Editorial: Tighter rules on home inspectors

The government of B.C. is having another crack at regulating home inspectors. This time the province needs to get it right. Home inspectors have become a big part of the home-buying process, and few prospective buyers would make the leap without getting an inspection report. They need to have confidence that the inspector they hire has the knowledge and training to spot problems that could turn into money pits.

In 2009, B.C. took a step in the right direction by becoming the first province to require that inspectors be licensed.

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Rather than set out detailed requirements for skills and training, Consumer Protection B.C. grants licences to people who are certified by one of four organizations. All inspectors are required to have at least 50 hours of field training with a supervisor plus 150 hours of education. The problem is that the four groups have different standards.

Consumer Protection advises prospective homebuyers to consult the standards and certification requirements of each organization to decide which one meets their needs, then hire an inspector certified by that organization.

That’s a heavy burden to place on consumers who have to wade through the four websites or call the four organizations in search of standards and compare them. Few will have the time or the knowledge to make a comparison.

Last week, Consumer Protection is beginning consultations with the four industry groups to create an accreditation system to give buyers some confidence. The instructions came from Premier Christy Clark in her mandate letter to Housing Minister Rich Coleman.

It’s about time.

Industry representatives, including Helene Barton, executive director of the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors (B.C.), have said the government didn’t get it right the first time and they hope it will be fixed this time.

Another group, Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of British Columbia, wants to see a single organization authorized to certify home inspectors.

The industry sees the need for consistent certification, and consumers certainly do. This year, a Vancouver woman took an inspector to court after he allegedly overlooked problems in the house that cost her $100,000 to fix.

Other jurisdictions have paved the way in improving regulations.

In Washington State, a detailed regulatory framework requires that all courses for home inspectors be approved by the state’s Department of Licensing. Its exhaustive regulations are worth studying.

Consumer Protection B.C. already offers help for homebuyers, with a website that allows consumers to search inspectors’ names to find out if they are licensed, and explains responsibilities of buyers and inspectors.

The agency watches for those who aren’t licensed. A listing of enforcement actions shows that Consumer Protection has moved against three companies since 2011. All were cited for doing inspections without a licence and ordered to stop. One was fined $500.

It’s reassuring to know that someone is keeping an eye out for licences, but the wider problem is that the value of those licences is diminished by the patchwork of certification bodies.

Consumer Protection and the four organizations are taking the first step to repairing the hole.

They should waste no time in creating a consistent system that will give consumers confidence as they make the biggest purchase of their lives.

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