Why my house didn’t pass inspection

Last Updated on March 13, 2021 by Dave Farquhar

While getting a rental house ready for a new tenant, we had to get it reinspected. It failed, on several minor issues. Most failures are due to minor issues. Here’s why our house didn’t pass inspection, and what we did to fix it.

None of these issues ought to be showstoppers. If you’re not comfortable fixing it yourself, a competent handyman can fix these types of issues, and it probably won’t take more than a couple of hours.

A word about inspectors

Once inspectors find something wrong to fail a house, they tend to get less thorough. I’ve had inspectors write me up for “failed” GFCI outlets that were merely tripped and other non-issues. If this happens, just correct the minor thing that was wrong and move on. Chances are you’ll get a different inspector next time anyway.

Pre-inspection flight check

Always do a pre-inspection flight check if at all possible, especially before reinspection. Make sure all the breakers are active, make sure no GFCI outlets are tripped, make sure all the smoke detectors have good batteries. To go the extra mile, test all outlets with an outlet tester to ensure they are all working and wired properly. Loose outlets can be a fire hazard, so if you find any that are loose, here’s how to fix loose outlets.

Spending 45 minutes checking for issues can save you the hassle of a re-re-inspection.

Some people do a flight check before the initial inspection. This can head off problems, but an inspector may find things you missed anyway. Many people skip that, wait to see what the inspector finds, and then fix those half dozen items.

Ungrounded outlets

why my house didn't pass inspection - electrical issues
A three-prong outlet requires a proper ground, which is usually a third bare wire coming through the building wiring. This is a common reason a house may not pass inspection.

One bedroom had two 3-prong outlets in it that weren’t grounded. We’ve had this house inspected four times and this was the first time an inspector found that. Normally I test all outlets myself after purchase, but since this one wasn’t as-is and had passed occupancy inspection, I didn’t.

To fix this, I removed the outlets and replaced them with 2-prong outlets. It only takes a few minutes. Replacement 2-prong outlets cost around $2.50 at a hardware store. Yes, they are more expensive than 3-prong outlets due to economies of scale. Always turn the power off at the breaker box before changing an outlet.

The only time ungrounded outlets are OK is when you use a GFCI outlet and put a sticker on it that says “no equipment ground.” GFCI outlets come with stickers for that purpose.

This house didn’t have them, but bootleg grounds are a similar problem.

Some people will tell you that once you change an outlet, you have to rewire with three wires. I see that with plumbing, but I’ve never had anyone hassle me about retrofitting two-prong outlets where a ground isn’t available. If they did, I could just put a GFCI outlet in its place and put the “no equipment ground” label on it.

But it doesn’t make sense to hassle people over 2-prong outlets. Old outlets eventually wear out and become dangerous. If we couldn’t replace them with new 2-prong outlets, we would make houses less safe.


One bathroom had a bad GFCI in it. It functioned, but wouldn’t trip. Maybe it went bad this year and maybe it’s been bad all along. GFCIs do go bad after a while, so I didn’t complain. GFCIs are expensive but they save lives. It’s worth it. The GFCI was another five-minute fix. You can buy them in 3-packs more cheaply to save money.

Some inspectors will fail you if the GFCI is tripped, and not just bad, but usually if they write you up for that, they’ve already found something else wrong. If I ever had a house fail solely because of a tripped GFCI, I would call the county and complain.

The garbage disposal

I got written up for not having a clamp on the electrical cord on the garbage disposal. There was one there, but the wires were showing underneath so that’s probably why he wrote me up. I loosened the clamp, pushed the cord back up into the disposal so no colored wires were showing, wrapped a bit of tape around the cord to get a tighter fit, then tightened the clamp back up. It took me longer to figure out why he wrote me up than it took to fix it.

Illegal laundry chute

In one of the bathrooms, a former owner had cut a hole in the floor, cut out the bottom of a trash can, and stuck it into the hole in the floor to make a laundry chute. Three inspectors passed it but the fourth wanted it out.

I put a board underneath the repair in the basement, screwed to the joists, for reinforcement. Then I patched the hole with some lumber cut to fit, glued it in place, and let it dry. Then we put a new vinyl floor in the bathroom. The existing floor was dated and I couldn’t find anything that was even close to match it.

Smoke detectors

house didn't pass inspection? Check smoke detectors.
Smoke detectors are a common reason a house didn’t pass inspection. Double check placement and make sure the batteries work

Inspectors are pretty consistent about wanting smoke detectors in each bedroom, the hallway, and one in the basement. Just buy the $5 detectors at the nearest home improvement store and replace them every 10 years. The one on the right is the model I use.

This inspector was a stickler about placement. He wanted them four inches from the ceiling if they’re mounted on the wall, and he wanted the hallway detector no further than 15 feet from any bedroom. I put it closer to the living space to keep steam from the bathrooms from setting them off, but he wouldn’t have any of that. So I moved the detector as close to the bedrooms as I could.

Dead batteries in smoke detectors will also fail you. I buy inexpensive alkaline batteries on my way to the house and put fresh batteries in all detectors just before inspection, and keep at least one extra battery on hand just in case something happens on inspection day. If you swap a bad battery right away, they won’t fail your house inspection.

This saves lives, so I don’t complain about this at all.

What he didn’t write up

He didn’t write up a big crack in the wall in the living room, which surprised me. I had one inspector find cracks inside a closet that I hadn’t noticed, and write us up for that. We fixed it anyway, of course.

Other problems I’ve seen

After you renovate a few houses, you see any number of odd things. I didn’t run into these problems at this particular house, but here are some other things I’ve seen that will irritate an inspector, and cause your house to not pass inspection.

Missing or nonfunctioning anti-tip devices on kitchen ranges

The kitchen range needs an anti-tip device to keep it from falling over if someone opens the door and steps on it. These devices bolt to the floor or wall and the appliance foot slides into it. If your range didn’t come with one, they cost around $20.

They’ll also fail you if you have one and it doesn’t work. Here’s how I fixed one that wasn’t functioning.

An inspector once disabled the anti-tip device on my oven so he could fail me. To prevent those kinds of shenanigans, make sure you’re in the room while the inspector is checking things. If he tries anything funny, say something.

Reverse polarity

We once bought a house where most, but not all, of the outlets were wired in reverse. Inspectors hate that, for good reason. It can be a serious safety issue. And for the coup de grace, the outlets weren’t grounded either. Fortunately I caught all that well before inspection.

When wiring an outlet, remember the black wire goes to the brass screws and the white wire goes to the steel screws. Black and gold, white and white, and the thin prong is hot. Getting this wrong is a great way to make your house not pass inspection.

Bootleg ground

Some people cheat and connect the ground plug to the white wire. Most electrical testers will sense this as a ground. It’s not the same thing, and it’s dangerous, so don’t do it. The only reliable way to detect this is to take the cover plate off and look. If I see a house with only a couple of grounded outlets, I always check them in case someone did this.

An inspector may not check this, but I always do.

Closet lights

Closet lights have to have a globe on them. Bare bulbs are less of a fire hazard in this era of energy-efficient bulbs, but inspectors still make you put enclosed lights in closets in case someone puts an old bulb in them.

Open walls inside cabinets

The area under sinks often stays open after renovations, and inspectors take a dim view of that. Patch it up with pieces of drywall, then put some fireblock caulk around the pipes where they meet the drywall. I cut the drywall pieces oversize and screw them into place on top of what’s there. I also used construction adhesive one time when I didn’t have enough drywall screws. It doesn’t have to look pretty under the sink; it just has to block fire.

Inspectors also get cranky if they see spray foam down there. You can argue that fireblock spray foam, which is red, is OK. But don’t get caught with regular yellow spray foam under there. I have a local inspector who fails inspections if he sees any kind of foam, so I use the fireblocking caulk, which is gray.

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2 thoughts on “Why my house didn’t pass inspection

  • November 1, 2017 at 6:13 am

    What kind of inspection is that?!? You can not rent apartment or house in USA if some kind of inspection do not give you permission?

    • November 1, 2017 at 6:28 pm

      That is correct. Any time a house changes tenants or ownership, it has to pass inspection. The motivation is safety, but some local governments are more corrupt than others. My local government is better in this regard than it was five years ago. Most of the stuff they look at are legitimate safety issues.

      My big issue with it is consistency. It can take three inspections to track down all of the problems.

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