There is an old superstition that if you step on a crack in the pavement, you will break your mother’s back. When it comes to houses, if you see or step on a crack, ask questions, because it can be a sign of costly repairs to come.
In early February, 2008, Ronald and Kathleen Jacob agreed to buy a house on 122 St. in Edmonton from Kenneth and Renee Pool. The house was 90 years old and the offer was conditional on the Jacobs being satisfied with a home inspection.
During the inspection, the Jacobs noticed cracks on the drywall and ceiling in one of the rooms and also that some of the doors and windows did not close properly. They asked the Pools whether they had faced problems with the home’s foundation and the answer was no.
The home inspection report said it excluded defects in the property such as cracks that may result from hidden defects because inspectors cannot search behind walls or under floors during an inspection.
After they moved in, the Jacobs had to pay $10,500 to fix the foundation when it slipped, damaging an area around the front porch. They sued the Pools in small claims court, claiming they either knew about the problem or concealed it.
In court, the Pools counter argued the cracks had been there for years, they did not hide them and hadn’t had any problems with the foundation.
Randy Bilyk, a civil engineer was called as an expert witness by the buyers. He testified that one third of basement foundation problems are caused by the settlement of soil. This can cause cracks in the foundation, allowing penetration of water. It can also cause doors to stick and windows to misalign.
He also testified that had he been called for the inspection, he would have conducted a visual inspection as well as a laser inspection to see if the home was level. He said the ceiling and wall cracks, the misalignment of the windows and the results of the laser test, would have raised concerns leading to further testing. That further resting might have revealed issues with the foundation.
He found no evidence that the Pools had done any repairs to try and stabilize the foundation or to disturb the soil around the foundation where the problem later occurred.
The law on hidden defects says that if a seller knows about a major hidden defect, does not disclose it or actively covers it up, then the buyer can sue them after closing. The judge accepted that there was no proof the Pools knew about the foundation problem or had covered anything up. As a result, the Jacobs lost.
What are the lessons of this case?
Not all home inspectors are the same so check their level of experience before you hire them. Consider additional testing, such as whether the house is level, especially in older homes.
Sellers, if you know about serious problems to your home, disclose them up front to any buyer or just fix them before you put your home up for sale.
Buyers, open every window and test every door during an inspection to make sure there are no visible problems.