Disputes Over Property Inspections: Rights and Responsibilities

If you’re buying or selling real estate in California, property inspections are often a fundamental part of the process. They offer an in-depth look at a property’s condition, uncovering any issues that may not be immediately visible. This information is vital for buyers to make informed decisions and for sellers to understand their obligations regarding property disclosure.

Unfortunately, inspections (or the lack thereof) can also set the stage for potential disputes between buyers and sellers. If you’re involved in a property inspection dispute, it can leave your transaction in legal limbo. That’s why it’s crucial to understand the purpose of these inspections and your rights and obligations under California law. Below, we break down the most important information about property inspection disputes and how you can resolve your conflict effectively. 

The Purpose of Property Inspections 

The purpose of property inspections in real estate transactions is multifaceted and plays a critical role in the process for both buyers and sellers. The primary purpose of a property inspection is to evaluate the overall condition of the property. This process includes checking the structural integrity, the condition of the roof, electrical systems, plumbing, heating and cooling systems, and other significant components of the property.

Inspections help in identifying areas that need repairs or maintenance. They also look for safety issues like faulty wiring, weak foundations, or any other hazards that could pose a risk to the inhabitants. Finally, they check for compliance with local building codes and regulations, particularly when on-compliance can lead to legal issues or fines down the line.

The findings from a property inspection can impact the valuation of the property. Issues uncovered during an inspection can lead to negotiations on the sale price, or the buyer may request the seller to fix certain issues before finalizing the deal.

For buyers, an inspection provides peace of mind about their potential investment and any additional costs that may arise after the purchase. It assures them that they are making a well-informed decision about the property’s value and condition. 

Finally, from a financial perspective, understanding the condition of the property helps both parties manage risk. Buyers can avoid investing in a property with costly hidden problems, and sellers can address issues upfront to avoid future disputes or legal claims.

Legal Framework Governing Property Inspections in California

The legal framework governing property inspections in California is primarily shaped by state laws, regulations, and established legal precedents. The California Civil Code contains several provisions related to real estate transactions, including those governing property inspections. Notably, sections pertaining to the disclosure of property conditions are highly relevant. Under these regulations, sellers are legally obliged to disclose known defects and issues that might materially affect the value or desirability of the property.

Other crucial requirements that may impact inspections include:

  • Real Estate Transfer Disclosure Statement (TDS): Under California law, sellers of residential property are required to provide buyers with a TDS. This document includes the seller’s disclosures about the condition of the property, including any known defects or malfunctions in specified systems and components.
  • Home Inspection Laws: California has specific regulations regarding home inspections. These laws define the scope and standards for home inspections, outlining what should be inspected and reported. The Business and Professions Code, for example, outlines the requirements for home inspectors, including licensing, conduct, and practice standards.
  • Local Building Codes and Ordinances: Local municipalities in California have their own building codes and ordinances that affect property conditions. Inspections must ensure that properties comply with these local regulations, particularly regarding safety standards, construction, and zoning laws.
  • Case Law: California’s legal precedents play a significant role in shaping the interpretation and enforcement of laws related to property inspections. Court decisions in disputes over property conditions, disclosures, and inspection reports significantly influence the legal landscape.
  • Environmental Hazards Disclosures: California law requires disclosure of environmental hazards like lead paint, asbestos, or the presence of radon gas, which can impact a property’s safety and desirability.
  • Natural Hazard Disclosure (NHD) Statements: In certain areas, sellers must disclose if a property is located in a hazard area, such as a flood zone, fire hazard zone, earthquake fault zone, or a seismic hazard zone.
  • Common Interest Developments (CIDs): For properties in CIDs, like condominiums or townhouses, additional disclosures regarding the health and status of the homeowners association (HOA) may be required.

These laws are designed to ensure transparency, protect buyers, and provide clear guidelines for sellers and buyers involved in the real estate transaction process.

Rights and Responsibilities of Buyers

The many regulations listed above have impacts for both buyers and sellers. For example, buyers are granted both rights and responsibilities regarding inspections during fair and transparent real estate transactions. As a buyer, your rights include:

  • Right to Disclosure: Buyers have the right to receive full disclosure from the seller regarding the condition of the property. This includes disclosures about known defects, environmental hazards, and any material facts that could affect the property’s value or desirability.
  • Right to Inspect: Buyers have the right to conduct a thorough inspection of the property. This can include general home inspections, pest inspections, and specialized inspections (like structural, roof, or pool inspections).
  • Right to Review Documents: Buyers have the right to review all documents related to the property and the transaction, including the title report, homeowners’ association documents (if applicable), and natural hazard disclosures.
  • Right to Cancel: Under certain circumstances, such as discovering significant undisclosed defects or if the property doesn’t meet specific conditions, the buyer may have the right to cancel the transaction within a specified period.
  • Right to Fair Treatment: Buyers have the right to be treated fairly and without discrimination based on race, religion, gender, familial status, disability, or other protected categories under the Fair Housing Act. They cannot be discriminated against or prevented from performing an inspection based on these categories. 

In return for these protections, buyers are subject to a number of responsibilities during real estate transactions, including:

  • Conducting Due Diligence: Buyers are responsible for conducting thorough due diligence. This includes arranging and following up on property inspections, reviewing all disclosures and reports, and ensuring they understand the property’s condition.
  • Securing Financing: It is the buyer’s responsibility to secure financing for the purchase. This involves obtaining pre-approval for a mortgage, ensuring the availability of funds, and meeting all lender requirements.
  • Reviewing and Understanding Documents: Buyers must carefully review and understand all documents related to the transaction, including the purchase agreement, disclosures, inspection reports, and loan documents.
  • Meeting Contractual Obligations: Buyers are responsible for meeting all deadlines and fulfilling contractual obligations as outlined in the purchase agreement, such as deposit requirements, contingency removals, and closing timelines.
  • Acting in Good Faith: Buyers are expected to act in good faith throughout the transaction. This includes honest communication, timely response to inquiries, and adherence to agreed-upon terms.

Understanding and fulfilling these rights and responsibilities are vital for buyers in California real estate transactions, helping to ensure a smooth, legally compliant, and fair process for acquiring property.

Sellers’ Obligations and Disclosure Requirements

Sellers are bound by the same laws as prospective real estate buyers. If you’re preparing to sell a property in California, your have specific obligations related to property inspections and disclosures, such as:

  • Permitting Inspections: Sellers must allow buyers or their representatives to conduct property inspections. This includes providing reasonable access to the property for this purpose.
  • Cooperating with Inspection Process: Sellers are expected to cooperate with the inspection process, which may involve providing keys, disabling security systems during inspections, or ensuring utilities are operational for proper inspection of systems.
  • Disclosing Known Issues: If sellers are aware of any issues that could affect the property’s condition, they are obligated to disclose these to the buyer, even if a formal inspection has not uncovered them.
  • Compliance with Local Ordinances: In some jurisdictions, sellers may be required to conduct specific inspections (like pest inspections) and provide the reports to buyers. Sellers should comply with any local ordinances pertaining to property inspections.

In addition, there are specific disclosures sellers need to make to ensure prospective buyers are fully informed before they make any purchase:

  • Real Estate Transfer Disclosure Statement (TDS): Sellers are required to complete and provide a TDS to the buyer, disclosing known material facts about the property’s condition, including any defects or malfunctions.
  • Natural Hazard Disclosure (NHD): Sellers must disclose if the property lies within certain hazard areas, such as flood zones, fire hazard zones, earthquake fault zones, or seismic hazard areas.
  • Environmental Hazard Disclosures: This includes revealing the presence of lead-based paint (for homes built before 1978), asbestos, radon gas, or other environmental hazards.
  • Megan’s Law Disclosures: California law requires sellers to notify buyers that the Department of Justice maintains a website with information about registered sex offenders.
  • Homeowners’ Association (HOA) Documents: For properties in an HOA, sellers must provide the governing documents of the association, including CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions), financial statements, and minutes of recent HOA meetings.
  • Death in the Property: If a death occurred on the property within the last three years, the seller must disclose this fact (with certain exceptions related to deaths from natural causes).
  • Water-Conserving Plumbing Fixtures: In some cases, sellers must disclose whether the property contains water-conserving plumbing fixtures as required by state law.
  • Energy-Related Features: Sellers should disclose energy-related features or improvements, such as solar panels, and any associated financing or lease agreements.

Even in an “as-is” sale, where the property is sold in its current condition, sellers still have the obligation to disclose known defects and material facts about the property. Failure to properly disclose can lead to legal consequences for the seller, including the possibility of being sued for misrepresentation or nondisclosure. Therefore, it is crucial for sellers to understand and fulfill these obligations diligently to ensure a legally compliant and smooth real estate transaction in California.

8 Common Disputes Regarding Property Inspections

Property inspection disputes in real estate transactions typically arise from differing expectations or interpretations about the condition of a property. 

Perhaps the most common dispute arises when buyers discover defects that were not disclosed by the seller. These conflicts can be caused by issues like foundational cracks, roof leaks, mold, electrical problems, or plumbing issues. The dispute often centers around whether the seller was aware of these issues and whether they had a legal obligation to disclose them.

Other common inspection-related disputes include:

  1. Misinterpretation of Inspection Reports: Buyers and sellers might interpret the results of a home inspection differently. For instance, what an inspector notes as minor wear and tear, a buyer might see as a significant issue. Disputes can arise over the severity of problems reported and the estimated cost of fixing them.
  2. Condition Changes After Inspection: Sometimes, the condition of the property may change between the inspection and the closing date. For example, new damage might occur, or a previously functioning system may fail. Disputes can arise over who is responsible for these new issues.
  3. Quality of Repairs: If the seller agrees to make repairs based on the home inspection, disputes can occur over the quality of these repairs. Buyers may feel that the repairs were not completed to a satisfactory standard or that they don’t address the underlying issues identified in the inspection.
  4. Non-Compliance with Codes: Disputes can arise when a property fails to comply with local building codes or zoning regulations. Issues like illegal additions, non-permitted work, or code violations can lead to significant disputes, especially if these were not disclosed or discovered during the inspection.
  5. Boundary or Title Issues: Although not directly related to the physical condition of the property, disputes can arise from inspection reports that bring up boundary discrepancies or title issues. For example, a survey might reveal encroachments or easements not previously disclosed.
  6. Environmental Hazards: Discovering environmental hazards such as radon, asbestos, lead paint, or mold during an inspection can lead to disputes, especially if the buyer believes the seller should have known about these hazards.
  7. Inaccurate or Incomplete Inspections: Sometimes, the competence or thoroughness of the inspector can be a source of dispute. Buyers might claim that the inspector missed significant issues or that the inspection report was not comprehensive.

These disputes underscore the importance of thorough inspections, clear communication, and accurate disclosures in real estate transactions. 

Options for Resolving Real Estate and Inspection Conflicts 

If you’re facing a potential legal conflict because of a property inspection, you have several options for handling the situation. People in your shoes often turn to methods such as mediation, arbitration, and litigation. Let’s break down how these approaches can help you:

Real Estate Mediation

Mediation involves a neutral third party (mediator) who helps the disputing parties communicate and try to reach a mutually acceptable solution. It’s a non-binding process, meaning the mediator doesn’t make decisions for the parties, but helps facilitate negotiation and settlement. Mediation is often preferred for its lower cost, confidentiality, and the opportunity for creative, flexible solutions.

Real Estate Arbitration

Arbitration is a more formal process than mediation, where an arbitrator (or a panel of arbitrators) listens to both parties’ arguments and evidence, and then makes a binding decision. It’s similar to a court trial but is usually faster, less formal, and confidential. Parties can agree to arbitration either before or after a dispute arises, often through an arbitration clause in their contract.


Litigation involves taking the dispute to court, where a judge (and possibly a jury) will hear the case and make a legally binding decision. It is the most formal resolution method and can be time-consuming and expensive. Litigation is public, and the court records are accessible. It is often considered a last resort after other methods like mediation or arbitration have failed or are deemed inappropriate.

In deciding which method to use, parties should consider factors like the complexity of the dispute, costs involved, desired speed of resolution, and the relationship between the parties (since litigation can be more adversarial). Legal advice is often necessary to navigate these options effectively, especially in more complex or high-stakes disputes.

Legal Counsel to Resolve Property Inspection Disputes

A California real estate attorney can play a crucial role in resolving real estate property inspection disputes. Their expertise in real estate law and dispute resolution methods makes them valuable in these situations. By hiring a real estate attorney, parties involved in a property inspection dispute can navigate the legal complexities more effectively and work towards a resolution that protects their interests and adheres to California real estate laws.At Peterson Law, LLP, we offer personalized legal counsel for real estate disputes of all kinds in San Diego and the surrounding areas. We are available to help you resolve property inspection disputes with less stress and fewer complications. To learn more about how we can assist you, schedule your consultation with our skilled real estate attorneys today.