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News

Should NY Raise Home Inspector License Requirements?

Source: Long Island Press | April 19, 2012 | by Spencer Rumsey

A Long Island group of New York home inspectors say the state's licensing requirements for their profession should be made tougher to ensure that house buyers can rely on trustworthy inspection reports before they make what could be the most important investment of their life.

Calling for more government regulation not less might be newsworthy in itself because it goes against the grain of what passes for political debate these days. But this issue also hits right where people live.

New York State currently licenses 2,073 home inspectors, with about 561 of them located on Long Island.

It's a "ridiculously overloaded number," says Paul Gressin, who formerly served on the governor's home inspector advisory council until Gov. Andrew Cuomo abolished all the state's voluntary panels in April. Gressin blames lax state standards and inadequate training supervision for the profusion of "poorly qualified" inspectors. Asked how many of the current license holders he'd allow to inspect a home he intended to buy, Gressin says, "Twenty-five percent."

He says that he's been to houses previously inspected and found "glaring defects" that were overlooked, such as "bad roofs, cracked beams, defective plumbing, electrical wiring that could start a fire-it runs the gamut."

The trouble, say Matt Wynne, president of the Long Island chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors, and Scott Gressin, president of the Metropolitan Association of Home Inspectors (and Paul Gressin's son), is that New York should require more classroom hours and onsite training than it does now. They say New York should at least to match New Jersey's more rigorous requirements-140 hours of training in New York vs. 180 hours in New Jersey. Another problem is that New York's licensing exam is "a breeze."

"Almost anybody can get certified," says Scott Gressin. "New Jersey's exam is much more difficult."

In New Jersey, home inspector licenses fall under the supervision of the State Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. In Connecticut, home inspection is handled by the Department of Consumer Protection. In New York, the profession is lumped in with 28 other occupations by the Department of State's Division of Licensing Services, which licenses more than 800,000 New Yorkers from real estate brokers to barbers and pet crematorium operators.

"Our industry is a farce and the buying public is getting screwed," says Paul Gressin. "How'd you like to go to a doctor who never had to take gross anatomy [in med school]?"

For example, Gressin says that currently the state's provisions allow approved home inspection schools to take 15 people out in the field at once with a supervisor. His advocacy group would rather limit the number of people in the field to two students with one instructor. "I couldn't put 10 people in [my] boiler room!" Gressin says.

New York's Department of State is content with its current regulatory practices regarding home inspectors, says a spokesman for the agency.

"Achieving a home inspector's license cannot be completed by pressing a few buttons on a computer," Jorge Montalvo, special assistant to New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales, tells the Press. Montalvo insists that the state's requirements are adequate and there are no current plans to adjust them because safeguards are already in place to weed out the incompetent inspector.

"The New York Department of State takes action to protect consumers when there are complaints against a licensed home inspector," says Montalvo. The department's administrative law judges may provide "a warning, a fine, a licensee, or suspend or revoke a home inspector's license." In 2011, the department got 31 complaints, so far in 2012, it's received 13.

Scott Gressin and Matt Wynne say they've been meeting with local politicians to drum up interest in tightening the regulations but have met only with disappointment. Following up their visit with a representative of State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), the Press asked Skelos's office if he planned to carry water for the home inspectors in the next legislative session. Skelos declined to comment.

Mold Claims For Damages Get New Life

Source: Wall Street Journal | April 1, 2012 | by Josh Barbanel

If you suspect a mold problem exists in your building, contact PBI for true independent, third party mold testing today.

The problem of mold-that furry, slimy or powdery substance that grows in damp places-just got a lot more dangerous, at least for landlords and co-op and condo boards in New York. Four years ago, a key appellate court decision in Manhattan blocked millions of dollars in legal claims for damages for health effects of mold in buildings, saying that the scientific evidence that mold caused illness was in dispute.

But a few weeks ago that conclusion was overturned by a split 3-2 decision by another five-judge panel in the same court that found that the scientific literature was now "indicative of a causal relationship."

The decision has been the talk of condo and co-op lawyers since, who worry that it will lead to a new wave of personal-injury lawsuits for mold injuries, driving up insurance rates and costs for building owners.

In the current case, Brenda Cornell, who once lived in a ground-floor apartment above a moldy basement in a Hell's Kitchen tenement, filed a complaint seeking $11.8 million in damages, primarily for health problems.

The former owners of the building had argued that it wasn't possible to link her conditions to mold dust that wafted up from the basement during the brief period when a work crew began removing debris from the basement in 2003. Attorneys for the previous owners didn't respond to a request for comment.

The new appellate decision said the previous decision hadn't ruled out the possibility that "dampness and mold can ever be considered the cause of disease." And it found that several new studies added to the weight of evidence on the theory.

Eva Talel, counsel to the division of the Real Estate Board of New York that represents residential building managers, said that the decision provides "an opportunity" for people who claim they have "suffered personal injury by reason of mold."

She said that she hoped the New York Court of Appeals, the state's high court, would quickly take the case "to give us true clarification." But she said that under the court's procedural rules it wasn't clear whether that would have to wait until after the case was sent back to the lower court for trial.

"It is going to result in a heck of a lot more lawsuits being filed by people who have mold- and moisture-related conditions and suffer from health effects," said Bill Sothern, a certified industrial hygienist who sometimes testifies about mold damage in court. He is the founder of Microecologies, a mold inspection and consulting company.

Suits on mold made headlines a decade or so ago across the country, and in New York some lawyers began making mold cases a specialty. Mold-related insurance claims soared.

In one case filed in 2003, Bianca Jagger stopped paying rent and sued her Park Avenue building because of health problems she said were caused by mold. She eventually lost the case, after her landlord showed that under her temporary visa she was not entitled to the rent-stabilized apartment in the first place.

In buildings, mold can feed on damp sheetrock, wallpaper glue, wood and other substances. Mold exposure has been linked by some studies to asthma systems, cough and wheezing, though for most people the symptoms disappear when the exposure ends.

City officials say building owners are supposed to quickly clean up mold, and deal with leaks, roof or masonry problems, though by one measure the problem may be getting worse. Last year housing inspectors issued 15,942 violations for mold-related conditions, a 19% increase from 2007. The number of the most serious category of violations rose by 67% during the same period.

But personal-injury mold suits went into a lull after the 2008 appellate-court decision brought by a family living in a co-op apartment in a basement and first-floor co-op apartment on East 52nd Street. That decision, known as the Fraser decision, found that there was no scientific consensus that air-borne mold spores caused illnesses. It barred testimony from experts who blamed mold for health problems. Though the appellate decision only directly applied to Manhattan and the Bronx, lawyers said it influenced many other courts as well.

The latest case dates back to 2003, when a new owner bought the building and began cleaning up the basement which had been damaged in flooding before the sale. Within days, Ms. Cornell, who worked in the music industry, moved out of the apartment, complaining about rashes, dizziness, difficulty breathing and severe headaches.

She settled her lawsuit with the new owners for a relatively modest sum, but is still seeking damages from the prior owners of the building, who expected the case to be dismissed, lawyers said.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Sallie Manzanet-Daniels, said the suit can proceed, noting several new studies on mold illness. But a dissent by Justice James Catterson said Ms. Cornell's lawyers had failed to show that her theory of mold illness "is generally accepted by the scientific community."

Morrell I. Berkowitz, who represented Ms. Cornell, said, "This is not hocus-pocus junk science, and I should be able to go before a jury."

Both Ms. Cornell and the plaintiffs in the Fraser case were examined by the same doctor, Eckardt Johanning, who specializes in Family and Occupational Medicine.

He testified that to "a reasonable degree of medical certainty" her problems were due to her exposure to "atypical mold exposure in her apartment, after ruling out other possible causes for her condition.

But the New York City Health Department does not keep counts of cases of health problems caused by mold, because of the difficulty of identifying mold as a cause, according to Sam Miller, a department spokesman.

TV spot on-site with Greg Mocker of Channel 11 News

Source: Channel 11 News | May 9, 2011

Watch Professional Building Inspectors President,
Paul Gressin, a recognized expert Certified
Indoor Environmental Consultant, on-site with
Greg Mocker of Channel 11 News to
investigate mold in NYC Subways.

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