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Home Inspector Convicted of Indecent Exposure on the Job
By Kendra Budd, Editor
It might sound like a bad joke, but unfortunately, it’s true.
We’d all like to believe every home inspector acts with integrity and professionalism while on the job, however that isn’t always the case. Recently, a Michigan home inspector was convicted of “indecent exposure.” To make matters worse, the inspector committed the crime while performing a residential home inspection.
This case started a lively discussion and raised a series of questions for home inspectors and real estate professionals alike. Should more states require home inspectors to get licensed? What type of behavior should trigger a license revocation? For those states that don’t require licensing, what can be done to protect the consumer public?
The case also made local and national news and sent shockwaves through the community, especially since one of the victims of this case is arguably the most popular children’s toy—a Tickle Me Elmo doll.
Here’s what happened.
Tickled by Elmo
On March 21st, 2021, 22–year–old Jaida Dodson hired Kevin Wayne VanLuven, 59, to inspect her home before a property sale. VanLuven arrived to inspect the Michigan home while Dodson and the rest of her family were offsite—leaving the inspector to perform his job alone. Toward the end of the inspection, Dodson got an alert on her phone that movement was detected in the nursery.
Dodson had installed cameras within her home, one of which was in her child’s bedroom. These cameras are often referred to as “nanny cams.” Their purpose is to not only keep a watchful eye on kids, but have also become an incredibly popular tool for parents to watch babysitters and nannies’ interactions with their children. Once the alert was sent to her phone, Dodson clicked on the video just to check how the inspection was progressing. What she saw instead horrified her.
According to court documents, “When Ms. Dodson opened the application, she observed the inspector walk into one child’s room, take a Tickle Me Elmo doll from the tent inside, and appear to unzip his pants and masturbate himself using the Tickle Me Elmo doll.” After he was finished with the toy, VanLuven then placed the doll back in its original spot. Dodson, shocked and disgusted by seeing the inspector pleasure himself with her own child’s toy, quickly dialed 911 and saved the video for law enforcement.
“What if he had an STD and our son played with that? What if we didn’t know? We have a toddler and a newborn baby too,” Dodson said. “There’s nothing [worse] than when somebody comes to your home and you trust them to do a job and they go do something like that in your child’s bedroom,” Dodson stated to WDIV in 2021.
Sheriff’s deputies confronted VanLuven shortly after the call, who claimed to only have moved the doll to inspect an electrical outlet located behind it. Officers explained to VanLuven that there was a camera hidden in the nursery which showed him taking the doll toward the closet of the bedroom and committing the vile act with it.
Now caught, the inspector allegedly apologized profusely and all but admitted to committing the offense.
Home inspectors have raised questions about the legality of the nanny cam due to privacy issues. However, it was well within the legal rights of the homeowners to install and use their security device—even if its function was to watch their children, not the home inspector. In all 50 states, it is currently legal to make a video recording in your home without the consent of those being recorded. In fact, even if it wasn’t legal, VanLuven could have still been charged for performing the act at all.
VanLuven was charged with aggravated indecent exposure and malicious destruction of property. A judge also ordered that the inspector undergo a mental health evaluation, and that he be banned from being alone on residential properties he did not own himself. He faced up to two years in prison and a $2,000 fine.
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Despite making major headlines in Michigan news outlets, VanLuven only had a one–day trial in October of 2022. The Oakland County Circuit Judge, Phyllis McMillen, ordered VanLuven, now 61, to serve 19 days in jail with 19 days of jail credit. Once released he will be on 18 months of probation. McMillen also ordered the home inspector to continue with mental health treatment that he’d been receiving since the incident. He will be receiving this treatment until a therapist clinically discharges him.
During sentencing, VanLuven apologized to the former homeowners, who have since sold their home. “To the family, it’s difficult to express how sincerely sorry I am for the trauma and violation…and disgust they must have felt. Not a day passes that I don’t feel remorse and regret for my criminal activity on that day,” said VanLuven in his statement. In fact, the inspector also apologized to his own family for the shame he put onto them. According to court documents, VanLuven intends to follow the sentence “to the letter.”
A jury found VanLuven guilty of aggravated indecent exposure, but not guilty on the charge of malicious destruction of personal property less than $200. Although there was significant evidence to prove VanLuven committed indecent exposure, the same cannot be said for the second charge.
The jury found that since there was no proof in the form of DNA found on the Tickle Me Elmo doll, they could not charge VanLuven with destruction of property.
Licensed vs. Certified Home Inspectors
Despite the outcome of this trial, VanLuven can still continue home inspections once he is released from prison. This is due to the fact that like many other states, Michigan does not require its home inspectors to be licensed. Cases like this one raise the question of whether or not home inspector licenses should be required in every state, or at the very least give states that don’t require licenses the power to reprimand home inspectors in some way.
Many inspectors choose to get certifications if their state doesn’t require licensing. However, many certifications can’t be taken away even if an inspector commits a crime.
Certifications are granted to a student who has completed either an in-person or online course (or series of courses). Once an inspector has done the required work, a certificate will be sent to them. Certification offers proof of learning, completion of course knowledge, the passing of an exam, and/or verification of skills.
However, certifications are earned voluntarily and are not required for inspectors to perform home inspections. Many inspectors choose to get these certifications to aid them in getting new clients, a promotion, or just adding skills to their resume. Meaning that if VanLuven had a certificate or not wouldn’t matter, he would still have every legal right to perform inspections despite his conviction. Whereas if a state requires licensing, this outcome could be different.
A license is given by a regulating body and grants permission for an inspector to perform home inspections. The licensure process certifies that a person petitioning for a license has met the minimum education qualifications required, and has demonstrated a mastery of skills required to perform home inspections successfully.
Licensed home inspectors can assure their clients that not only do they have the skills needed to inspect a home, but that those skills have been validated by a state Board. To obtain a license, a prospective home inspector must fulfill specific requirements outlined by their state. These requirements vary and may include completing an approved home inspection course, obtaining a certification, passing an exam, completing a certain amount of trainee hours, or any combination of these or other requirements.
The state Board doesn’t just give out licenses, but they can easily take them away. If a home inspector commits a crime, or does something that jeopardizes the integrity and validity of a home inspection, like VanLuven’s, they risk having their license revoked. Often, it is impossible, or at the very least difficult, to then get one’s license back if it is revoked.
If VanLuven was in one of the many states requiring a home inspector to obtain a license, he would likely never be able to perform a home inspection again. This case raises concerns within the home inspector profession that has been going on for quite some time. Should all states require home inspectors to obtain a license, or was this just a one-off incident?
The home inspection industry is one of integrity, expertise, and honesty. Instances like this paint the home inspection industry in a bad light, which is disheartening to those who take their profession seriously. States that do not require licensing may take this as a lesson and wonder whether or not certification is enough.
As a lesson for home inspectors generally, this is also a great reminder to perform your home inspection as if there is a nanny cam watching you perform your job. While this is one of the first incidents involving something like “indecent exposure,” home inspectors have previously been accused of rifling through homeowners’ belongings and even theft after being caught on nanny cams. You never know if you’re being watched while performing your inspection.
Stay safe out there.
About the Author
Kendra Budd is the Editor of Working RE magazine and the Marketing Coordinator for OREP, a leading provider of appraiser E&O insurance and General Liability policies for home inspectors—trusted by over 12,000 professionals. She graduated with a BA in Theatre and English from Western Washington University, and with an MFA in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. She is currently based in Seattle, WA.
OREP Insurance Services, LLC. Calif. License #0K99465