Asbestos-backed flooring does not have to be disclosed

Question: I bought a home several months ago and had it inspected. But in my opinion the home inspector missed an important defect. One room has old-looking vinyl flooring that I recently discovered has asbestos in the backing.

I realize that the asbestos is safely contained as long as the flooring is not disturbed, but homeowners tear up flooring all the time. Based on the age, I feel the inspector should have warned me that the flooring was likely to contain asbestos. Had I known, I would have negotiated with the seller to help cover the cost of having the flooring safely removed. Do you believe the inspector bears any liability?

Answer: It is not common practice for home inspectors to list all of the building materials likely to contain asbestos. If they did, the list would include asphalt composition roofing materials, roof mastic, drywall joint compound, old air duct insulation, transite flue pipes, acoustic ceiling texture, adhesive mastics for flooring and other applications, interior plaster, some exterior stucco, asphalt floor tiles, vinyl floor tiles and sheet vinyl flooring. Because environmental hazards are not within the scope of a general visual home inspection, this kind of disclosure is typically not included in a home inspection report, except where asbestos materials are exposed and friable, such as acoustic sprayed ceilings.

If your inspector had disclosed the possibility of asbestos in the vinyl floor backing, this would not have obligated the seller to pay for removal of the material. Homes are generally sold on an as-is basis. Conditions commonly subject to negotiation would include safety hazards, serious physical damage, active leakage, inoperable fixtures or significant construction defects.

The fact that you wanted to replace the flooring after acquiring the property did not obligate the seller to share in the costs of those upgrades. Most sellers would not agree to pay for asbestos removal in that type of situation. For these reasons, the home inspector is not liable for nondisclosure.

--Barry Stone, Access Media GroupTo submit a question, go to

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