Customer cries foul after home inspectors close ranks

A family in the St. John's area says they're being stuck with a big bill because of something their home inspector missed, and charge that others in the industry are closing ranks around them.

However, a top official with the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors in Newfoundland and Labrador says it’s not their job to regulate the industry.

Instead, the group says government should have an oversight role — something that the province has yet to take action on.

Matthew Burke moved his family home from Florida earlier this year. They found a newer home in an affluent neighbourhood.

For peace of mind, Burke hired a registered home inspector.

"We wanted to have a quality home inspection done so we’d know what we were walking into,” he said.

“We didn't want to get hit with the unexpected surprises of $1,000 here, and a lot more money … potentially."

But shortly after moving in, Burke says they got a big surprise.

"We missed it when we walked through the inspection but it's glaring to me now,” he said.

“We have water damage all on the studs throughout the entire basement."

The home inspector didn't see it. Instead, Burke's new neighbours gave him the bad news.

"We had about four to five inches of water that they can remember in our basement,” Burke said. “By their recollection, maybe three to four times that they can remember in the past two years."

After a night of hard rain, water is already coming through the floor. It could be the weeping tile, it could be the foundation.

Estimates for fixing either run into the tens of thousands of dollars. 

"We were in shock, at first,” Burke said.

He called his lawyer, and his real-estate agent.

“Everybody kind of directed me in the same area,” Burke said. “Call back the home inspector and give them an opportunity to see what we're talking about."

The inspection was performed by a company called Pillar to Post. Its inspectors are registered and carry insurance for errors and omissions.

After re-inspecting the basement, Pillar to Post sent Burke a letter saying the company accepts no responsibility.

"They believe they provided an adequate report, and that that's it. There's nothing further to be done."

Burke wanted to take it further, and take Pillar to Post to court. (Representatives from the company declined comment when contacted by CBC News.)

Burke says his lawyer suggested he contact Mike Guihan, the provincial vice-president of CAHPI — the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors.

Guihan also sells his services as an expert witness when home inspections go bad.

"I will have to go and inspect the property and I will have to determine what I think should have been discovered or should have been found,” Guihan said.

“And I will testify that this is the way it should have been done and this is what I found. That's it."

But when contacted by Matthew Burke, Guihan refused the job.

The inspectors from Pillar to Post are also member of CAHPI.

Guihan says it's a conflict of interest to testify against fellow members.

"It's the same as any professional association,” he said. “You're supposed to treat your fellow members with respect."

Guihan says the provincial government should be the ones to regulate the industry and licence home inspectors.

He says CAHPI doesn't have the teeth to be the industry watchdog, calling it a volunteer professional body.

"What are they going to do? Terminate the individual’s membership? That's about the worst they can do."

Service NL has confirmed that its officials have met with CAHPI about taking on that oversight role for the home inspection industry.

But the department says it has many concerns. 

Those include who would train the inspectors, and to what standard. 

Another issue is whether licensing would create a headache in rural areas.

And finally, there is the matter of who would pay to inspect the inspectors.

Burke, meanwhile, believes there is irony in his situation.

If he had hired an unregistered inspector, Guihan and CAHPI may have helped him with his claim.

Instead, he says, the registered inspectors have closed ranks and left him holding the bill.

"It's just... I'll say a money grab,” Burke said. “I mean, I pay all this money to have this home inspection done, but it turned out to be useless."

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