DEAR BARRY: We live in a new housing development, built about four years ago. The builder has a good reputation in the area, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he handles complaints in our neighborhood. Many of us have had serious problems with cracks in our foundations, walls and ceilings. Many have also had an unusual number of roof leaks. The builder was slow to respond when the homes were still under warranty, and since the warranty period expired, he won’t even return phone calls. How do you recommend that we handle this issue? –Patrick
DEAR PATRICK: Builders who do not address construction defects in a forthright manner can be a major problem for buyers of new homes. The best ways to handle this can vary according to the specifics of the situation. In your case, the following guidelines are recommended:
1. Each of the homeowners in your subdivision should have their home professionally inspected by a highly qualified home inspector. A report by a competent inspector will specify a list of defects, some of which you and your neighbors have not yet discovered.
2. The inspection reports should be presented to the builder, along with a letter firmly requesting prompt repairs.
3. If the builder does not respond to your requests in a favorable manner, a letter from a construction defect attorney may produce a more active response.
DEAR BARRY: I hired a concrete contractor to replace the foundation on my 1907 house. I was responsible for engineering and permits, but did not get either. He proceeded with the work anyway. A few months have passed, and there appears to be about an inch of settlement on one side of the building. The wall on the side has a large crack, and there is a noticeable hump in the floor. The contractor wants me to pay for repairs, but I refuse. Who is responsible for this mess? –Daryl
DEAR DARYL: You and the contractor are both responsible for this unhappy situation. When you decided to forgo engineering and permits, you made a deliberate decision to risk the outcome of the project.
Engineering and permits are required for good reasons. The engineer determines on a mathematical basis what is needed to make the new foundation substantial and secure.
The building permit empowers the municipal inspector to determine that the work is being done according to the engineer’s specifications and in compliance with applicable building codes. Allowing the contractor to proceed without a permit was a violation of law, and this makes you responsible for the unfortunate outcome.
The contractor, however, is also guilty. In most states, it is a violation of law for a licensed contractor to knowingly perform work that is not permitted. Therefore, neither of you is in a position to be pointing fingers.
Rather than arguing the point, the two of you should hire a structural engineer to evaluate the problem and determine what is needed to correct the foundation. Then you should hire an arbitrator to decide who is responsible for the costs of repairs.