After four years, is B.C. home inspection licensing a failure?

The end of January marked the four-year anniversary of the province’s announcement of a licensing program for B.C. home inspectors. On January 30, 2009 a news release issued by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, John van Dongen, announced the regulation of the home inspection under Consumer Protection BC, declaring, “… consumers need to have confidence that the person who is doing the inspection has the qualifications to make a professional assessment”.

Unfortunately, this has become less of an assurance and more of a hollow statement due to the methods used for legislating home inspectors and the failed way decisions are being made to address the many serious problems in the home inspection industry. If not corrected, licensing will continue to only benefit those who want to make a fast buck off recession-weary B.C. consumers.

What has happened? It took ten years of aggressive pushing by the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors of British Columbia – CAHPI(BC) – media focus, and unified support from more than 50 B.C. municipalities, before the provincial government finally found the resolve to listen and regulate the industry – and to exclude from licensing a U.S. based fly-by-night group whose anti-consumer practices were reported on by The Sun and Global TV in 2006. As recently as the one-year anniversary of licensing, we wrote in The Sun that Consumer Protection in BC was off to a strong start.

A great deal has happened since, but much of it as disturbing to the legitimate B.C. home inspection industry as it is dangerous for B.C. consumers. In February of 2010, an Ontario-based home inspection association was accredited for licensing in BC. This organization was formed out of that U.S.-based group whose online quizzes – in which a person could sit down, take the quiz, and for $200 be pronounced a ‘qualified home inspector’ – attracted Vancouver Sun and other media attention and perhaps was key to the BC government’s announcement of a licensing program. Yet this organization now “met all the necessary criteria” and that its associate members qualified for licenses to inspect BC homes.

As a result, this new group began accepting for membership home inspector candidates who did not meet the high qualification standards of the two organizations initially recognized by Consumer Protection BC – CAHPI(BC) and the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC (ASTTBC). Reputable home inspection training providers, including B.C. community colleges, were reporting that students were bypassing rigorous training in order to join this new group, where they could immediately be granted licenses to perform home inspections in British Columbia.

Therefore, under-trained and under-qualified individuals were being supplied with B.C. licenses, and able to enter people’s homes and provide assessments on a condo, a house, or a property, so long as they promised to get training and education at some future date. The shame is that the very people that B.C. government licensing was supposed to protect consumers from were being licensed through a loophole in the licensing regulation that has now allowed yet another out of province licensing body.

We saw this as a broken promise to BC consumers and brought this to the attention of Consumer Protection BC. On our recommendations and diligent prodding, they implemented basic criteria that needed to be met by all new inspector applicants: 150 hours of formal home inspection education; academic examinations with a passing grade of 70%; a minimum of 50 hours of supervised field training; Peer Reviewed Test Inspection, an inspection by a qualified examiner who is aware of the deficiencies and safety issues of the property; and minimum continuing education hours of 20 per year.

CAHPI(BC) knew that, although a good first step, these qualification requirements were still woefully inadequate. But then, Consumer Protection BC advised that in the future they would not change inspector entry criteria unless all 4 approved associations agreed in unison. At the urging of Consumer Protection BC, in December, 2011 the four associations came together and spent a day ironing out critical changes that we all agreed were essential for the protection of the public. Those changes included: a minimum of 300 hours of formal home inspection education; academic examinations with a passing grade of 80%; and a minimum of 100 hours of supervised field training prior to licensing. When the letter addressing these issues was prepared, one of the 4 associations declined to sign the document. Since the Government requires unanimity amongst the 4 associations, the one association (comprising of less than 20% of the BC home inspectors) was allowed to stop progress. After much delay and no sign of moving forward, in July of 2012 CAHPI(BC) took it upon ourselves to address these issues and a letter was sent to Consumer Protection BC explaining the crisis level need for these stiffer requirements in the industry, outlining our positions, and calling for early adoption and leadership in this drama. To date, our initiative and efforts have been stymied by a rule that makes no sense. CAHPI(BC) comprises the majority of inspectors in BC but only has one vote – which is worthless when the only means of adoption is by unanimity and one player refusing to participate.

The fact is, the crisis in the home inspection industry is not about having only one association, although we wrote legislation for it more than 10 years ago, and it’s not about only having one standard, it’s all about not being able to implement logical important critical changes in licensing to ensure more demanding and powerful standards are adopted promptly and without stonewalling by a very small portion of the industry.

Consumer Protection BC is all about protecting consumers; but is severely limited by the Government of BC setting unattainable decision making criteria. The home inspection licencing system should be continually enhancing consumer protection, not undermining it by allowing the continuation of accepting unqualified people into B.C. homes where they can influence the biggest spending decision British Columbians are ever likely to make.

One thing is certain. Licensing has set a bare minimum standard that is woefully inadequate and has painted every home inspector in BC with the same brush. Consumers beware – it’s just like before licensing – the wild wild west – except now inspectors are licensed to pull the wool over your eyes. We call on the BC Government to convene a meeting of the 4 associations and hammer out the necessary higher standards, or let those who want to work with Consumer Protection BC implement these important and critical changes.

Why do CAHPI(BC) home inspectors care? Because for over 20 years, CAHPI(BC) has led the charge for higher standards in the industry – now 275 Province-wide Professionals linked arm in arm – and I for one am proud to be a part of this grass roots effort and will never, never, never give up.

Craig Hostland is an Okanagan home inspector and president of the Canadian Association of Home and Property Inspectors of British Columbia.

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