In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, home inspectors are not licensed, yet we are bound by PA Act 114 (also known as "The PA Home Inspector Compliance Law"). PA home inspectors must abide by the ethical requirements of the Law as well as the ethical requirements of the national association to which they belong, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Part of PA Act 114 requires that home inspectors comply with the Code Of Ethics of their national association, so it is easy to see that violating your association's Code Of Ethics would also be seen as a violation of PA Law. Currently, about 33 other states do actually regulate (such as through licensing) the home inspection industry.
A common misunderstanding that I run across when discussing the topic with Realtors® is the Code Of Ethics requirement that the home inspection findings/report, and any related test results, may only be provided by the inspector to his client. In most cases, that is the home's buyer. This means that the inspector may not discuss the findings of a home buyer's inspection with the seller or their listing agent; the inspector may only legally (and ethically) provide the inspection report to his client. Most inspection agreements have a section where the client gives the inspector written permission (such as the client signing his initials at that spot in the contract) to provide a copy of the inspection report to the client's Realtor®. The PA Sales Contract states that the seller may receive a copy of the inspection report, however the report must come from the person for whom the report was prepared. That means, the home buyer (in most cases) is the person who may provide the inspection report to the seller, not the inspector. The "client" by definition would be the specific person(s) who signed the inspection agreement contract.
The Code Of Ethics relates to the professionalism of the inspector. Since the inspector may only legally discuss the inspection findings with his client (and the client's Realtor®), sellers should allow sufficient time (about 3 hours), while the inspection is being performed, for privacy to allow the inspector to perform the inspection and discuss with his client, and the client's Realtor®, his findings and recommendations in real time. It is the client who is paying the inspector for a 3 hour technical tour of their new home where they can discuss any found issues, preventive maintenance suggestions, etc. It is often difficult, if the seller or listing agent is present at the inspection, for the inspector to have an ongoing real time discussion with the client since the inspector must do his due diligence to ensure that all inspection-related conversations are kept private.
Some other items found in the ASHI Code Of Ethics include:
Inspectors shall avoid conflicts of interest or activities that compromise, or appear to compromise, professional independence, objectivity, or inspection integrity. While the inspector works, in most cases, for the home buyer, he must remain impartial and fair to all parties involved in the home purchase. The inspector can not have a financial interest in the home sale closing, they can not be paid based upon the inspection results, and they must not accept 'kick-backs' or other compensation from other professionals or services that they may refer. Also, home inspectors may not repair systems that are inspected under the Standard Of Practice for within one year of the inspection. Of course, if an inspector offers to make repairs of items found during the inspection, a conflict of interest would be readily apparent. The inspector is there to inspect only; not to find projects to pad a side contracting business, for example.
This part of the ASHI Code Of Ethics also forbids home inspectors from paying for referrals or leads from Realtors® or real estate offices and brokers. Directly or indirectly Realtors® paying for referrals can infer that the inspector may not be impartial in his reporting especially since the inspector is working for the home buyer only.
Inspectors shall act in good faith toward each client and other interested parties. Home inspectors must objectively state their inspection findings and must not understate or overstate the significance of an item they are inspecting. The inspector must also do their job based upon experience, training, or education. A good example is if an inspector provides structural certifications (such as related to insect damage or a compromised roof truss), but if he is not properly trained and experienced in this area, he may be in violation of the Code Of Ethics for doing so. Also, the inspector may be misleading the client into believing that the inspector is fully qualified, trained and insured to provide structural certifications. I find that many Realtors®, lenders, and insurance professionals wrongly assume that home inspectors, in general, can provide Structural Certifications, for example. Another good example is Wood Destroying Insect (aka termite) inspections. The PA Dept. of Agriculture requires a Pesticide Application License to perform WDI/Termite inspections in most cases. Many in the general public wrongly assume that no license is needed for this service. When a client or Realtor receives the completed NPMA-33 (WDI Inspection Report form), the inspector's pesticide application and business license numbers are each (yes, these are 2 different license numbers) printed at the top of the NPMA-33 form should be confirmed. Unless the inspector is uniquely qualified and insured to perform these services, there is increased liability and risk to everyone involved.
Inspectors shall avoid activities that may harm the public, discredit themselves, or reduce public confidence in the profession. Home inspectors should market themselves using the actual training, experience, and certifications that they have attained. They should not overstate their qualifications nor do harm to the home inspection industry. Of course, the inspectors may not commit fraud or be deceptive. An inspector overstating his qualifications, such as the structural certification issue noted above, is also addressed in this part of the Code Of Ethics.
In conclusion, home buyers, home sellers, Realtors®, and all involved in the home transaction rely on the home inspector to be ethical and legally fulfill the law. By doing so, the inspector reduces his liability and he and his clients can more easily sleep at night.
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Matthew Steger, owner/inspector of WIN Home Inspection, is a Certified Level 1 Infrared Thermographer, an ASHI Certified Inspector (ACI), an electrical engineer, and a US Dept. of Energy Home Energy Score Assessor. He can be reached at: 717-361-9467 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WIN Home Inspection has provided a wide array of home inspection services in the Lancaster, PA area since 2002. This article was authored by Matthew Steger, ACI - owner of WIN Home Inspection in Lancaster, PA. No article, or portion thereof, may be reproduced or copied without prior written consent of Matthew Steger.