Reporting on accessibility issues is still a major concern to professional indemnity insurers.
The following commentary contains extracts from the soon to be released “Continued Professional Development – Inspection & Reporting Skills – Building Consultants Course”.
Managing Client Expectations
A client (especially one purchasing a property for the first time) may inadvertently expect that all parts of the property will be inspected, but the reality is very different as many parts may be inaccessible or obstructed and will not be inspected.
Therefore, to help meet consumer expectations, it is important to tell the client what was inspected, but it is more important to tell the client what was not inspected.
For the purpose of making accessibility statements, the building and site (including any outbuildings) can be divided into the following six broad areas: building interior; building exterior; roof exterior; roof space; subfloor space; and the site.
Reporting on areas inspected is relatively straight forward.
NOTE. In the case of strata and company title properties or other Class 2 buildings or equivalent if the inspection was limited to assessing the interior and immediate exterior of a particular unit or lot, the client may have additional liability for defects in the common property. This additional liability can only be addressed through the undertaking of a Special-Purpose Inspection Report which is adequately specified.
The following statement is typical of what may appear in an inspection report of a free-standing dwelling:
The inspection covered the readily accessible areas of the building and site including: the house interior; house exterior; roof exterior; roof space; subfloor space; the detached storeroom; and the grounds including fences and trees within the property boundaries up to a distance of 30 metres of the house.
The following statement is typical of what may appear in an inspection report of a home unit:
The inspection covered the readily accessible areas of the unit interior and immediate exterior. The client may have additional liability for defects in the common property. This additional liability can only be addressed through the undertaking of a Special-Purpose Inspection Report which is adequately specified.
Areas not inspected
Reporting on areas not inspected is much more complex and if not adequately reported on may lead to a claim against the consultant if a significant defect is later discovered in an area that was inaccessible or obstructed at the time of inspection.
For the purpose of the course Readily Accessible Areas are defined as: “Areas which can be easily and safely inspected without injury to person or property, are up to 3.6 metres above ground or floor levels, in roof spaces where the minimum area of accessibility is not less than 600 mm high by 600 mm wide and subfloor spaces where the minimum area of accessibility is not less than 400 mm high by 600 mm wide, providing the spaces or areas permit entry. Or where these clearances are not available, areas within the consultant’s unobstructed line of sight and within arm’s length”.
When making a statement concerning inaccessible or obstructed areas, the consultant should always consider what was not inspected and the reason for not inspecting.
1. If no inspection is made of any accessible area due to inclement weather conditions prevailing at the time of inspection, the consultant should arrange another inspection when weather permits.
2. If an obstruction is `widespread', especially an obstruction which is readily removable, then indicate this in the report.
Include any relevant information regarding accessibility. It is important for the client to clearly understand the limitations or problems associated with the carrying out the inspection, and for the need to improve access and remove obstructions wherever possible.
In inspecting the roof space there was no inspection of areas where accessibility was less than 600 mm high by 600 mm wide (but included areas at the eaves that were within the consultant's unobstructed line of sight and within arm's length from a point with conforming clearance, i.e. 600 mm high by 600 mm wide), and in areas which were obstructed due to the presence of insulation (widespread) and stored materials (widespread).
NOTE. Obstructions may be concealing evidence of defects which may only be revealed when the obstructions are moved or removed.