View Full Version : Sewer gas smell in home.

Mike Huppi
04-22-2007, 10:52 AM
I was asked to go to a home and see if it was accessible to go into the crawl space, they were told it was very tight.

I went by the home with the buyer agent and as soon as we entered the home there was a very strong smell of sewer gas. The agent said the sellers agent stated that it was from a pet turtle in the back bedroom causing the smell. We went to that bedroom and it smelled better in there than the rest of the home. I told here that it smelled like sewer gas and she agreed, the buyer father smelled the same thing. The access was not safe to enter and almost impossible due to it was a hole that was cut into the wall that was 4' above the floor and was 10" wide and 18" tall. A person would have to be very skinny and have two ladders on on the inside of the wall cavity and one on the outside then have to go in on their side without breaking something. Then there is another hatch in the floor to go through so I could not get to it at all. It was not safe or accessible.

When the 1st hatch was opened to look into the cavity the smell about knocked you over it was bad. The agent said the same thing and could not stand the smell.

I said that there should be a new access made and that the home owner not stay in the home until the smell is identified and repaired, and anyone who enters the space wear protective breathing gear until it is identified.

The seller is now stating that there was no sewer leak and the black nasty water is normal in the crawl space in that area. Yea right even if I could have opened the lower hatch I would have said the same thing.

She has filed a claim stating that I blew the deal and made unwarranted claims or statements.

If you smelled something that bad would you recommend that the person no mater who they were get it checked out and not stay there until they find out what was going on? I consider it hazardous and unhealthy and responsible on my part to point it out that there may be hazardous conditions.

Any opinions

Bruce Breedlove
04-22-2007, 11:03 AM
She has filed a claim stating that I blew the deal and made unwarranted claims or statements.

Who did she file a claim with? Does that mean she is suing you?

I would have probably reported the conditions the same as you except I doubt I would have recommended the occupants vacate the house. Otherwise facts are facts and you simply reported the facts. It's not your fault her house is full of sewer gas or worse (e.g., broken sewe pipe).

Mike Huppi
04-22-2007, 11:23 AM
The the state contractors board. Because it smelled so bad I felt like if someone got sick after I was there then I could be held liable for not saying that there might be a health risk until it is found out what was causing it.

If you saw or smelled something that could be hazardous to someone shouldn't you let them know. Or if someone got sick they could then say that you or I should have said something.

Its kind of a catch 22

Jim Luttrall
04-22-2007, 11:26 AM
You did not "blow the deal", you reported the facts and made recommendations based on what you found. You did not say "don't buy this house" did you? Sounds like you identified a problem and called it out.
Who did she sue?
How did you find out?
Sounds like there is a lot of hot air in addition to the odor.

Jerry Peck
04-22-2007, 11:34 AM
Are you licensed under the state contractors board? If not, it should be dismissed as 'not within the scope or purview of the board'.

Yes, if it's (in your opinion) a safety/health/life safety issue, you should report it to the occupants and advise them to not go back in until the (whatever) is ascertained/verified/repaired/found not to be harmful.

If you saw arcing or a flame flickering, wouldn't you tell them to immediately call an electrician or the fire department, or would you let them go back in knowing they may never come back out alive?

Scott Patterson
04-22-2007, 01:20 PM
If I had a dime for every homeowner, builder or agent said they were going to file a complaint against me for "killing the deal", I could by a Starbucks Double Espresso!

Don't worry about things like that, they tend to never mature or even happen. Folks say all types of things when you start messing with their money!

Mike Huppi
04-22-2007, 01:28 PM
In Oregon we have to have a contractors lic. to be a home inspector. NO I did not tell them not to buy the house.

I got a registered letter saying that they are giving me 30 days notice that they are filing a complaint with the contractors board, which is required here. I am not to worried about it. I just thought I would find out if anyone else has had this problem like this one.

Thanks I will keep you posted.

Jerry Peck
04-22-2007, 02:03 PM
In Oregon we have to have a contractors lic. to be a home inspector.


What does it take to become a licensed contractor in Oregon, and 'what type of' "contractor" must one be?

william siegel
04-22-2007, 05:57 PM
How about calling the building department and / or health department and reporting the issue. I'll bet that would end this real fast.

Mike Huppi
04-22-2007, 06:17 PM
All home inspectors in oregon have to have a contractors license, liability insurance, bond, and pass the tests. We have to have 30 hrs continuing ed hours every 2 years.

I dont think the idea of the health dept is a good idea because I did not see anything I just smelled it and make my recommendations. The sellers agent sent me a picture of the crawlspace and it is nasty with black standing water that I would not enter the space even if I could walk into it.

I will try to resize the picture so I can post it.

Jerry Peck
04-22-2007, 08:10 PM

What does it take to become a licensed contractor in Oregon, and 'what type of' "contractor" must one be?

What does it take to become a licensed contractor in Oregon?

What type of' "contractor" must one be?

Mike Huppi
04-22-2007, 09:13 PM
It is just a contractor license that is for that type of work. Plumber, Electrician, Home Inspector.

In Oregon we are not allowed even if our lic allowed it to do work on any home or building that we have inspected in the last year.

On our license it states what we are a contractor for.

Mine only says home inspector.

Does that answer your question or explain it fully, if not let me know

Bruce Breedlove
04-22-2007, 10:17 PM
So a home inspector is considered a contractor in Oregon. Interesting.

Tim Moreira
04-22-2007, 11:29 PM
If you can smell sewer gas in the home then it is a safety hazard and the client/seller/agents need to be informed.

Jerry Peck
04-23-2007, 05:35 AM

That answer the 'what type of contractor' question I had.

Being as you are considered a 'contractor' in Oregon, I would read up on any laws and regulations governing 'contractors' (and I am sure you have) so you will be aware of certain requirements which may now apply to you.

In Florida, Chapter 95, Limitations, would put you on the hook for a maximum of 15 years, if we (HIs) were contractors.

Then there are all of the requirements in Chapter 489 which would apply ... but let's not go there.

My other question was 'what does it take to become a contractor', in this case, a 'contractor - home inspector'? What qualifications, tests, etc., or can anyone just walk in and buy a 'contractor - home inspector' license?

Bob Harper
04-23-2007, 10:18 AM
If you smell what reminds you of sewer gas and it is coming from a confined space as defined by OSHA, you cannot be held responsible for inspecting or accessing such a place within the scope of a home inspection. Just as with Level III inspections of chimneys, you have sufficient ground to recommend this compartment be inspected by a qualified contractor of agency complete with SCBA, 4in 1 gas detectors, pull a confined space permit and send the owners a certified letter return receipt you are advising them they could be in danger of various hazardous gases including but not limited to hydrogen sulphid and methane. Send a copy of this letter to this State licensing board.

It is always better to err on the side of caution and in the favor of someone else's safety. If you fail to notify the occupants of a hazard to them, you could be in more trouble. The blown deal is hot air. You did not create the hazardous condition. The owners put you at risk by failing to disclose a hazardous environment. Their listing realtor should have walked the house during the disclosure and flagged the odor then.

Put it back on them. You did your job and was put at unnecessary hazard through a failure to warn. You could have died in there if there was hydrogen sulphide gas accumulated. Anytime you guys crawl under homes or even enter basements, it would pay you to wear a 4 gas analyzer/ alarm-
combustible gas, O2, CO, and H2S.

Brian Hannigan
04-23-2007, 10:50 AM
Here is information on Oregon Home Inspector Requirements


Mike Huppi
04-23-2007, 01:37 PM
Thanks Brian I was not thinking and should have posted the link like you did. It must have been the sewer gas that gave me a brain lapse.


Jerry Peck
04-23-2007, 02:46 PM

Caoimhín P. Connell
04-24-2007, 05:20 AM
Hi Gents –

Interesting thread. Two comments really got my attention:

1)… and the black nasty water is normal in the crawl space in that area …

OK – That’s interesting. However, even if that were true (which is highly questionable), so what? That doesn’t make it OK; it just means that in that area, construction contractors or architects should be doing something about the intrusion issue for every house.

2) You could have died in there if there was hydrogen sulphide (sic) gas accumulated. Anytime you guys crawl under homes or even enter basements, it would pay you to wear a 4 gas analyzer/ alarm- combustible gas, O2, CO, and H2S.

Very true. In fact, depending on the SIC Code for Home Inspectors, HIs may very well fall under the requirements of OSHA’s confined space standard. If HIs are considered to fall under “Construction,” then you would be exempt, otherwise if you are considered “General Industry” then the entry procedures apply to you (and your employees), and the testing described by Harper may be mandatory for a large number of crawlers.

I think Harper’s advise is very sound.


Caoimh*n P. Connell
Forensic Industrial Hygienist
Forensic Industrial Hygiene (http://www.forensic-applications.com)

<SMALL> (The opinions expressed here are exclusively my personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect my professional opinion, opinion of my employer, agency, peers, or professional affiliates. The above post is for information only and does not reflect professional advice and is not intended to supercede the professional advice of others.)


Mike Huppi
04-24-2007, 07:44 AM
Yea that is funny that people say oh its "normal". Well I have done about 5 homes within 5 blocks of there and I have never seen that in any of them so I am sending a letter to the home owner and going to let her know my thoughts and we will see where it goes. If I would have been able to see inside the crawlspace I would have said the same thing most likely.

Mike Huppi
04-24-2007, 08:05 AM
Here is a picture of the crawl space, I am glad they sent it to me after opening up the hatch because I would not have gone in there anyway and would have made a lot more recommendations. It is ugly down there, and they say it is normal.

Jim Luttrall
04-24-2007, 08:13 AM

Scott Patterson
04-24-2007, 08:31 AM
That's not a crawl space, it's a septic tank.

Mike Huppi
04-24-2007, 08:44 AM
And they are pissed that I blew the deal "Ha" it is bad down there I would be willing to bet without going there that they have subterranean termites and powder post beetles due to the area and the moist conditions. This area around here has a lot of termites.

Bob Harper
04-25-2007, 05:53 AM
Welcome back Caoimhin! Long time no see.

Mike, unless you planted that nasty stuff down there, you did not blow the deal. They had to have known there was "something" going on down there. When selling a house, it is the seller's responsibility along with their listing agent to walk the house and note any such matters on the disclosure form. If not, it could be a hidden defect that would come back to get them anyway. If the house went to settlement then someone got hurt from fumes or disease, and it could be proven they knew about this problem as pre-existing yet failed to disclose it, there could be criminal as well as civil charges.

Mike, I'd have a chat with the listing agent about this. While it sounds like the sellers are full of it, apparently some of "it" made it to the crawl space.

Mike Huppi
04-25-2007, 08:06 AM
The listing agent sent me the first nasty note and the pics that I showed. So I would have to go to his broker to get anything done with him.

I should go and make an offer on the home myself just so I can see what they put on the disclosure now.

Its going to be fun to deal with.

Thom Walker
04-28-2007, 11:47 AM
You might refer Mr. nasty pants Realtor to the Oregon Revised Statutes, section 696.301 (Grounds for Discipline). If what you have said is accurate, he's already crossed the bridge several times.

Jerry McCarthy
04-28-2007, 04:37 PM
By any chance where the Oregon requirements to become a home inspector written by Niccolò Machiavelli ???:D

K Robertson
04-30-2007, 07:56 PM
I should go and make an offer on the home myself just so I can see what they put on the disclosure now.

Don't you get a copy of the disclosure form before peforming the inspection? I always ask for that right up front, and about 99% of the time the client has it on them.

Speaking of disclosures, you should consider filing a complaint against the agent and the seller with your local real estate commission. After all, by not disclosing the true condition and expecting you to enter that pile of.... they were endangering your life, were they not?

Mike Huppi
07-04-2007, 09:18 PM
Up date on the home issue. The seller filed a complaint against me with the Oregon contractors board. The board reviewed the information and told the owner of the home that they can not file a claim against me because I was not working for or had a contract with them. So I drove by the home and it appears to be sold. I hope they had a home inspection and would love to see the disclosure that was given to them.

Dave Mortensen
07-05-2007, 09:25 AM
I may agree with telling the sellers about this particular hazardous condition, however, where is the line drawn? The inspection is between you and the client. Do you inform the seller on the way out that hot wires are not in a J box in the crawl? That there may not be enough combustion air for the natural gas appliances in the garage? Would the client feel you are disclosing information specific to the inspection and somehow proprietary to them? Not to start an argument here, but it seems a little over kill to inform the sellers to vacate a home they have been living in for however many months or years, when they will likely see, and have to address, the health and safety items from the report within a few days. Gas leaks, immediate fire hazards, or electrocutions, yes, bad odors and potential harmful gases, hmmmmm?

Matt Fellman
07-05-2007, 09:01 PM

That story was too weird... as I was reading it reminded me almost exactly of one I had in my area... than I realized you are in my area. The listing agent in my case said that the 'drunk' seller had dumped his fish tanks beneath the house and that there was no water problem (despite the 6" in the backyard). She threatened a claim against me too but I never heard anything.

From looking around the board it seems we have it pretty good in Oregon. I'm part of a fairly big company and we have ended up at the CCB a couple times. They are really pretty fair and are pretty good at putting people in their places when it's necessary. From everything I've been able to find out Oregon upholds the limitation of liability clauses most of the time as long as they're worded properly and are clear.

About once a year I end up in a situation like the one you describe either from an inspection I did or from something one of my employees does. It used to really bother me... it still is never fun but I don't worry near as much as I used to. Crazy ones like you describe always just go away.


Mike Huppi
07-05-2007, 09:06 PM
I felt that maybe the smell was that bad and someone who lives in the home may not notice the smell. If someone got sick and I or the buyers agent did not tell them then maybe we would be liable. Who knows lets say something happened that morning and they thought it was something in the garbage but it was hazardous then I think you have a obligation to let them know it may be hazardous to their health. I make sure that someone knows when I find a crack in the heat exchanger, or an active water leak that may cause further damage or some wires just today that were coming out of a water heater that had water on them because there was a leak inside the water heater and may be a shock hazard.

If I see or smell a hazard then I am going to tell who ever is involved.

Tom Thompson
05-25-2011, 03:12 AM
In CA. health department deals with these type issues and will cite for immediate correction.

Garry Sorrells
05-25-2011, 04:10 AM
Really looks like sellers agent is on your side by sending you the pictures.
It sounds like you may not have taken any pictures, you should have.

Be careful in how you respond to the other parties.
Sending a certified letter informing the owner and agent that there is a potential hazard sounds good. Allot of detail and explanation may come back to bite you.

You may include in you letter that as a side note, that the seller is now obligated to disclose what you have found to all others that may view the house.

Be prepared with your documentation and let the system work. The oversight commission may be a bunch of fools but they could not be so stupid as to give the seller any positive response.

From the picture it looks like a real mess and you would have been wise to go in full suited with respirator, which would have required that you set up a containment and decontamination area for your exit. Like dealing with asbestos. Now wouldn't that have set off the seller? Oh, not to mention samples of everything. I am sure that yo could have found allot to test.

Rick Cantrell
05-25-2011, 04:19 AM
You do realize this is a nearly 4 year old thread that a spammer brought back to life.

Garry Sorrells
05-25-2011, 07:40 AM
Stupid me. I did not look 1st.
But you do wonder what the rest of the story was.
Where is Paul Harvey when you need him.