Dear Ask the Attorney:
Greetings, can a home inspector be sued for negligence? Especially one who performed a home inspection, including a termite inspection for a closing – inspector missed the fact the home had termites and visible mud tunnels in the home.
I ask because I read online that NJ has a law preventing such lawsuits. Thank you
Our guest blogger today is Jason R. Rittie, Esq. Mr. Rittie is Chair of Einhorn Harris’ Real Estate Department and a partner in the Land Use and Zoning Department. He has extensive experience in complex real estate transactions, particularly in acquisitions, leasing and sale of commercial and residential properties. Mr. Rittie also represents property owners and developers in all aspects of land use and zoning, and has appeared before planning and zoning boards throughout Northern New Jersey for site plans, subdivisions and variances for commercial and residential properties.
By way of background, in New Jersey, all home inspectors are required to be licensed and are regulated by the provisions of the “Home Inspection Professional Licensing Act.” This Act is one of the Nation’s toughest controls on the home-inspection industry and protects home buyers from scam artists and un-qualified inspectors. New Jersey home inspectors must meet extensive licensing requirements, such as having a minimum of high school education level; 180 hour approved course of study; a minimum of 250 home inspections; mandatory insurance and payment of an application fee. In addition, home inspectors are required to abide by continuing education requirements. There is also a Home Inspection Advisory Committee that provides oversight of the home inspection industry. For any misconduct, home inspectors are subject to suspension or revocation of their licenses. These regulations are in place to protect the public from unscrupulous conduct by licensed home inspectors.
As for your question, home buyers are generally precluded from asserting negligence claims against licensed home inspectors. However, home buyers are not left without any recourse. The Home Inspection Professional Licensing Act requires all licensed home inspectors to provide home buyers with a written pre-inspection agreement no later than one business day after the appointment for the home inspection is made, and the pre-inspection agreement shall be executed prior to the start of the home inspection. This pre-inspection agreement creates the contractual duty of a home inspector to competently inspect the property. As such, a home buyer is entitled to sue a home inspector for breach of contract and for any alleged damages arising from that contractual breach. There is, however, a time limitation for an action for an error or omission in the performance of a home inspection contract which is four years. New Jersey courts have also allowed a limitations period to be shortened by agreement between the parties, so long as such an agreement is reasonable.
You should consult with your attorney and review your pre-inspection agreement to determine your rights.
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