“Fraud!” Home Buyers Need to be Wise as Serpents and understand that home sellers, realtors and radon contractors are all aware of what’s riding on radon test results conducted during a home sale. This goes for the initial radon testing at time of home inspection as well as post mitigation radon tests that certify satisfactory system operation.
The invested parties are well aware that high radon test results could jeopardize the sale and or cost them money in repairs or lost commissions. Realtors, radon contractors and most home owners are also aware that is is not too difficult to cheat or effect the radon test results in their favor by opening windows or doors or by other means after the inspector or tester leaves the home.
High radon in a home can be life threatening, it is the number one cause of lung cancer in non smokers. It’s always alarming to hear of instances where homeowners have been living in a home with high radon when they thought it was at an acceptable low level. It is especially disconcerting to learn that some of the instances are due to fraudulent radon tests that were conducted for the sale of a home or by a radon mitigation contractor.
Being a home inspector since 1997, I’ve inspected thousands of homes and many of those homes in central New York had radon mitigation systems. Most home inspections, about 90% will include a radon test. I’ve also been a radon mitigation contractor for nearly a decade and have installed hundreds of radon mitigation systems. I’ve been called in to fix many radon mitigation systems that were not working properly, or that did not lower the radon to a level acceptable for the sale of a home or below 4 pCi/L.
Examples of Cheating and Fraud – Cheating is fraud when it comes to radon testing. In law, fraud is deliberate deception to secure unfair or unlawful gain. Some people end up buying a home with high radon unawares. Unfortunately more than a few times I have caught home sellers, realtors (usually the listing agent) and radon contractors cheating or fraudulently altering the radon test or test reports. Most home sellers, realtors and radon contractors are honest and would not do such a thing but when it comes to selling homes and radon testing or certifying radon mitigation systems fraud takes place more than most people realize.
In my personal experiences of home inspection and radon mitigation unfortunately I’ve come across dozens of instances of what clearly or in some cases most likely were fraudulent radon tests. Following are a few examples of fraudulent radon testing of the many that I’ve uncovered or heard of second hand.
FRAUDULENT Listing Agent – In the early 1990’s, a young couple was selling their home and their realtor informed them that the buyers wanted to do a radon test in the basement. The sellers had never heard of a radon test and were worried it might jeopardize the sale. This is not an exact quote, but the realtor said something like “after he sets the test, just open up all the basement windows and air out the basement really well and there won’t be any problem, they are just testing the quality of the air in the basement.” Now in those early days of radon testing, proper testing protocols were not understood by most people including realtors, the majority of people did not even know what radon was. Today (2015) most certainly, realtors should all be well educated on radon testing and have no excuse, but I regularly hear realtors speaking authoritatively giving misinformation to buyers and sellers alike.
FRAUDULENT Dual Agent – On a cold winter day I did a home inspection on a vacant house in Rome, NY. The buyer and agent (acting as a dual agent) were present during the inspection, the seller was out of town. I noted in the inspection report and showed them a 4 inch hole through a brick wall in the first floor laundry room. The dryer had been removed and a large rag stuffed into the hole to keep cold air out. The buyer expressed concerned about radon and wanted a radon test to be performed. I set up the test prior to leaving the home. We all left about the same time. 10 or 15 minutes later realizing I had forgot a tool I turned around to go get it. I have electronic lock box access so I could just let my self back into the house. To my surprise I found the large rag which had been stuffed quite tightly into the dryer vent hole, was pulled out laying on the floor. I had placed the radon monitor in the laundry room which was in the center of the house. The realtor had gone back right after we left and pulled the rag out, planning to replace before I returned 48 hours later. I caller he up and let her know I replaced the rag.
FRAUDULENT Radon Contractor – A home buyer called me for an estimate on a home he was buying. The radon tested above 50 pCi/L and he wanted to be sure it could be reduced below 4 pCi/L. I did the estimate, this was a large, expensive and difficult mitigation job. He requested that I be the one to do the work but the seller used another contractor. After moving in the new home owner noticed the manometer gauge was reading zero, indicating the system was not working properly even though he could hear the fan running. He was suspected the system was not working properly even though he had been give a post mitigation test showing radon was below 1 pCi/L (it was zero.something). He called me and I confirmed there was a problem. The installation contractor would not return calls, when he finally caught him on the phone the installer was argumentative and insisted everything was fine, saying the post mitigation test proved it and refused to come and check it out. So the home owner did his own radon test and the results were close to the original high level of radon. After much difficulty from not returning calls, with a new test results and threats of legal action the radon contractor finally returned and finished the system. He still had quite a bit of work to do, sealing a leaky drainage system and replacing floor drains. He said the bad test results were not his fault, and blamed the bad test on the who sellers supposed conducted his test.
FRAUDULENT Home Seller – This case of fraud was relayed to me by very good home inspector I know. He set a radon test in the basement as part of a home inspection and the test result came back quite high almost 20 picocuries. The homeowner wrote on the sellers disclosure statement the radon in the home was unknown and had not been tested. However when he heard how high the inspectors radon test results were he was adamant the test could not be accurate. How could he be certain if as he stated, the home had never been tested? To make a long story short after some probing questions from the home inspector at least some truth was uncovered. The home owner had in fact conducted a prior radon test and the radon level was about 8 pCi/L, double the 4.0 pCi/L action level. Knowing this high level of radon could pose a problem in selling his home, he finally admitted to opening the windows and then the sliding glass door on the first and second floor. He had been instructed and was well aware the radon testing protocol required closed house conditions (keep all windows closed and quickly shut any open doors) 12 hours prior to and during the radon test. But he was so incredulous, convinced the inspectors test results could not be true he finally admitted to opening the windows as the evidence as to how he knew the inspectors test had to be wrong. His thought since his test with the windows closed with a result of 8 pCi/L that by opening all the upstairs windows and sliding glass door and the door at the top of the stairs, he was certain the new test results had to be lower than his. Actually what happened since no basement windows were opened he actually created a thermal draft in the home pulling extra air up through the basement floor increased by the open door at the top of basement steps up and out the upper windows increasing the radon flow into the home resulting in the higher test results.
To Be Safe Conduct Your Own Follow Radon Up Test after you are in the home. See my page on Why You Need to Test and Re-Test for Radon. Certainly most people who commit radon testing fraud get away with it and in most cases it goes undetected for many years. Not until the home is re-tested are people surprised with higher radon test results. This usually occurs when the home is being sold again and a new buyer has a radon test performed.
After moving into your new home its a good idea to do a confirmation radon test to confirm a safe radon level. Self test radon kits are cheap and sometimes free. For under $25 you can conduct your own radon test just, it worth it to breathe safely. You can get a radon test kit form NY State for $11.00 a great deal if you are not in a hurry. Fill out the form and mail them a check, it takes 6 to 8 week or more to get the test and up to 3 months or more to get the results. Go here for $11.00 (NY only) radon test kit.
Do your own Post Mitigation Radon Test to confirm the system is working properly. Unknowingly many home owners don’t realize they should have a test done after the radon mitigation system is installed. Many radon contractors do not do or provide a post mitigation test to determine if their system is even working. Even if the radon contractor does a test, be sure to do your own test for confirmation. Being in the business I know how easy it is to cheat on these tests, be smart and be safe, re-test.
Free Post Mitigation Radon Test for New York residents who have had a radon mitigation system installed within a year. Simply contact the New York State Department of health at this web link.
NOTE: The post mitigation radon test should be done within the initial 30 days of system operation.