?

There are so many hazards in the home, and, as you should know, the great supermajority of accidents, injuries, and deaths occur in and around the home. So where’s the line? And at what point do we cross the line?

There’s only five things that would cause me to terminate the inspection and call someone: a gas leak, a dead body found on the premises, client requesting termination, seller requesting termination, and a fire.

Anything else simply goes in my report.

Don’t worry.

As soon as they all start buying houses for themselves, they’ll be calling you.

But this is the reason why I recommend anyone just getting started in home inspections have a savings account that can cover at least six months of expenses.

Common sense should prevail here. In all cases, if a life is in imminent danger, by any and all means necessary, communicate that to the affected individuals.

I have ended only two inspections early. Both because I felt that **I **was in imminent danger.

two cents TG

Call it as you see it

If you see something that the local PD should know about - call them

Remember we are members of the human race and some times we will make the wrong call. Better that than no call at all.

Remember that most issues have been around for some time and NOT caused a problem


If you ever get to drive in LA, San Diego, or Boston, you’ll believe that your life is in imminent danger as soon as you stick the key in the ignition.

Follow up…I did stop by the house and talked to the new owners, the husband is a G.C. and actualy appreaciated my stopping by, invited my in and we talked. he asked my to show him what i found, so i did and he said thanx and is calling an electrician friend of his to come by ASAP. I feel much better now, thanx guys. I guess even if you had all the answers to all the questions (which i don’t) you’d still have your oun questions which need answers that you don’t have 'cuz if you did, it’d be retorical and not worth a serios answer. sorry too much coffee.