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Are Home Inspectors or Sellers Responsible For Issues That Went Undetected During a House Inspection in Pennsylvania?

Posted on August 3, 2022

In some cases, home inspectors or sellers can face liability if they fail to notice or disclose a defect with the home. The key is whether they knew or should have known of the defect at the time of the sale. 

Are Home Inspectors Accountable?

If a home inspector failed to find an issue that caused you or another resident harm, legal action is an option. However, whether or not you have a viable case depends on what the inspector did or did not do and how it harmed you. 

Home inspectors serve a vital role because they are aware of many things that homebuyers are not, but they don’t necessarily know all of the tell-tale signs of a defect or problem. They are also not required to conduct “intrusive” inspections, meaning they will not poke holes in walls or move boxes or furniture. Instead, they do a visual inspection of what they can see. If they fail to find an apparent defect that was within the realm of their professional knowledge, then the inspector can be liable for damages. 

Limitation of Liability Clause

Many home inspection companies include a “Limitation of Liability Clause” in their contracts. This clause allows inspectors to evade legal liability for their negligence and often states that they will only be responsible for reimbursing the fee you paid for the inspection if there is an undetected issue. As a result, you may not have much legal recourse against a home inspector for missing a defect.

Can a Seller Be Held Responsible?

Sellers in Pennsylvania are not responsible for undisclosed defects in cases where they were unaware of the defects. That being said, under “Pennsylvania Home Sellers: Disclosures Required Under State Law,” a seller can be held liable for failing to notify a buyer in writing of a known material defect with the property. In these cases, buyers can file a property defect claim based on either fraud or negligent misrepresentation. In claims based on the grounds of fraud, the buyer will have to prove the seller actively took steps to hide or conceal the issue. For example, painting a ceiling to hide water damage. 

When a claim is based on the grounds of negligent misrepresentation, the buyer must prove the seller should have known about the issue and failed to repair it. For instance, if a leak in the basement occurred years prior and the seller had it repaired but experienced an issue with it again, they would know the repair was unsuccessful and should have told the buyer about the problem. If your claim against a seller is successful, you can potentially recover compensation for the cost of the damage and up to three times that amount. 

What Should I Do if I Find an Undetected Issue With My New House?

Immediately begin documenting the unidentified defect. You will need evidence if you end up having to take your claim to court. Take pictures of videos of the damage and write down a description of the problem and the date you first noticed it. Notify the buyer’s broker or the seller’s broker if you did not use one. If there were no brokers involved in the sale, contact the seller directly and ask if they were aware of the defect. You may need to hire an inspector for their opinion on when they believe the issue began. If you can find evidence that the seller intentionally failed to disclose it, contact an attorney to discuss your legal options.