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Monday, July 21, 2008

Amateur Hour in Lansing Again...

Well, I see that our states amateur lawmakers are at it again, trying to save us from ourselves and screwing things up in the process. An article that I read related to a bill in our legislature that actually started out fine, but which has now had an amendment attached by a lawmaker who doesn't understand what he's doing and has effectively messed up the intent of the bill.

The bill was one to require some formal training and licensing for home inspectors in Michigan - those folks that we all hire to take a look at a house that we are trying to buy. I certainly always recommend getting a good home inspection, especially for those trying to buy a foreclosed home, since the banks know nothing about the property and usually tell you that in 20-30 pages of legalise. Right now, home inspectors have no regulation, no required training and no license requirement. If I wanted to, I could have cards printed up that say Norm's Home Inspections and be in the business right away. That's probably not a good thing; so, the original intent of this bill, to set some training and licensing requirements was good.

What happened is that some obscure lawmaker added his own amendment to the bill at it's second reading. His amendment states that the home inspector may be held liable for any defects that are missed in the inspection and subsequent report. The amendment doesn't put a dollar or time limit on that liability. Currently, the normal recourse available to the buyer of an inspection service is to sue to get back his/her inspection fee, which is generally in the $300-500 range. There is no provision for holding the inspector liable for anything that he/she may miss, even if that turns out to be a significant and costly issue.

Why, you might ask, is this bill, as currentlky written, a bad thing? Well for one, the only way that home inspectors could stay in business with this level of liability would be to get liability insurance (and quite a bit at that), which would drive up the cost of inspections, perhaps putting them out of reach for the common buyer. Secondly, current home inspections are non-invasive and non-destructive. The inspector can't look behind the drywall without poking a hole in it, but that's where the hidden mold might be that this stupid law would hold the inspector liable for. There are all sorts of places in a home that the inspectors can't get to - sealed up attic or crawl spaces, finished walls in a basement and others. Either the inspector has to poke holes in the walls to get to those spaces or just hope that nothing is back there that might crop up later (I smell more insurance, if that is the case).

Another consequence might be creation of an environment of fear, the same as what has happened in the health care industry. Because of fears of liability, doctors order tons of tests, many unneeded, just to cover their bases (and whatever else needs covering). That drives up the cost of health care. Home inspectors could start requiring that home buyers run all of the tests - mold, infestation, radon and others - just to make sure that nothing is missed.

So, I guess we'll see if sanity prevails and someone removes this bit of stupidity from what otherwise was going to be a good law to require more training and accountability (through licensing) for home inspectors in Michigan. The various home inspection associations were for the original bill, but now they are fighting this stupid amendment. Perhaps, if we are to continue with a term-limited amateur legislature, we should have some rules about a minimum level of intelligence that would be required to become a legislator.

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