Inspector’s Blog

When Building Codes Shouldn't Matter To A Home Inspector

Every real estate agent knows that building codes exist, but they hate to see terms like “not up to code”, “code violation” and others appear in an inspection report, no matter on which side of a transaction they happen to be representing. Since older pre-owned homes are not judged by the same codes and standards as newly-constructed homes, they can be unfairly charged

The term “not up to code” is frequently expressed by home inspectors and using it carelessly can begin a battle between all parties for which there is no good answer. Especially so, if it was unnecessary.

Whenever a condition is addressed as a code violation, it immediately becomes an offense. The seller becomes the offender and images of a City Code enforcer, penalties and fines come to mind; none of which may be true. Too often, the term is used freely and at times, simply to dramatize a condition for leverage, or simply to end the discussion.

All inspectors are familiar with building codes; it’s part of our training and an even bigger part of our continuing education.  A licensed Texas home inspector is required to explain the hazards and risks associated with a condition or situation that applies to the scope of the inspection. An inspector is not required to cite it as a “code violation”, even to strengthen his assertion. In fact, no such citation is warranted if the issue is explained and reported correctly.

Whenever any condition or defect is identified as a “code violation” the charge is not only a disservice to the principal parties involved in the sale of the home, but if the inspector is not an Official with authority to issue citations, it is a contradiction.

When I became a home inspector in 1985, it was made clear to me the home inspectors are not officials. We have no “Official” title and most of all, we have no authority. We rely strictly upon our experience and training,

The Texas Real Estate Commission awards no authority to home inspectors or appraisers, to quote (or mis-quote) building codes to their clients. Those assertions, when they appear, are self-ordained. They originate and reside in the mind of the inspector.

For three decades, I have made the following assertion very clear in my reports.

“A code violation can be declared or enforced by a Code Enforcement Official only.”

If an inspector recognizes a hazard during an inspection, it is just as simple for them to illustrate the risk (or consequences) so that the client is aware of the condition without asserting an authority that they do not possess. It is better to explain the unintended consequences or the risk that may arise from ignoring the condition.

Occasionally a client will ask, “Isn’t that a code violation?” My response will depend upon the importance of the condition. “It’s a deviation from the building code (or a departure from today’s building standards or codes), or it is simply not safe. It is not a code violation unless a code enforcement official issues a citation.”

“What is more important is………..(fill in the blank……).”

Calling out a single code departure as a “violation” could imply that everything else in the home that I did not report or define that way, is “up-to-code”, which couldn’t be more wrong.