Officials in Maryland's Montgomery County have issued a report blaming Home Depot, Lowe’s and Sears for failing to ensure that gas appliances installed by their subcontractors were inspected as required by law, according to an article in the Washington Post.
Two-thirds of all gas water heaters bought last year by Montgomery residents in county outlets of Home Depot, Lowe's and Sears were not inspected, according to data released by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and Montgomery's Office of Consumer Protection.
A follow-up inspection found that approximately 25% of the water heaters were improperly installed, putting consumers at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning and home fires, according to officials.
Montgomery's consumer protection director, Eric Friedman, told the Washington Post that Home Depot, Lowe's and Sears are cooperating with authorities to notify customers. But Friedman said that the retailers bear "some responsibility" for their subcontractors' sidestepping of county safety requirements.
Friedman said his agency is considering fining retailers, which charge permit fees but do not ensure that the inspections are carried out. In essence, Friedman said, the stores have been overcharging customers.
"We think the retailers have some responsibility, certainly," Friedman told the newspaper. "The store is taking the consumers' money directly, not the plumber." His agency is considering issuing citations to the retailers, Friedman said.
Spokesmen for Home Depot and Lowe’s responded that the permit fee is not an overcharge because the stores collect the money to repay subcontractors. They said that the stores keep no funds from the fee and should not be subject to citations. A Sears spokesman said the company is confident that its installation process complies with standards.