Environmental and Hazardous Materials Inspection Before Buying a Home

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Homes can contain many hazards depending on the house’s age and the materials used to build it. Obvious dangers include asbestos, radon and lead paint, but other problems including mold and defective Chinese drywall can also cause serious problems for homeowners. If you are buying a new property, it is important you take steps to protect the health of yourself and your family. There are a number of steps you can take to make sure your new home is safe.

Home Inspection

A home inspection is absolutely essential when you are purchasing a new home. Inspectors should be certified by an accredited body such as the American Society of Home Inspectors and you should check references or speak with past clients to ensure the inspector is both thorough and professional. A good home inspection should take several hours and should involve a review of the building from top to bottom, including the basement and the attic. The inspector should provide a written report of his/her findings detailing any potential hazards or problems with the home.

If the home is an older home, or you have a reason to suspect specific dangers such as asbestos or lead based paint, you may wish to hire professionals that specialize in these fields to inspect the home. A radon test may also be appropriate if the home does not have radon abatement procedures in place or has not been tested recently.

Public Records and Permits

Before buying a property, you may wish to determine the history of any permits pulled on the property as well as whether there is any information available in public records about the surrounding area. If work was performed on the house without a proper permit and inspection, there may be dangers such as faulty electrical wire or improperly installed plumbing in the home that can lead to leaks and mold.

A review of building and construction permits can reveal dangers within the home. Public records can also reveal whether there are any known environmental hazard zones near the property. A good real estate attorney can help you do a records search to investigate any information available in your county or courts about the property.

Relying on Disclosures

It is important to understand that home sellers may have an obligation to disclose some material information about the home you are considering buying, but that they may not have a legal duty to disclose all potential problems of which they are aware. For instance, federal law has mandated that a Lead-Based paint disclosure is required for all homes built before 1978.

Some states require sellers to disclose if anyone died in their home. Some states also have additional laws requiring disclosure of natural hazards, zoning issues, fire hazards, and air or ground pollution. However, state laws on exactly what must be disclosed can vary and unless a fact is considered material and/or required by law to be disclosed, sellers may not have an obligation to tell you about every potential problem with a new home.  Your lawyer can explain to you what disclosures you should request before purchasing a property so that you make sure you are as protected as possible under the law.

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