Can I Sue a Home Inspector?
Yes, you can sue your home inspector. Whether you have a good case depends on what they did and how it caused you harm.
Home inspectors are impartial third parties who often deliver bad news to prospective home sellers and home buyers — which can cause complaints. Most of them will be sued at least once in their careers, but that does not mean they are actually liable.
You can choose to go to a small claims court (your winnings are limited to your state's cap, often around $10,000) or take the lawsuit to the local courts.
You can read a real home inspector lawsuit case from North Carolina here.
You might claim that your home inspector didn't honor your contract, or acted negligently. To prove negligence, you must be able to show that the inspector did something wrong (typically something another inspector wouldn't have done) and that their action or inaction directly caused you damages -- usually the cost of fixing the defects.
Six Things to Consider Before You Sue a Home Inspector
Before suing a home inspector, you should ask yourself if your side of the case is strong enough. You likely cannot sue them just because the buyer lost interest in the home.
While the home inspector's report might lead a buyer to walk away from a house, the home inspector usually can't be blamed for the sale falling through. Generally, both sides will read the home inspection report, agree on a price, and hopefully move forward with the sale.
Consider the following issues before you pursue a lawsuit, and consult with a real estate attorney if you are unsure about your case's strength.
Note: These considerations are not to say you shouldn't sue your home inspector. On the contrary, these should help you better understand how the inspector might argue their side, and what you need to think about to understand your case's strengths and weaknesses.
1. Inspectors Likely Understand More Than You Do
A home inspector is a professional who is aware lawsuits are a part of their job. They are likely always prepared for legal action, and their company may have an attorney on retainer.
An inspector also has professional knowledge in many areas of home building and utilities. They have a strong understanding of electrical, plumbing, city codes, infestations, utilities, and appliances. If you do not have professional-level knowledge of these areas, you may not understand what the report says or the extent of the problem.
2. Inspectors Document Everything
The report you will get is often 50+ pages and documents the inspector's time on the property.
Unless you are keeping equally detailed notes about the conversation you have with the inspector, you might be up against proof such as:
- Excellent records of the issues and appointment
- Voice or video recording of the report appointment (some states make it illegal to record someone without permission)
- Email or phone call recordings
3. The Inspection Has Limitations and a Scope
The cost of the inspection usually covers:
- Photos, written documentation, or video of any damage
- Brands and ages of utilities, the roof, smoke detectors, gutters, appliances, etc.
- A phone or in-person meeting to talk through the report with your inspector
- A home walk-through to learn about its utilities or special features (may depend on your state or inspector)
- A final report
However, the inspector can only review what is accessible and visible during the appointment. They cannot move rugs and furniture or force open doors or sheds, for example. Weather conditions can also change what is "visible and accessible" day by day. A snowstorm would make the driveway and roof inaccessible.
Inspections almost never include:
- Reviewing termite damage (you need a separate inspection for this)
- Material defect notes such as low budget choices in vinyl flooring or stair treads
- Intrusive behavior such as digging underground, putting cameras into walls, or cutting into floors
- Testing structural soundness or geological factors (aside from comments on flood zones or re-grading a yard)
- Septic tank or well inspections
Your report should have a clear indication when something was not inspected. It is a standard part of an inspector's job to list:
- Areas that were not inspected
- Why they could not access the area
- Recommendations to have a licensed professional inspect the area or bring the inspector back when the area is open
It is normal and quite common for areas of your report to say there was no access. It is up to you if you have these re-inspected before signing the home sale contract or close of escrow.
4. Sometimes, It Is the Seller, Not the Inspector
Sellers have been known to stage their homes cleverly to hide major issues or do illegal or deceitful things to cover up a problem. The seller may have also accidentally or non-maliciously failed to clear boxes or furniture — barring access to the attic, rooms, closets, electrical boxes, plumbing, utilities, and more. Your inspector cannot force doors open or move the seller's possessions.
If the sink was clearly and extensively leaking, and the inspector had clear access to it but did not document the leak, you should be concerned. However, suppose the sellers did not clear access to the sump pump, and you discover an issue later. In that case, the inspector is probably not liable.
You can ask the seller to give access and pay for the inspector to return to the house on a different day. Most sellers will play ball with this idea if they don't want to risk losing the sale.
5. The Waiver You Signed Might Limit the Home Inspector's Liability
You likely signed a waiver or contract when you hired your inspector. These usually explain that the inspection is not:
- A warranty that the home is safe or in good condition
- An insurance policy on the home's roof, leaks, or mechanical breakdowns
- A guarantee that nothing will go wrong with the home
- A complete list of the repairs you need to make
- A list of patents or defects for materials or utilities
- All-encompassing (any areas or conditions not within the home inspection's scope will be spelled out in the contract and again in the report)
You may also find clauses in the contract that say:
- You must use arbitration or mediation if you seek legal action, instead of going to court.
- There are limits on the money you can win in a court case.
- The home inspector should not be held responsible for future home failures or repairs.
- By accepting the report, you agree not to indemnify or condemn the inspector or their company.
- You must keep the report private, and hold the company harmless if the seller or a third party brings a claim against the company. For example, you can't ask someone to fix their work on the house just because your inspection report says it was done poorly. Fixing it is part of the original contract only, so the contractor or installer might dispute the report.
6. Home Inspections Are Not Pass/Fail
You can ask your inspector if the home passes or fails the inspection, but it is not their job to make that call. Even new construction has defects, and the inspector is there to explain the report so you can make your own decision on the house.
Even if a licensed inspector says to buy the house or cancel the sale, the decision is yours alone. They are not liable for the advice they give on this point. In most situations, they will politely decline to provide you with personal opinions and will stick to the facts.
When to Sue Your Home Inspector
You may want to sue after reading the inspector's report if they committed professional negligence. You would file a negligence claim.
State laws outline the standard of care a professional must provide the paying client. Residential real estate regulations also protect the customer from poor standards of practice or purposefully incorrect home inspection reports.
Only an attorney can review your specific situation to offer you accurate legal advice. But generally speaking, you can dispute a claim on the report or sue an inspector if:
- They do not report property defects that were within the scope of the inspection (read move about this above), visible, and accessible during the inspection
- They lied, and you can prove it
- The report is not accurate, or findings are in error
- The inspector hid or changed something in the house or report (exaggeration or downplaying an issue could be considered negligent)
- They agreed to hire a repair contractor for a problem they missed but did not follow through on (or the contractor made it worse)
- They agreed to pay for repairs or make repairs themselves but did not follow through on them (this is a breach of contract)
- The inspector does not respond to you or your lawsuit
It is good to ask other inspectors to review the report and the issue to get their professional input. If they agree the inspector was negligent, you may want to proceed with the lawsuit.
The inspector might get a lawyer to send you a demand letter to withdraw the suit. They might also counter-sue you. Do not ignore the lawsuit if they choose to counter-sue you.
It varies by state if the buyer, seller, or both can sue the inspector for a contract-based lawsuit. Different states have different laws on frivolous suits and indemnity claims.
A Note for Home Buyers Suing a Home Inspector
A buyer might bring a valid claim against an inspector only to find the sellers repaired the damage or fixed the issue. You can still bring this to court as a "disputed defect," though the case might focus on the seller's actions instead of the inspector's.
Note: If the home was a new build and the inspector missed an issue, you may be able to sue the home builder or construction company after the sale.
A Note for Home Sellers Suing a Home Inspector
There have been cases where sellers sue home inspectors because the report caused the buyer to walk away from the sale. If you are a seller and want to sue the buyer's inspector, you should carefully consider if an inaccurate report is to blame, or if the buyer got cold feet.
Consult With a Real Estate Law Attorney
If you feel a home inspection report is inaccurate or the inspector hid things on purpose, you might have a strong lawsuit. Consult with your real estate agent and a real estate law attorney.