In early December, we wrote the Pennsylvania ASHI Chapter Presidents about what occurred when Harry Rosenthal, ASHI legal council, and I met with John M. Able and Frank T. Donague, Senior Deputy Attorneys General from the Bureau of Consumer Protection, Office of Attorney General, regarding the Pennsylvania home inspection law, Act 2000-114, Title 68 PA CS Section 7101 et. seq.
The law took effect December 20, 2001. The meeting came as a result of our earlier letter to Mr. Able.
In the letter and in the meeting, we explained why we anticipate serious problems with implementation of the law, in particular Section 7502(a)(1) to (4), which relates to verifying claims made by certain home inspection groups claiming to meet the statutory requirements. We also addressed the Pennsylvania Association of Realtor®’s (PAR) communication to its membership of a list of six associations (including ASHI) that claim their full members to be qualified to perform home inspections under the law. PAR, however, won’t verify these claims, but instead tells its members and consumers to do this themselves if they have any questions. Our
position is that most consumers simply won’t do this, and it’s unreasonable of PAR to include these groups without some evaluation since only ASHI can meet all the statutory requirements (e.g., only ASHI has a proper examination). We made our case to the Bureau of Consumer Protection because a home inspection is a service that is subject to the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. Therefore, we believe that office has jurisdiction to oversee proper implementation.
Harry and I were of the opinion that the meeting was friendly and fruitful. As we expected, the Attorneys General made it clear that they are an enforcement agency, and it takes a consumer complaint to trigger their action and involvement. They assured us that, as part of their response to such complaints, they would investigate whether or not the home inspectors and the associations to which they belonged met the requirements of the law. In addition, they were most interested in what we had to say regarding the history of the home inspection industry, ASHI and the other organizations, and our position with PAR. We felt we came across as the “guys in white hats,”and that we definitely “put the bug in their ear.” Finally, they agreed to publish a consumer brochure in the new year regarding the law, home inspections and home inspectors that we hope is beneficial to ASHI and consumers. We offered, and they accepted, my assistance in providing them with examples of consumer brochures that other states have provided.
We believe the meeting was beneficial. We were able to sensitize the Bureau to our concerns and to create a basis to continue to work with it to safeguard the interests of ASHI and the home buying public.The letter that opened the door to Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Office of Attorney GeneralExcerpts from the letter Bob Kociolek, director of chapter relations and state affairs, wrote to bring attention to Act 2000-114, Title 68 PA CS Section 7101 et. seq.
“Prior to Act 114 of 2000, Pennsylvania had no statutory definition of a home inspector and many consumers encountered difficulties dealing with individuals who advertised themselves as home inspectors. Many did not have the proper experience and qualifications to conduct a qualified professional home inspection. Act 114 addresses this issue by stipulating that in order for a home inspector’s report to legally be used in a real estate transaction, the home inspection must be performed by a full member in good standing of a national home inspection association in accordance with the ethical standards and code of conduct or practice of that association… or by a person who has not attained full membership if a full member supervises that person.
“A national home inspection association is defined in the statute as one which:
(1) Is operated on a not-for-profit basis and is not operated as a franchise.
(2) Has members in more than ten states.
(3) Requires that a person may not become a full member unless the person has performed or participated in more than 100 home inspections and has passed a recognized or accredited examination testing knowledge of the proper procedures for conducting a home inspection.
(4) Requires that its members comply with a code of conduct and attend continuing ‘professional education classes as an ongoing condition of membership.’
Kociolek noted because it is “self-enforcing” homebuyers, real estate agents and other participants in the real estate transaction must ascertain the membership status of a home inspector whose report they wish to include in the legal real estate transaction.
He suggested “should a home inspector falsely assert membership in the required organization, the other parties in the transaction may seek legal and judicial remedies. Under the Act, home inspection is subject to the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law; thus, we believe your office has jurisdiction to oversee proper implementation…”
Kociolek emphasized “the importance of verifying certain claims from these home inspector membership associations. As far as ASHI is aware, it is the only organization in existence that can meet the requirements of inspector membership in the law.
“While some other groups may have standards, ethics and continuing education, no other organization has a requirement to pass a ‘recognized or accredited examination testing knowledge of the proper procedures for conducting a home inspection.’ We can also demonstrate that several of these groups fail to meet the requirement of membership in more than ten states. In contrast, ASHI uses a written examination, years in the making, that was developed by an outside consulting academic company using the most sophisticated techniques, and designed to determine inspector technical expertise…”
He concluded, “The damage to consumers by states recognizing these organizations as equal can be disastrous,” and asked for the state’s help in developing a process to
determine which are truly qualified associations under the Act.