Pest inspections aren’t perfect, or guaranteed

“Go ahead and have another inspector take a look, but you’ll wind up paying the bill.”

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Q: My wife and I bought a home in Fairfield last April. We had every type of inspection you can think of, including a whole house and pest inspection. When I was crawling under the subfloors this weekend to install some wires, I discovered mud tubes on the inside of the concrete portions of the foundation. I’ve seen these before when my uncle’s house had termites. I called a local pest inspection company who confirmed for me that they were caused by termites. I have an appointment with them to do an inspection next week. My question is, what do I do if it turns out we bought a house with termites? Who’s responsible? Does the law have some sort of warranty on termite inspections? Thanks. A: Termites can be a problem for more reasons than one. From a lawsuit perspective, termites can pose a difficult problem for homebuyers who move in only to discover an infestation. Even if you had a termite inspection as part of the purchase, there is only so much a termite inspector can tell you about whether a property is infested or not. Obviously, homeowners don’t want an inspector, during a routine inspection, to start tearing apart walls, ceilings and floors to be absolutely sure there isn’t an infestation that is not apparent from an external inspection. Termite inspectors normally inspect the exterior and interior surfaces of the home, including the garage, to look for mud tubes, wood damage, or holes in the Sheetrock which the bugs can crawl through. The inspector will crawl along the foundation beneath the house and will stick his head through the attic’s crawl hole. Inspectors are not required to walk around in the attic because of the potential for damage to the home. People who know more about termites than I do have decided that the inspection techniques used by inspectors offer the best balance between cost and the likelihood of finding an infestation. But the system isn’t perfect, or guaranteed. In your case, the inspection conducted when you purchased the property occurred at least four months ago. An infestation could have occurred since then. Or, the tubes you found may have been very old and there is no active infestation, although the pest inspector should have destroyed the tubes. If you really think the original pest inspector missed an active infestation, you can call the original inspector back and see what he says. If you can’t get the answers you want that way, you can call the California Pest Control Board at 916-561-8708 and lodge a complaint. The CPCB is the state oversight agency for pest control inspectors. They will investigate the complaint and, eventually, order the pest inspector to make the needed repairs should he be held culpable. In the meantime, you can go ahead and have another inspector take a look, but you’ll wind up paying the bill. The homeowners, and the Realtors for that matter, probably have no liability. Both are allowed to rely on the opinions of experts, in this case the pest inspector, assuming of course that they have no actual knowledge that the inspector missed something. Unless you have proof that the seller knew, rather than just suspected, there was an active infestation of termites, you should stick with the CPCB. Having said all of this, I want to stress that you don’t know if you have a problem and, even if you do, you don’t know at this point whether or not the problem started after you bought the home. Tim Jones is a real estate attorney in Fairfield. If you have any real estate questions you would like to have answered in this column you can contact him at AllThingsRealEstate@TJones-Law.com.]]>

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