Who's liable when a furnace that wasn't inspected is found to be unsafe?

Question: When I bought my home, it was the middle of the summer and very hot, so my home inspector did not test the forced-air furnace. This winter I found the heater to be inoperative, and the contractor I called said the system was unsafe. The repair costs are more than I can afford. Should I go after the inspector for negligence, the sellers for nondisclosure or both?

Answer: The home inspector may have been negligent, depending on what was stated in the inspection report. Furnace inspections are among the most important aspects of a home inspection because of the potential health hazards and the high costs of repairs. Inspectors should operate and inspect them, regardless of the weather. Some heating systems will not operate when the air temperature is above 90 degrees. But this does not mean that the furnace inspection should be dismissed.

If a home inspector, for any reason, is unable to operate a furnace, the report should recommend a reinspection or evaluation by a licensed heating contractor. If your inspector did neither he was negligent and could be liable for the of repairs. You should contact him.

Of equal concern is the question of disclosure by the sellers. If the heating system was inoperable before the property was sold and the sellers were aware of that fact, they should have disclosed this to all concerned parties. Failure to provide such disclosure could render them liable.

On the other hand, it is possible that they had no knowledge of the problem. For example, if the home had been used as a rental or had been vacant for a prolonged period, the sellers may not have known that the furnace was inoperative.

-- Barry Stone, Access Media Group

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