Misuse of regulation prevents us from doing our jobs

If like me you perform home inspections in various area, and also like me you go above and beyond the Standards of Practice you might also opt for trying to obtain information about Building Permits issued on the properties being inspected.

Recently a worrying trend has been occurring. Municipal Councils have started refusing to giving any information out about Building permits citing the Privacy Act (An Act to extend the present laws of Canada that protect the privacy of individuals and that provide individuals with a right of access to Personal Information about themselves) or PIPEDA (Protection of Personal Information in the private sector) depending which takes their fancy.

Now I am all for protecting the privacy of the individual, but refusing to give details to a bona-fide professional trying to identify if the home they are inspecting, which has obviously had modifications in the past has been modified in compliance with the law is in my opinion nuts.

Having spent 8 months last year working with the Ministry of Consumer Services helping other professionally minded Inspectors and other peer groups ways in which we can bring in ways to make Home Inspectors more professional, I find government bodies invoking other regulatory Acts incorrectly to thwart our attempts to do the best for our clients more than mildly annoying.

I am not asking the Building departments to divulge who (personal information) applied for the permits, or who (personal information) may have inspected the work or who (personal information) completed the work. All I’m asking for is “Have any Permits been issued on this property, and if so for what purpose and when?”

Depending upon the answer I can then inform the client that permits have/have not been issued and therefore it is likely/unlikely the work has been properly inspected by the relevant authorities and may/not be a professionally completed job.

Both the Privacy Act (applies to Government) and PIPEDA (applies everywhere else) are regulatory acts to protect the privacy of an individual. They are both being used to allow Municipal and Local governments hide information without which home Buyers could be held accountable for errors made by previous owners.

As a result of this maybe I should start to include in my reports a standard clause which would state

***“As a professional inspector I attempted to identify if any prior renovations of the property have been carried out in accordance with the building regulations, but because of the incorrect application of Privacy Regulations by the [Insert jurisdiction here] I was unable to ascertain this information. If in the future a Jurisdiction Building inspection identifies work has been performed without a permit and a demand is made on you by the jurisdiction that creates financial or other strain you may find you have grounds to sue them for their refusal to give your chosen Home Inspector access to information that could have fully disclosed an issue which they chose, using misused regulations, to help cover up”

Of course the local jurisdiction will say that under the Municipal Freedom of Information Act I could apply for the information about the permits for a $5 fee plus search time costs, have to wait up to 30 days for the results AND have to have the written permission of the current owner before they would process the request.

I detest the fact that the oft quoted “most expensive purchase of anyone’s life” is subject to Caveat Emptor (buyer beware) rather than Caveat Venditor (full disclosure by the seller). Add to that the constant bombardment in the press of claims Home Inspectors not professional. We are then subject to calls from many places including Realtors, Regulators and “Self-proclaimed expert” media hosts that our profession should be regulated to make us better at our jobs. But really irks me more than anything is that for those of us that try to be a cut above the rest we are thwarted at every turn by the very people that are constantly crying foul.

With the amount of building inspections that have seen passed by the AHJ, I would not go by the permit anyways. However what would help is if we had access as to how the house or building was built and the plans had to remain at the site. I can’t see that ever happening.

I agree Kevin. The reason I ask about the permits is often I see visible signs of structural work and it would be nice to be able to inform my clients that they are not going to be held responsible for putting things right if there was a future AHJ Building inspection that identified something had been done without a permit.

It would be VERY nice if we could get access to all the other stuff people like Mike Holmes of HGTV fame claims he gets, but as that does have person information in them, and he’s not the home owner, I wonder how he gets around the regulations, which in that case do apply. Maybe the building departments are just “Star” struck in his case.

Latest indications show that Tarrion is in serious poo also yet they somehow got another add on TV saying how they protect new home buyers. What a joke to see Contractors sporting this on thier vehicles.

Usually paralegals did this as part of the background check for a lawyer on a real estate transaction.

On another note, the local municipal building department would only provide a list of municipal addresses that a permit was pulled in the last year. No details were offered.

I’m not aware of the current situation.

Without a national home building codes for your country, HI laws will never work. You will not be able to actually state if the home has a defect, without some national home building standard. And, it will have to be implemented for every home in your country.

Without that, HI laws are worthless. Have national HI laws and standards, the same will have to be with home building codes. Tell that to your lawmakers, and listen to the home builders scream.

I disagree that performing a permit search is the home inspector’s job.

I think that it is the job of the home inspector to recognize and document the existence of building modifications and to recommend that a home buyer ensure (either personally or through their real estate salesman) that the proper permits and inspections are on file.

I think it is prudent for the inspector to strongly suggest that the home buyer or his agent make these assurances BEFORE CLOSING … and that they fully understand that unpermitted and uninspected work could, at any time, be required to be torn down at their expense by an authority having jurisdiction.

Good point, however we do have a National Building Code in Canada. Most provinces have their own particular “customization” of the NBC. Most just add their own provincial flavour!

Even the lawmakers cannot agree on a “national” standard. So far, and therefor, based on 2 current models and a possible 3rd, we end up with each “province” doing their own brand of licensing.

Agree James.
I did not know how to narrate the thought.
Well done!

To go further we are not legally involved and do not destructively test and measure to which we would have to do to see complacency.

Guys, we are inspectors non destructively testing and measuring.

Jim, I respect your position on what a Homer Inspector SHOULD do, but just because our Standard of Practice gives a list of SHOULD, does not mean that if we choose, in order to provide an extra service to our clients, to provide services in the NOT REQUIRED TO list, then we can as long as we recognise the risks.

My point is, that for those of us that do decide to go above and beyond the SoP, where we are not specifically prohibited by SoP clauses or other regulation, the AHJ mis-using regulatory statues **incorrectly **to stop us doing so is wrong, and is a practice that needs to be corrected.

If you choose to do the permit search, buy the groceries and water the lawn to provide an extra service … that’s your choice … but not your “job”, IMO.

The “job” of a home inspector is to provide a complete, accurate and unbiased description of a home that their client wants to buy. No one can stop a home inspector from doing his “job”.

I have run into this difficulty many times beginning two years ago. Often I can speak over the phone with the Building Department secretary and elicit some information but in several of the jurisdictions we inspect in there is simply no way to get septic or building information from the AJH
We are forced to add a statement to our reports to the effect that having noted signs of amateur construction or outdated systems etc. our client is advised to check for permits and ensure a final inspection for the permit is on file. They have to get the information through a request from the owners of the property who have to put it in writing, signed, usually from the sellers lawyer to the AJH. Usually it means amending the purschase contract for more time.
If it is really hinky I flat out will tell clients there is no possible way a permit or inspection was done for this construction and if you in future desire a permit for some reno a building inspector could order the removal of all construction done without a permit and you are responsible for the costs.
Last one I had to do this with was a month ago. A three bed 2 bath freshly finished cottage on a nearby lake. 465 thousand asking, Hinky construction in foundation and decks. Our client requested copy of building permits and when it came it was for a single room cabin no bath no septic back in the early 70’s. Everything since done without permits.
Client and his lawyer thanked me, his agent found him another place and requested copy of permits with the offer. It won’t take long till it becomes a standard clause in the offer I think.

Many times we get last minute inspections so if we dont have an app for that, not likely we could obtain accurate information in a timely manner.
An inspector that observes probable modifications, even so much as maybe a column was removed in the basement, will/should note that in the report and get the realtor (who by far makes much more on this transaction than the home inspector, with much less liabiltiy) to do some further investigation to protect the client and see if modifications or permits were issued.

Really how much time do we need to do our job? Call us back for a forensic audit of all permits, interview sellers and take statements of facts for our reports… call subtrades etc … $5000 per inspection - NOT

I know lets call Mikey he will do anything.:mrgreen:

It’s not our job to do a permit search but merely note anything sketchy we come across…simply put:
Add On An addition to the property appears to have been made at ]] . This inspection does not review permits or determine if they exist. That determination should be made by client through the local building officials or with sellers prior to closing to ensure all additions were built with permits.


I find the response to this thread quite amusing, and somewhat disconcerting. I recently did a home inspection where I found corrugated steel gas lines that had no ground bonding. I asked the HVAC installer who was at the house why they don’t bond the line to ground. He said, it’s an electrical problem, so the electrican should do it. I subsequently phoned an electrician friend of mine and asked him what he would do, he replied he wouldn’t provide the bonding because it’s not his job, the Gas line is firmly under the job of the HVAC installer. so here we have an unprotected gas line. I saw the same issue a couple of years back with bonding jumpers across water meters this time between electricians and plumbers. In both cases the task is simple, offers no risk to either installer yet each one stated “it was not their job”.

For my part, I’ll carry on doing what I’m doing, because I feel I am giving my clients extra service for their trust in me. And yes maybe it’s “Not in my job description” but while I’m legally entitled to do it, it is economically sensible and safe for me to do so, I see no reason why I shouldn’t and see huge advantages in why I should.

It still doesn’t solve the problem of officials hiding behind regulatory acts as an excuse for “not doing their job”. Just my 10¢

Len, write up what you see.
You can always be a code inspector if you wish to be.
We are homies.

It’s not about code Robert, it’s about doing what we can, in the best interests of the client, because we can and not just because we have to, and ensuring we are not inhibited by those who don’t want to just because they think they have paperwork that says they don’t have to.

Len, that is crossing our fiduciary responsibility on so many levels.

I have been looking inwards due to an altercation.

I choose a direct path of open dialog/communication between all parties.

Everyone makes mistakes but this one required immediate dialog to defend home inspectors’, the vendor/purchaser and the contract we are involved in by allowing ourselves to be witness to all parties and report on the homes condition.

I reflected unbiasedly for an ethical resolution.
I reached out to see what my peers had to say.
I also reached across the table.

Here is my inner beliefs.
We are committed to inspecting a home and passing along any information to the client period.
The information collection processes SOP.
The ethical process association COE.
No more, no less.
We have ethical lines and SOP and we do not cross those lines.

The consumer also have a responsibility Len.
“To seek any required information they desire prior to purchasing the home.”

I will make a case in point:
Mike home’s narrative about a code compliant extension built in the 1970’s.
He bashed the builder saying it should have been… LETS DO IT RIGHT.
The permits where pulled up, the builder built the extension properly yet Mike holmes narrates to the viewing public the builder avoided his responsibility by building improperly.

Mike holmes was wrong in doing so Len as we would be wrong communicating to the public we should be given more authority.
In effect we would muddying the waters that are clearly defined and confusing an already emotional public.

Well I will use Mike Holme’s verbiage on you Len, LETS DO IT RIGHT as home inspectors and walk the line we are allowed to walk without confusing the public.
Let us proudly narrate we are InterNACHI home inspectors and inform anyone we come in contact with about our grand association.

IMO, If we introduce*** unrequired information*** to a client or the public at large we are doing them a disservice.

This is not our place!

Our place is to be thorough, promote our association’s standards of practice allowing the public to understand what we inspect and how, insure we are ethical and diligent and inform the client on what we have observed and nothing more!

Reards Len.
Remember, we are just cogs in the ever turning wheels within the home inspection industry.

Even if a permit is issued, it is not a guarantee that the construction meets code. I have found through numerous inspections code infractions. On the other hand I have also found that when the municipal inspectors get swamped, there’s a tendency to inspect as little as 1 out 10 homes in a major sub-division project.

My experience may be summed up as a municipal inspector “spot checked” some part of the house under construction.