How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes

The home inspector says I have construction defects. How did my home pass inspection by the building department?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

It’s frustrating to hear that your home is not compliant with building code and safety standards, sometimes years after completion of construction. But there are several good reasons why this sometimes happens.

    The first stage at which a new house gets evaluated for code compliance is in “plan review,” where a building official checks the plans and specifications for the proposed residence against building code, zoning, fire safety, and local ordinances. While the plan reviewer is expected to be diligent, the final approval always comes with a statement attached which says that the local jurisdiction is not responsible for an oversights, and approval does not waive the requirement for code compliance—even if a substandard or missing item was not caught in the plan.    The reviewer checks for general compliance with the construction standards, but does not guarantee it. A local governmental agency just does not have the resources or time to make a detailed evaluation of the plans.

   Next the home gets scrutinized at the various “progress” inspections during construction, which are scheduled at the completion of each phase, but before the work is concealed. A foundation or slab inspection is done, for example, before the concrete is poured, and a framing inspection checks the structure before drywall covers it. At completion, a final inspection provides an overall check before issuing a Certificate of Occupancy for the new home.

   But inspectors typically spend a total of 20 minutes to an hour each month checking on the jobsite, compared to the thousands of man-hours of work it takes to construct a house. It is not physically possible to verify that everything is correct, and not their intention either. Also, some jurisdictions don’t do any inspections at all on certain types of permitted construction. One rural county we have worked in does no inspections for a reroof of an existing home.

    So, for all these reasons, when someone says that the building department approved the construction and that should be good enough, we disagree. The municipal building inspectors we know are knowledgeable and hard-working at an often difficult, contentious job. But certifying that absolutely everything is perfect is not what they do.

    And, by the way, like most governmental agencies, building departments have immunity from lawsuits for their mistakes or oversights. Here’s how it is stated on the Certificate of Occupancy (C.O.) issued at the completion of new homes in Sumter County Florida: "This Certificate is issued pursuant to the requirements of the Florida Building Code and only certifies that at the time of Issuance this structure was constructed pursuant to a building permit issued by the Sumter County Building Department and that said department has inspected the construction of said structure at various intervals in an effort to insure compliance with the Florida Building Code and all other code requirements that pertain to the construction of said structure. However, compliance with all such codes is the sole responsibility of the owner, building or permit holder and the Sumter County Building Department makes no representation that said construction is in total compliance with all such codes."

    See our blog post What makes a house fail the home inspection? for more on the pass/fail factors of a buyer’s home inspection. Also, see our articles Do I have to bring my house up to code to sell it? and How can a house be inspected by two different home inspectors that come up with different things to be fixed? and Why are expired building permits a problem for both the seller and buyer of a home?

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  To learn more strategies for getting the best possible home inspection, here’s a few of our other blog posts:

How can I make sure I don't get screwed on my home inspection? 

Is a home inspection required? 

How thorough is a home inspector required to be when inspecting a house?

Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement?

Can I do my own home inspection?

How can homebuyers protect themselves against buying a house over a sinkhole? 

The seller gave me a report from a previous home inspection. Should I use it or get my own inspector? 

    To read about issues related to homes of particular type or one built in a specific decade, visit one of these blog posts:

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1950s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1960s house?

• What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1980s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1990s house?

What problems should I look for when buying a country house or rural property? 

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been moved?

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been vacant or abandoned?

What are the most common problems with older mobile homes?

What do I need to know about a condo inspection?

   Visit our HOME INSPECTION page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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