Covid-19 and Home Inspection

Living Document

This page has been transformed into a living document.   This means we will section the page off for each revision, and add any new information as we have it to the end.
Click on the title of the section to open it and read the contents.

March 24, 2020

The Essential Businesses List

As from Midnight March 24, 2020, all non-essential businesses will have to close their doors for publicly accessible business. Non-essential businesses that can continue to operate remotely, via electronic means will be allowed to remain open.

The government of Ontario has published a list of essential businesses that will be allowed to remain open. This list can be found here: https://www.ontario.ca/page/list-essential-workplaces

Home Inspection is not specifically listed so we asked our contacts at the Government about the position with respect to Home Inspectors and Home Inspections.

The response was that the Government does not have not any definitive statements being offered to individual businesses about whether they would be considered as essential or non-essential workplaces.  We were reminded that all workplaces being deemed essential are listed at https://www.ontario.ca/page/list-essential-workplaces.

As per the comments made by Premier Doug Ford, this list is not set in stone.  Businesses may, over time be added, and others may be removed and these changes would be made over time to meet the changing situation in the province.   It is important that businesses track any changes.

Our contacts have suggested that many home inspectors could find that sections 26-29 offers a degree of coverage based on home inspection’s relationship with construction.  In addition, some potential, similarly some could find justification found in section 67, related to land registration and real estate services, given the role that home inspectors play as part of those suites of services.

This suggests that, at this time, the government does not see as this list precluding Home Inspectors from carrying out their business.

They did remind us, that, as we have already pointed out in our messages online, that it is always up to the individual business, and employees, to determine if they believe they can operate in a safe and prudent manner. This might lead some businesses to choose not to operate, while others may feel that with proper precautions they can.

We were also reminded that one size does not necessarily fit all and there is an expectation of businesses and individuals exercise prudence in their decision-making processes.

The Association view

It is plain that, at present, there are no legal restrictions on Home Inspectors performing inspections for their clients in Ontario.

We strongly advise, however, that any Inspector who chooses to continue to perform inspections should ensure they follow all protocols recommended for the Covid-19 outbreak, and we recommend IN ADDITION treat each property inspected as a potentially hazardous site.  Depending upon each situation, Inspectors should

  • Wear full personal protective equipment, including properly fitted full-face respirator certified to NIOSH-N/P or R100 standard sterile gloves and, where deemed necessary, a class C hazmat suit.  Gloves and suits should be properly disposed of at the end of each inspection.  Remember that even these precautions do not protect you 100% from any airborne virus.
  • Sanitize hands and all non-disposable equipment prior to and at the end of each inspection
  • Sanitize any surface that is touched prior to and following inspecting it
  • Request clients DO NOT ATTEND the inspection but allow extra time to talk to the client about the report, remotely via phone or video
  • Request Realtors that are present at the inspection to practice social distancing procedures.  Realtors are required to be present at all inspections, but they do not have to be in the property.  They can be outside in their vehicles.
  • We strongly advise that inspector provide a health questionnaire to property occupants prior to performing the inspection to ascertain the likelihood of elevated risk and make an informed decision on whether to proceed
  • We understand that making a living is important, but we strongly advise all inspectors to perform NO MORE than one inspection per day to reduce the chance of transmission of any viruses from one property to another.  By reducing the number of inspections, it allows for proper cleansing of equipment between inspections.

Above all, use common sense and be safe.  You owe it not just to yourself and your family but to all who might come into contact with you or something you have touched.

What if you choose to postpone all inspections?

The Government of Ontario is putting into place a number of financial measures that will provide a small amount of income.    The ones that may assist Home Inspectors who cannot work include:

  • Helping families pay for the extra costs associated with school and daycare closures during the COVID-19 outbreak by providing a one-time payment of $200 per child up to 12 years of age, and $250 for those with special needs, including children enrolled in private schools.
  • Proposing to double the Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) payment for low-income seniors for six months.
  • Supporting more affordable electricity bills for eligible residential, farm and small business consumers, by providing approximately $5.6 billion for electricity cost relief programs in 2020-21, which is an increase of approximately $1.5 billion compared to the 2019 Budget plan.
  • Further supporting more affordable electricity bills by setting electricity prices for residential, farm and small business time-of-use customers at the lowest rate, known as the off-peak price, 24 hours a day for 45 days to support ratepayers in their increased daytime electricity usage as they respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, addressing concerns about time-of-use metering.
  • Providing $9 million in direct support to families for their energy bills by expanding eligibility for the Low-income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP) and ensuring that their electricity and natural gas services are not disconnected for nonpayment during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Making available $1.9 billion by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) allowing employers to defer payments for up to six months.

In addition, the Federal Government, to support workers and help businesses keep their employees, has proposed legislation to establish the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). This taxable benefit would provide $2,000 a month for up to four months for workers who lose their income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The CERB would cover Canadians who have lost their job, are sick, quarantined, or taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19, as well as working parents who must stay home without pay to care for children who are sick or at home because of school and daycare closures. The CERB would apply to wage earners, as well as contract workers and self-employed individuals who would not otherwise be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI).  This will likely include most Home Inspectors who shut down because of the Covid-19 crisis.

March 26, 2020

We have already made our opinion with respect to this list know, which can be found here

As we’ve stated before, our first commitment as a Home Inspectors Association must be to the safety of Home Inspectors, the consumers we serve and everyone’s family.  Since we posted our opinion, we have heard from a number of Inspectors who believe that because there may be an opportunity to be included in the list of essential business, they have continued to work.

We believe this thinking is erroneous. Regardless of whether it is legal for you to continue to work, the paramount consideration must be to the prevention of the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Covid-19 disease.

Is it really essential for anyone to have a Home Inspection at this time and more to the point is it sensible to even consider moving at all?

Look at the risks involved:

  • You have to visit properties to find the one that is right for you.
    • Can you be sure that the home you are visiting is clear of the virus?
    • Can you be sure that the people you meet during these visits are virus-free?
  • You may have to engage the services of a Realtor to create, explain and have you sign offers and contracts, etc.
    • It’s likely that your chosen Realtor will not be working for you alone.
    • Can you be sure that the other people they meet are virus-free?
    • What if half-way through your sale your Realtor falls ill?
  • You really should not purchase a property without conditions
    • You need to ensure you have the finances
    • You should engage a Home Inspector
    • You need to worry about moving your furniture and personal belongings

Obviously we would like to see that our Inspectors continue to earn a living during this crisis.

While we see that it might be legal for Home Inspectors to perform a Residential Home Inspection for a consumer due to the vague wording in business type 65 in the government list, the relationship in this clause is tenuous.

We are therefore making a case to all home Inspectors in Ontario.

Regardless of your view about the legality of performing a Home Inspection, we ask you to look at the moral and ethical aspects.

The ONLY way the spread of this disease is going to be reduced is by following good hygiene and social distancing protocols. 

We are asking ALL Home Inspectors to stop performing Home Inspections immediately and continue to do this until the lock-down has been lifted.

Any Home Inspector who is qualified to perform Indoor Air Quality Inspections, we believe it is both legal and morally acceptable for you to continue to provide these only where there is an immediate risk to the property occupant. You still have an obligation under other regulations to ensure yourself, your workforce and people you come into contact with, as part of this process, are protected.

We believe that the ONLY IAQ assessments that would fall into the area are:

  • Mould Assessments and Sampling
  • Asbestos Assessments and Sampling
  • Toxic Gas Sampling

Any qualified Inspector who chooses to continue to perform inspections should ensure they follow all protocols recommended for the Covid-19 outbreak, and we recommend IN ADDITION treat each property inspected as a hazardous site.  Inspectors should

  • Wear full personal protective equipment, includingproperly fitted

    full-face respirator certified to NIOSH-N95 or higher,  with HEPA (PURPLE) or organic vapour (BLACK) filters, sterile gloves and, where deemed necessary, a class C hazmat suit.  Gloves and suits should be properly disposed of at the end of each inspection. Remember that even a respirator doesn’t provide 100% protection.

  • Sanitize hands and all non-disposable equipment prior to and at the end of each inspection
  • Sanitize any surface that is touched prior to and following inspecting it
  • Request clients DO NOT ATTEND the inspection but allow extra time to talk to the client about the report, remotely via phone or video
  • Request any Realtors involved that have to be present at the inspection, to practice social distancing procedures.
  • We strongly advise that inspector provide a health questionnaire to property occupants prior to performing the inspection to ascertain the likelihood of elevated risk and make an informed decision on whether to proceed
  • We understand that making a living is important, but we strongly advise all inspectors to perform NO MORE than one inspection per day to reduce the chance of transmission of any viruses from one property to another.  By reducing the number of inspections, it allows for proper cleansing of equipment between inspections.
March 30, 2020

The Essential Business List

As promised by the Ontario Government, clarifications would be made to the list and, where required, additions included.   The new list can be found at the original address.
https://www.ontario.ca/page/list-essential-workplaces

Professional Liability Insurance

Insurance Temporary Suspension

A number of inspectors have asked us if they should suspend their insurance while they are not working.   Our answer is an emphatic NO!   While it may seem pointless to pay for insurance when you are not working, Professional Liability Insurance is underwritten on a claims-made basis.    This means that even though you may not be working, a claim can still come in for work you have performed while you were insured.  If your Insurance is temporarily put on hold, you will not have cover for such a claim and it will be denied, leaving you to cover and damages and costs out of your own pocket.

Deferral of monthly payments

Again, we have had a number of inspectors who pay their premiums on a monthly basis.   Some have asked if they would be able to defer the payments.   The insurance provider is NOT the right person to ask for this.   Monthly payments are arranged through an independent finance company.   When the arrangement is made, the finance company essential lends you the payment for the full annual premium and them charges you each month for the repayments on a month-by-month basis.
For those inspectors who have chosen this option through the OntarioACHI preferred Insurer, Hub International, the finance provider is the First Insurance Funding of Canada company.
The Company has issued a Covid-19 related page of its own, which covers any questions Inspectors might have on this issue.   You can find it here:  https://bit.ly/2wEok56.

Inspectors that do have a problem finding the funds for payment are encouraged to talk directly to First.
You can contact the client care team either by phone here or by email here

Do not call Hub International.  They will only give you the same details as we’ve given you on this page.

Possible Extension of Insurance Period

We have also been asked if Insurance Companies will offer an extension to the period of cover for free for the time an Inspector is not working.  Our answer to those inspectors is to look at the risk profile.   Again, Professional Indemnity Insurance is based upon the “Claims-made” policy.   Regardless of how much time you do not work, the chances of a claim coming in for prior work is still the same.  Therefore the risk to the Insurer is still the same.

All of our conversations so far have led to the same opinion, that it is unlikely that any free period extension will be allowed, regardless of your insurer, unless the government steps in and funds the risk coverage for the Insurer.

General Liability Coverage for Communicable diseases.

We have been asked by some inspectors if their General Liability Insurance would cover them for either business disruption or from claims made by clients of homeowners who believe the Inspector has transmitted the disease to them.

There is a general exclusion in all GL policies against business interruption because of communicable diseases.  A business may be able to purchase an extra rider to remove that exclusion but such a rider is not inherent in the policies written for Home Inspectors.  This means no claims can be made by the Home Inspector for business disruption based upon the Covid-19 pandemic.

There are also exclusions in the GL Policy wording against claims due to Fungi and Bacteria, as well as any transmittable Spongiform Encephalitis.  (e.g. Mad-Cow disease).  While (in the Hub International Policy) there is no specific exclusion for other viruses, it is our belief that Covid-19 would be captured under a general exclusion of pollutants.   While this may seem a little far-fetched, pollutants are specifically identified in the exclusion as:

  1. any substance, located anywhere in the world, exhibiting any hazardous characteristics or
  2. smoke, vapour, soot, fumes, odour or any other harmful air emission; noise; acids; alkalis; chemicals; waste materials including wastewater and infectious medical or agricultural waste; thermal pollution or contamination; oil or oil products; and harmful radiation of any kind, including magnetic or electromagnetic fields.

What this means is that if an inspector chooses to perform an inspection, and either the client, realtor of homeowner subsequently contract Covid-19 and think that the Inspector is responsible for the transmission of the disease, any claim made against the inspector would not be covered by their insurance.

May 4, 2020

The Essential Business List

The Ontario Government has once again updated the essential businesses list.  The new one can, as always be found here: https://www.ontario.ca/page/list-essential-workplaces

As far as Home Inspections are concerned, not a lot has changed.

The government is starting to suggest that an end to the lock-down may be on the horizon, although it may be still distant, depending upon how the spread of the virus can be contained.

Getting ready to work again

Inspectors should start thinking about how they are going to proceed once they are able to perform inspections again.

First and foremost, we would suggest that you continue to protect yourself from the virus and reduce any chance you have of transmitting it.

  1. Use the questionnaire we provided to ascertain if there may be a risk at the home you are going to inspect.  Find it here
  2. Incorporate into your routine sufficient time to ensure you and your equipment is disinfected between inspections, you may want to adjust your prices accordingly to take account of the extra time.
  3. Ensure that you continue to perform adequate social distancing from those involved in the inspection.
    1. Try to ensure the Realtor stays outside
    2. Ensure the property is empty of people and any pets (fish, spiders, snakes, caged birds and lizards are probably OK)
    3. Wear gloves, nitrile gloves are better as these can be disinfected and re-used.   Disposable gloves if you must.   Fabric gloves are a no-no!
    4. Wear a mask.   N95 or better, and protect your eyes.  We suggest wearing a full face respirator if you have one or a face screen if you can get one or wrap-around safety glasses.   The protection provided is greatest to least in that order.
  4. Do not take cash for payment.   We suggest starting to accept either credit cards (don’t forget about the admin fee), Interac Transfer pr pre-authorized debit.  Cash in Canada is plastic and the Virus can survive on non-porous surfaces for an extended time.
  5. Try to convey your verbal reporting of your findings remotely.   You can even use video conferencing using a free Zoom account. If you haven’t already done so you can sign up for free here:  https://zoom.us/signup     When using an online meeting service, ensure you set a password for the meeting and try to ensure you force everyone into a waiting room first.  This stops anyone from accessing your meeting without authorization.
  6. Start to think about your marketing messages.  Now is a good time to concentrate on getting your marketing up to date.  Maybe have a look at your website.   Take advantage of the free overview being offered by one of our sponsors. https://ontarioachi.ca/improve-your-website/