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Not Reporting Non-existent components/systems


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For those do litigation work, I am interested from a legal perspective of reviewing reports, how does the court system handle not reporting items that do not exist or were satifactory?

The state SOP's state that home inspectors must inspect sump pumps. Here in the land of slab and crawlspaces, sump pumps are few and far between.

If the house does not have a sump pump, there is nothing to report so the inspector puts nothing in the report at all about sump pumps . Or there is a sump pump which is satisfactory so nothing is put in the report.

The issue I see is that there is no documentation in the report that the inspector inspected the sump pump if present or that the inspector performed the state mandated inspection looking for a sump pump. Does the court take the opinion that since there is nothing in the report about the sump pump (because it did not exist or was satisfactory) that the inspector failed to perform a complete inspection?

The list of items that must be inspected but are found infrequently include trash compactors, sump pumps, thermostatically controled attic ventilation fans, etc.

The slipperly slope part of this question is... what about items that are commonly found but are satisfactory so not mentioned like pipe supports, water heater flues, etc.

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For those do litigation work, I am interested from a legal perspective of reviewing reports, how does the court system handle not reporting items that do not exist or were satifactory?

It will depend on the precise wording of the standards of practice that you'll be held to, in this case, those of NC. Read them very, very carefully. The degree of scrutiny might vary from one judge to another, but sometimes the decision about how to handle items like this comes down to a single word, or even a single punctuation mark in the standards.

The state SOP's state that home inspectors must inspect sump pumps. Here in the land of slab and crawlspaces, sump pumps are few and far between.

If the house does not have a sump pump, there is nothing to report so the inspector puts nothing in the report at all about sump pumps . Or there is a sump pump which is satisfactory so nothing is put in the report.

If you were to inspect a magical house that had no defects, would your report be a blank piece of paper?

The issue I see is that there is no documentation in the report that the inspector inspected the sump pump if present or that the inspector performed the state mandated inspection looking for a sump pump. Does the court take the opinion that since there is nothing in the report about the sump pump (because it did not exist or was satisfactory) that the inspector failed to perform a complete inspection?

The court certainly *might* take that opinion. Or not. Depends exactly what your standards say and on which attorney is more persuasive.

The list of items that must be inspected but are found infrequently include trash compactors, sump pumps, thermostatically controled attic ventilation fans, etc.

The slipperly slope part of this question is... what about items that are commonly found but are satisfactory so not mentioned like pipe supports, water heater flues, etc.

Why is it a slippery slope? It seems like a very finite slope with plenty of traction. The whole purpose of a published standard of practice is to give traction to slopes. If your state requires you to inspect something, make sure that you inspect it and make a notation about it in the report. If there's nothing wrong with the sump pump, just say, "There's a sump pump in the northwest corner of the crawlspace. I lifted the little float and the pump came on. I dropped the little float and the pump went off. While it pumps water out of the sump hole just fine, it probably won't do squat to address the crawlspace water problem because the morons who installed it failed to install a drainage system to go with it." or something along those lines.

If it's not there, just say, "I didn't find a sump pump in the crawlspace."

If you use a checklist, just write, Sump Pump: None.

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quote]

Why is it a slippery slope? It seems like a very finite slope with plenty of traction. The whole purpose of a published standard of practice is to give traction to slopes. If your state requires you to inspect something, make sure that you inspect it and make a notation about it in the report. If there's nothing wrong with the sump pump, just say, "There's a sump pump in the northwest corner of the crawlspace. I lifted the little float and the pump came on. I dropped the little float and the pump went off. While it pumps water out of the sump hole just fine, it probably won't do squat to address the crawlspace water problem because the morons who installed it failed to install a drainage system to go with it." or something along those lines.

If it's not there, just say, "I didn't find a sump pump in the crawlspace."

The state association is offering a "Peer Report Review". Association members submit their report and the review committee follows a Report Compliance Worksheet created by the licensing board. The worksheet has two fields, Yes or No. Either the report has the item in the report or it does not. The Compliance worksheet is the state SOPs in the format of a check list in an effort to simplify report review.

All the members of the assoication review committee are new to the committee. After having reviewed several reports, it became apparent that otherwise well written reports are not including any information about various components like sump pumps, trash compactors and other items the SOP states must be inspected. The SOPs state the items have to be "observed" and defines the term observe as "visualy inspect". It does not say report. The SOPs also state that some items must be "described"

My report states Not Present or Inspected for every item in the SOPs and the report compliance worksheet. The question is not about me. The question is more of a gathering of ideas about how the Report Review committee should evaluate reports as a service to association members. Should we take the strictest interperation or a more lenient position. The committee is and association officers are trying to pick a path.

The licensing board has weighed in on Describe vs. Inspect. THe SOP states an inspector must Inspect some items and Describe some items. The board currently takes the position that if the item is described in the report this implies the inspector also inspected the item. The board has not shared how they address the issue of no mention in the report of items not found at the property or items in satisfactory condition not in the report that are Inspect Only items.

"If you were to inspect a magical house that had no defects, would your report be a blank piece of paper?" According to the state, No. The state requires descriptions of certain items. So the answer would be if the magical house had no defects, the report could in theory only contain the mandatory descriptions and mandatory cover page items.

While I care somewhat about what the licensing board may think, I am interested in what commonly happens during litigation around this topic. The licensing board is made up of mostly non-home inspectors and mostly only address issues when they have to vs. thinking through ahead of time and declaring the path. If an inspector is in court over the report, the licensing board is really just a back burner issue.

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I don't talk about stuff that's not there........

So, do folks think that describing in detail how one inspects a pump ("I looked at it, lifted the switch, it squirted, water seemed to flow, and there was a satisfying thump as the check valve closed") is better or worse than simply reporting on the presence of a system if it's the there, and if it's defective, saying why it's defective.

IOW, if there's a pump, it gets a brief description (pump, sump, drain tile, battery backup, located @ xyz, etc.) and if there's nothing wrong, that's it. It's not even a complete sentence. If there's something wrong, it gets a photo, a description, a red arrow pointing, etc., in the summary of the report. I provide a defect list.

I'm not saying my experience should guide the profession, but in my experience, none of that extra writing and describing really means anything to anyone 'cept us. Trying to intuit or imagine what a judge might think about a sump pump is speculating at it's most extreme.

And, I can write all sorts of stuff about what I did, but that doesn't mean I did it, does it? In an inspection world of boilerplate, a simple click can say I did something I never did. Would a judge take that into consideration? See, and now I'm speculating about what a judge might think.......

Does taking a picture of the pump and drain tile mean I inspected it, or does writing about looking at it mean I inspected it?

Personally, I think that a photo looking up the drain tile says a lot more than a lot of words. It means, verifiably, I had my hands in the sump.

We argued about this a while back. I think Mike lost that argument............[:-dev3]

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I only report what's there and I only report on whether it's functioning when I'm required to. If something is working alright, I have no reason to waste time reporting that it's functional unless I'm required to by our SOP.

For example, our SOP requires a comment to the effect that there was a TPR valve and it's associated piping present but it doesn't require me to report whether it works or not. So, I might state in the description of the plumbing components that there was a TPR and discharge pipe present but nothing else is said about it.

Similarly, using one of the examples above, we are required to report the presence and functionality of sump pumps and waste ejector pumps when they are visible and confirm that the float switch activates the pump when the sump is dry.

Obviously, if I'm required to confirm that something works, I should report whether it works or not in the report.

Essentially, if we see certain items that are spelled out by the SOP we are required to report their presence, but we aren't required to say a thing about a system that isn't installed. So, if there are no sump pumps or waste ejector pumps we don't have to say anything about them.

With a waste ejector pump, we can test that it works by running a lot of water into the tank and listening for it to come on and then shut itself off; however, we aren't required to open it up to ensure that it's pumping out completely. With those, we just state that one was present and that we confirmed that it came on by running water into the tank.

With a sump pump we report its presence but aren't required to touch it unless the sump well is dry. Under that rule, I'll describe a sump pump in the report. If I can safely manually lift the float to test it, without lugging buckets of water into the crawlspace or dragging a hose in there, I will; and then I'll report that it was tested. I'm not required to state that I think it's capacity is sufficient, whether I think it pumps the water out faste enough or anything like that - only that it came on when the switch was activated. If I can't test it, I'll simply report that it wasn't tested because I couldn't safely test it.

Maybe a better example is an air conditioning system, because I rarely see those. If there is one there, our SOP requires me to describe the system and its energy sources, operate it and open readily accessible covers to get to it and inspect it's condition, but nothing requires me to say a thing about air conditioning in the report when there isn't any air conditioning installed - not even one word.

I'll bet that the OP's SOP says someplace that he's only required to inspect and report on "installed" systems. If that's the case, there's no point in sticking something in the report about stuff that's not even there.

My opinion, worth the price charged.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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It's a good opinion........

This is why I've become very happy with the idea of complete photo documentation on jobs. The SOP's don't prescribe how we're supposed to describe something; they just say we have to.

Having a photo of a water heater, TPR, and discharge pipe is a very satisfactory description.

Same thing with a sump pump. If I got a pic of the sump, pump, my hand on the switch, and a view up the drain tile, that's a good description.

Yep, it was a pain in the ass getting all the software together to handle volumes of pics, and learning how to think like a photojournalist as much as an HI, but it fills all the reporting requirements quite satisfactorily, imho.

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Kurt seems to have a good attitude about this job.

Jim has written some very nice paragraphs and comments.

Bruce's question has not been answered. I think the very idea of report critique by my peers is very dangerous. They really don't know squat about your client nor the situation. It is a form of close peer review and generally not a concept I like. Too subjective.

I have looked at more reports than most inspectors have done or seen. I looked at (judged) report for a national society for compliance. From a legal perspective I can find great fault with 99.9% of them. Or, at least enough to file an action.

This is one of those ideas and concepts that could be nicely addressed by a traveling roadshow for inspectors. Maybe we could get Mike and Kevin to fashion some CEU's for attendance.

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I pretty much agree with everyone that has posted. Having worked for both plaintiffs and defendants on both sides on many cases involving home inspectors, all I can say is if it is not in print it was not inspected. Might sound kind of harsh but this is all that folks have to go by when they are reading your story about the home inspection.

Sometimes what an inspector does not put in the report can be more damning than what is in print!

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The question might be framed as what does it mean to be "in print"?

I'm not sure there's an answer to the original question. All there can be are descriptions of how folks document conditions.

I think the commonly accepted methods of documentation are outdated and counterproductive.

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