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Building Inspector dodges liability

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Imagine that you have just purchased a new-build flat. Shortly after moving in, you discover that the building is riddled with defects including faulty fire protection, defective drainage, inadequate ventilation, and non-functioning sanitation.  You make enquiries and are able to establish that the building works were signed off as complying with Building Regulations by an approved Building Inspector.  You get together with the other owners of the flats in the block and bring a claim against the Building Inspector. He has clearly failed in his duties – how could he sign off these works when they were so obviously sub-standard? A claim guaranteed to succeed – surely.

A similar scenario was considered by the Technology and Construction Court in the case of Herons Court v Heronslea Limited.  In that case, the block of flats in question was discovered to be suffering from serious defects including an ingress of water and a lack of fire protection.  The defects were deemed to be so serious as to render the flats unfit for habitation and therefore putting the builder in breach of the Defective Premises Act 1972. 

The question was whether the Building Inspector was also liable for having signed off the works.

The Defective Premises Act provides, in summary, that “a person taking on work for or in connection with the provision of a dwelling” must ensure that work is completed in a professional manner and that the dwelling is fit for habitation when completed. 

The owners of the flats in the Herons Court case argued that the Building Inspector was clearly an individual who could be classed as somebody “taking on work for or in connection with the provision of a dwelling” and that the Building Inspector was therefore in breach of his statutory duties by signing off works when the work was defective. 

The Court rejected this argument.  The Court ruled that the Defective Premises Act should be construed as covering the work carried out by builders, architects, designers, and those supervising the construction works.  That direct involvement with the construction works (or the supervision of the construction works) should be distinguished from the role of a Building Inspector whose essential function is not to contribute in any meaningful way to the design or construction of a building but rather to certify simply whether that design or construction is lawful in a regulatory sense.

The claim was therefore dismissed which many observers found somewhat perplexing.  Approved Building Inspectors are obliged to maintain professional indemnity insurance in order to “protect clients and others who may be adversely affected by any negligence on the part of the Approved Inspector”.  Why the need for such protection if Building Inspectors are immune from liability? 

If you have any questions about this article please contact Andrew Turner on 01242 586841 or AET@hughes-paddison.co.uk  

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