View Full Version : Court Ordered Inspection

Gerald Wilcox
01-20-2012, 03:55 PM
This is a first for me. The court has ordered a home inspection. The Health dept. along with Law enforcement a case worker and myself will be present at this inspection. The inspection (for my part) appears to be to be a standard inspection with a concern for safety.
The Social Services dept. appears to be the client. While I expect the inspection to be generally a basic inspection, except with all the other Depts represented.........I have a concern for what may happen afterward regarding a court case and being called to testify. Does anyone have experience with this type of situation or concerns? Should my inspection agreement have a clause of that spells out my fees for court appearences or testimony?
Thanks in advance!

Jerry McCarthy
01-20-2012, 05:28 PM
First, figure out who your client is. Second, have them sign your inspection contract and pay your inspection fee in advance. I don't know what type of contract you have, but it should have clauses that indemnify you from litigation by all parties involved. (we call those legal speed bumps and probably will not protect you) I suggest you have a meeting with the attorney who represents the jurisdiction who has asked you to conduct an inspection (now your client I suspect) and make sure all the details are incorporated within your contract. As with any home inspection you are opening yourself up for legal action the second you set foot on the property. Be very careful what you say and who you say it too.
Good luck!

Jack Feldmann
01-20-2012, 06:35 PM
What Jerry said. Good advice.
The only thing I might add is if you don't have a lot of HI experience, and some expert witness experience, I would suggest you beg off from this job. It sounds like one that will likely end up with you in court on the stand.

If you do decide to do the job, make sure you have your expert witness fees and conditions/limitations clearly spelled out.

Gerald Wilcox
01-20-2012, 07:19 PM
I am doing some preliminary research based on a call our office received. The social services person who initiated this contact has also, not been involved in a situation like this. I don't know who the client is because they were fact finding too. The Soc. Serv. representative said they will be the client if need be and would pay for the inspection. Thanks Jerry and Jack for you insight.

Markus Keller
01-21-2012, 08:55 AM
This is a pretty common type of situation around here. I would make a few recommendations having done more of these than I can remember.
- From a business perspective I would suggest you assess how your local housing court, social services and building department are set up to work together. Is there an established system in place or is your Muni starting to formulate a system to deal with changing housing situations? Normally Muni inspectors do this sort of thing. However for various reasons outside inspectors get hired to do this work as well.
- Since you are dealing with a Muni or Muni program getting paid in advance is highly unlikely. Figure out who is paying the Muni or the social agency. Is the social agency a direct Dept of the Muni or and outside agency funded by the Muni? Lots of pros and cons there.
- This can be a good field to get into. It does require a lot of homework, confidence and people skills.
- My guess is the Muni / social agency are looking to get a vacate order in housing court or your local version thereof. Forget about standard HI, forget all the stupid tools and testers, etc. You can do that but it's nonsense in this type of case. The city attorney, judge, social agency will be local for insanitary conditions and life safety issues. Rats, garbage, bad stairs, hazardous or non working plumbing, D&H electrical, insufficient safe egress conditions, etc. Stuff that endangers occupants and visitors.
- Does the house have running water? No running water or way to quickly re-establish running water is almost an automatic vacate around here. No running water, we aren't leaving those kids in the house.
- This isn't just about occupants either. If you testify or write a report, note in that report that the bad porch not only endangers occupants but will endanger emergency personnel as well.
- Talk with the client about what the goal is. Vacate the building, put pressure on owners, etc.
- Chances are you may have to testify. As far as liability, you should talk with a local lawyer or Muni attorney and see how your local system is set up. The Muni isn't going to come after you. The property owner is unlikely to either.
- Take lots of pictures
- Prior to the inspection have a pre-meeting with everyone in the morning or a few blocks away. Social people, cops etc, everyone who will be with. Establish who is in charge, what will happen in various scenarios, etc. Will PD secure premises first and then you go in, or are you the lead to get the door open?
- Consider a vest. Luckily mine never had to prove itself but there were close calls.
- Understand the importance of going in as a TEAM. In these situations, **** can stay calm or explode in seconds. No one goes anywhere alone, always at least one other person with you.
- Verify dogs or other threatening critters immediately.
- Be prepared to have a change of clothes in the vehicle and/or throw away what you are wearing.
- When opening an interior door stand away from the door so all the roaches fall on the floor not on your head. You only let that happen once.
- When knocking on an entry door, NEVER stand in front of the door, stand next to it so any bullets miss you. Knock like you want in.
- Always kick fences prior to entering the yard. This will alert dogs, they bark, you know they are there.
Sorry for the long post, hope that helps. PM or call if you want
- Almost forgot, have a copy of the court order with you every time. Your copy, your file, in your possession. Don't be Ok with, 'oh they have a copy'.
I could go on but I'll stop for now

John Arnold
01-21-2012, 09:08 AM
- Consider a vest. ..

Yikes. Not a sweater-vest, I'm guessing.

After reading Markus's advice, unless you plan on doing more of these in the near future, I would try to get out of it, as Jack suggested.

Jim Robinson
01-21-2012, 01:27 PM
After reading that list, I was thinking that it better pay really well. That doesn't sound like any fun at all.

Gerald Wilcox
01-21-2012, 02:12 PM
Thanks Markus Keller for the detailed response. I think you hit the nail on the head and you brought up many things that I had not thought of. No it doesn't sound like any fun and I roughly gave an estimate but can see that I should charge more.......you know to cover my new expenses, full body armour, a backup piece, a couple bodyguards. Seriously though, I appreciate your response. What made you get into doing these?

H.G. Watson, Sr.
01-21-2012, 06:47 PM
From what you describe, I suspect this to be a property maintenance code inspection, health and safety, sanitary, structural, habitability and legitimacy of continued occupancy or condemnation, and/or forced correction or razing; and/or the possiblity that the fitness of an individual to care for themselves and their own affairs is being challenged in a mental health or guardianship petition.

Who is the authority having jurisdiction regarding the residence (the city, township, county)? Have they adopted, for example, the International Property Maintenance Code, (quick research verifies the 2009 edition with or without ammendments, has been adopted by numerous authorities having jurisdiction in N.D., but has not been incorporated into the state building code).

Have you been appointed by or employed by the jurisdiction? As a code enforcement officer are you provided with Indemnity and immune from personal liability?

If not, are you qualified and indemnified (insured) for this type work (subjective), if regarding the mental fitness of an individual-type court situation and have no experience in this precise type code inspection, I would suggest you not endeavor this arena. Be it under state jurisdiction or local authority - there are individuals appointed or employed for code compliance and advesory access inspections - and is they who should be doiing so as a governmental representative charged with determinations regarding enforcement and adequacy. The governing body of the city, township, or county that has elected to adminiser and enforce the state building code and its ammendments and any other codes adopted by the authority should have either a designated enforcement agency or if provided by agreement for a joint administration and enforcement entity, or their contracted private enforcement entity - and same should be performing this inspection, as I understand your description and discussion so far (and the social worker, health department, and law enforcement entities should know who that is and have worked with same before - wouldn't be the first time a plumbing, health, code enforcement officer, etc. has required police assistance for forced entry, investigation, and inspection, etc.).

If independent qualified code inspector, certified for code inspection? Who is responsible for the research and accuracy regarding the historical development (building history, repairs, replacements, remodel, rennovations) of the structure that you will base your code inspection upon? Who will direct you by supplying the standard (i.e. code language as ammended and in effect) for the jurisdiction?

What does your insurer have to say on the subject of indpendent contractor code enforcement inspection/operations? How about your E & O should this be related to evidence gathering in re: determinations in a fitness hearing regarding mental fitness or guardianship, condemnation or razing, or otherwise disinfrancising an individual of their real and/or personal property, the right to occupy (lease?), removal of children, dependant adult, from the care or household of another, removal of chattle (animals, etc.) or other (what else might it be?) court-ordered entry and inspection, which apparently is safety and habitability oriented.

As you describe the circumstances, it does not present as a "home inspection" regular or otherwise, but a code inspection and determination of fitness for occupancy. An H.I. is not a code inspector or compliance officer.

Markus was a municpal code enforcment or a building code inspector for for many years.

Gerald Wilcox
01-21-2012, 09:11 PM
Thanks H.G. Watson Sr. for your thoughts and solid observations.

Scott Patterson
01-22-2012, 10:53 AM
I have done a few court ordered inspections and I have not found them to be that big of deal. I have always used the HUD minimal housing requirements as a reference guide when doing this type of work. Health, life and safety problems are a major part of this type of inspection. I would ask the powers in control what type of format or inspection they want.

If they can not pay you with a credit card (many state agencies have a CC for things like this) or with a check prior to the inspection you need to be sure that you have a purchase order for the inspection. You will get paid, it just might take a few weeks. Without a PO or prepayment I would not do the inspection....

Later on down the road if you are called to court, then you will be asked to testify only to the facts on your report. You will be acting as the custodian of record and not offering an opinion. Now if they state wants you to be an expert witness (I doubt this will be the case) then they will hire you and pay you as long as you have spelled this out in advance.