Government & Politics

New law criticized by home inspectors

TOPEKA — Anybody with a stepladder and a flashlight can work as a home inspector in Kansas.

There are no state licenses for inspectors and no state agency to complain to if inspectors fail in their job.

But now, an attempt to impose regulations on Kansas home inspectors has set off a firestorm in the industry. Some inspectors argue that the new law will drive good inspectors out of business, hurting the very public the law intends to help.

"I'm worried about my business right now," said Gary Farnsworth, an Olathe inspector who has deluged lawmakers with requests to reconsider the law. "I don't want somebody running my business. This gives the (regulatory) board absolute power to control the industry."

Under the law, inspectors must register with the state and abide by professional standards derived from national inspector associations. They must be trained and complete continuing education requirements. The law also requires inspectors to have insurance and caps liability for inspectors who are sued at $10,000.

Of particular concern to Farnsworth is a provision that allows the licensing board to examine the work records and reports of inspectors under investigation.

Lawmakers who pushed for the new law argue that homebuyers deserve to have protection from inspector negligence. They said most inspectors already abide by the new standards voluntarily. And they note that real estate agents, architects, appraisers and mortgage brokers already are regulated.

"It's a basic consumer protection," said Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Bel Aire, and one of the prime advocates of the legislation. "We felt there needed to be some minimal standards."

But Farnsworth and some other inspectors are fighting the new rules. They accuse the man charged with implementing them of abusing his position for personal gain.

Jeff Barnes, a Wichita home inspector, serves as the chairman of the state's fledgling Home Inspector Registration Board. Barnes said he got involved to ensure whatever regulations the state adopted were fair to inspectors and the public.

Barnes registered himself before any other inspectors and claimed registration No. 1 as his own. His professional Web site declares him to be "Kansas's 1st Registered Inspector."

And the registration board's official address? Barnes' own address.

All this has raised some eyebrows. "He's using his clout to help his own business," Farnsworth said.

But Barnes said he gave himself registration No. 1 because he was testing the registration system before registering other inspectors.

"This is a whole new agency," Barnes said. "We had to test out the process."

Barnes said that because of budget woes, the state can't afford an office for the board yet, so he had to use his own address.

But the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors was so concerned about Barnes that its lawyers wrote to Gov. Mark Parkinson, asking him to investigate. A spokeswoman for Parkinson said he will take the request under advisement.

Farnsworth also questions why the new rules are even needed. He thinks real estate agents wanted to shield themselves from liability, so they pressured lawmakers to make home inspectors liable for up to $10,000 for mistakes. Previously, inspectors could limit their liability to the cost of the inspection.

Brunk, the main advocate of the new law, is a real estate broker.

But Brunk said the law won't help his business and that nothing in it prohibits homebuyers from suing anyone — inspectors or agents — if they feel cheated.

If anything, he said, the new law's cap on inspector liability shields inspectors from potentially devastating lawsuits.