While it is uncommon, it is not unheard of that termites are found after a clear building and pest inspection. This can happen for many reasons including natural occurrence, infested neighboring properties, negligent inspectors and buyers failing to do their due diligence.
The most common way that people fail to do their due diligence is by not getting a pre-purchase building and pest inspection. However, there are rare times when buyers do everything right but still end up finding termites within the property.
In 2020, one unfortunate couple on the Gold Coast found themselves in this exact scenario. They had done everything right prior to purchasing the property including getting a building and pest inspection completed. However, after only 3 months of living in the property, the occupants found live termites crawling out of their bathroom socket!
Understandably, the couple was extremely shocked as the building and pest inspection they had completed prior to purchase stated that there was no evidence of live termites. Immediately calling for another inspection to take place from a different company, the property was found to be riddled with live termites and extensive termite damage.
With the repair bill reaching into the hundreds of thousands, the couple is understandably devastated. Since the discovery of the termites, it became known to the couple that a previous buyer had terminated their contract of sale under the building and pest clause as their inspection found evidence of termites.
This begs the question, who exactly is responsible when termites are found after a clear building and pest inspection? The inspector for failing to find evidence of live termites, the real estate agent for not being transparent about the condition of the building or the buyers?
You can read their full story here.
Who is responsible?
In the above scenario, the pest inspector is liable as it was able to be proven that the inspector “should have reasonably seen” the termite damage. This means that had the inspector carried out a thorough building and pest inspection, he would have seen evidence of the live termites and the termite damage.
In other cases, the answer of who exactly is responsible is dependent upon several factors, such as:
- Can you prove the building and pest inspector was negligent in failing to complete a thorough building and pest inspection?
- Can you prove the real estate agent falsely misrepresented the property?
- Did you do your due diligence when purchasing the property?
When the inspector is liable
A building and pest inspector is only liable when it can be proven that the inspector “should have reasonably seen” evidence of live termites or termite damage. In the example above, the couple was able to prove this as another building and pest inspection company completed a report noting evidence of termites only weeks before. Likewise, there was no way the extent of the damage could have been caused within 3 months of infestation.
When the real estate agent is liable
In Queensland, the laws around real estate conduct and obligations are “murky and complicated” at best. There are laws to penalize false and misleading conduct by real estate agents. However, this legislation does not go so far as stating that real estate agents are obligated to disclose all information about the condition of the building to potential buyers.
That’s why it is so important for buyers to do their due diligence when purchasing a property. In the case of the Gold Coast couple, they were unable to prove that the real estate agent had acted maliciously or falsely advertised the property.
When the buyer is liable
In other cases, the responsibility falls on the buyer to do their due diligence before buying a property. For instance, should a buyer fail to get a pre-purchase building and pest inspection completed and then later find termites within the property they will have no avenue for legal recourse. It will be solely up to them to cover the cost of the damage as many insurance companies do not cover termites.
At other times, buyers misunderstand the scope of the building and pest inspection assuming it includes checks for items like asbestos and gas appliances. If the building and pest company is reputable, they will supply a service agreement prior to conducting the inspection which outlines the scope of their work. It is the buyer’s responsibility to thoroughly read through this service agreement and hire the relevant specialist should they need additional items checked such as air conditioners, mould and asbestos.
Building and Pest Inspection Reports have a limited shelf life
Buyers should also be aware that building and pest reports are only valid for 4 weeks as termites can move into a property at any time without warning. Likewise, storms and other damage may occur to the property that changes its current condition making the previous findings void.
Unfortunately, there are times when termites move into a property after the building and pest inspection was completed. In this case, no one is at fault as it is simply a natural occurrence that can take place.
Limitations of a termite inspection
A reputable inspector will investigate the situation thoroughly by making use of all the tools available to them including a moisture meter and thermal imaging camera. However, there is no tool available that allows a person to see damage in the timber behind a wall lining.
If the damage is old, and there are no other indicators such as high moisture levels, termite mudding and termite damage to the external wall lining, the inspector has no way of knowing that the timber frame is damaged. This will only become evident if it causes other problems within the structure or the wall lining is removed.
In addition, a termite inspection is a visual inspection only and the inspector cannot see under floor coverings, behind or under furniture, under insulation in the ceiling void, or in any other concealed area. Inspectors cannot touch or move any items in the property and the seller might be concealing damage either accidentally or deliberately for the inspection.
Minimize your risk
It is vitally important to get a building and pest inspection from a proven, reputable business to ensure you’re getting a thorough inspection. Doing so will minimize your risk of finding yourself in a similar situation as the unfortunate Gold Coast couple. No company can guarantee their reports past 4 weeks but by booking with a reputable business you will have peace of mind that you are receiving a thorough building and pest inspection.
After you purchase a home, it’s a good idea to get annual timber pest inspections to ensure that any termites that do happen to move in are detected and treated early.
At DedAnt, our inspectors are fully licensed, insured and experienced to carry out pre-purchase building and pest inspections for both residential and commercial properties. If you have any questions or would like to book an inspection, call us on 07 3807 0122. Alternatively, you can also contact us via our website.