“the contractors began demolition and in the process, knocked down an adjoining wall between our houses”

wall
Photo by PoPville flickr user Nathan Castellanos

“Dear PoPville,

I live in a semi-detached home and the house I am attached to is currently being renovated. On December 23rd, the contractors began demolition and in the process, knocked down an adjoining wall between our houses about 4-5 feet long. While their home is two stories, mine is three and I can clearly see into their home from my basement because they have knocked all the way down through the floor joists and through the wall into my house.

This is concerning due to the possible structural and asbestos issues this may pose to my home as well as the possibility of mice and rodents entering my home from an unfinished work site.

The lead contractor offered to come over, look at the damage and fix it and seemed very concerned about doing everything he could to rectify the situation but he’s not my contractor and I don’t know that I trust them to perform the work under the table.

Besides calling for an inspection and possible structural engineer, does the PoPville community have any advice for dealing with DCRA? The owners have all of the necessary permits (I checked) and this is a quick flip for profit so I’m sure they don’t want to be tied up with stop work orders and insurance claims.”

23 Comment

  • Contractors in D.C. are required to be licensed, bonded and insured precisely to take care of problems like this. Let the contractor who is responsible for the damage fix it. If the repairs are not up to your standards, let the contractor know. If you cannot get satisfaction, then resort to legal remedies.

    • The problem is that I’ve worked with plenty of “licensed, bonded and insured” contractors who still weren’t particularly competent. With a problem like this, I would have no way to judge whether the repair was being done correctly without bringing in some outside help. If a problem develops down the farther road because, OP maybe SOL for various reasons. I’d say get your own expert in to advise you, even if you have to foot the bill yourself.

  • And while you’re at it- ask them to fix anything you’ve been meaning to get done around your house. Of course within reason 🙂

  • I don’t have much experience, but can offer this: do absolutely everything by the letter of the law. no favors. no handshake deals. The only recourse you will have if something goes wrong is your documentation. And get DCRA involved so that they can inspect YOUR house to make sure there’s no structural damage.

    Sorry this happened!

  • I’m sorry I can’t follow the description of the damage very well. Is there a 4 foot hole in your basement party wall where you can walk through to their house? Or are you looking through the joists pockets and can see into their house through the holes the joists sit on? Many old row houses share joist pockets and it would not be strange if they removed plaster/dry wall and you can now see through. They can and should seal up the pockets for fire/building code reasons. Regardless of what the damage is, DCRA and the building code require contractors to get signed statements from neighbors before working on a party wall. 30 days notice is required for structural work. 10 days for non structural. The purpose of the statement is not to get permission, it is to assign liability. This statement puts liability for any damages onto the party doing the work. Google DCRA neighbor letter. Did you receive something like this? If not, you have a hook to get DCRA involved.

    • OP here…the gap is 4-5 feet in length and about a foot tall. A small child could fit through but not an adult. An amimal could very easily crawl through the gaps and into my house.

      I was not given any notice regarding the renovation. It wasn’t until I heard them ripping up floors and knocking down walls that I knew it was happening. I haven’t signed any statements and the contractors have been non English speaking so it’s been difficult to even communicate about the noise past 7 pm. I’ve contacted DCRA and they told me the only thing they could do was send an inspector out to ensure the repair was done to code.

      • HaileUnlikely

        I believe their permits should have the permit applicant’s telephone number on them. The permit applicant should be either the owner or the general contractor. In any event, I’d walk over, take a look at the permit, jot down the number that appears on it, and call that number. If the number corresponds not to the owner or GC but to a paid permit expediter, explain the situation and say you need to contact the owner and GC. No guarantee that they will be reachable, helpful, or English-speaking, but that’s where I’d start.

      • Got it. That definitely sounds like a problem. Start taking pictures. If you have any photos that document the state of the wall before the construction started, even better. You should have been notified about work on the party wall in advance, so DCRA has reason to get involved. DCRA is like a lot of things, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Stay on them. If you have the resources, you might consider getting a contractor or structural engineer to stop by for your own piece of mind. In theory, the liability for the repair will fall to the other party, but theory doesn’t always play out in practice.

        • I’ve taken a ton of photos and video since I noticed the damage. DCRA requested that I send them the photos so I’ve at least done that. The only proof of the prior state of the basement is the home inspection completed in October when I bought my house so I hope that suffices.

        • Also, DCRA actually loves things like this as is an easy job for them.

          • I disagree. I saw some work like this being done completely un-permitted. You would think DCRA would find it so easy to check that the address had no permits, and then drive by to see this kind of work being done, and then hand out fines for tens of thousands of dollars. I called every day for three weeks, every day being told that so-and-so would be there the next day. Never happened. Crazy structural work went on for six months (even at illegal times with calls to the police) with no stop-work-orders or fines.

    • There are different methods to underpinning that doesn’t require neighbors approval by DCRA.

  • first, get everything in writing via email at a minimum. document any phone conversation to each party and send them email / memo of the phone conversation. do not deal with a non english speaker. deal with the owner. contact their insurer. suggest you get a structural engineer asap on their dime to review the damage and offer a solution. a contractor will just infill with mortar which will not be sufficient for bearing or worse dry wall over the problem. also it is very important to match the mortar to the historic composition if it is a historic home.

    • Can’t overstress enough that you get a structural engineer. The problem you describe is not a minor repair, and you need to make sure it is done properly and quickly to avoid further and future damage.

  • Retain a lawyer. ASAP.

  • Call your homeowner’s insurance company ASAP and have them come out and look at it. Let them pay for it to be fixed (have 2-3 licensed contractors look at the problem and choose one of them to solve it–not the people who are screwing things up next door) and then you can go after them for the deductible if you want. Your insurer can pay for the repair and they have plenty of lawyers who will deal with the owners next door.

    • I can not agree with this enough! after dealing with a POS neighbor and issues surrounding my party wall if I just contacted my insurance company at the beginning it would of been much easier. Call your insurance company, open a claim and then go from there. do not trust the neighbor/flipper to make it right.

  • The house next to me is being redeveloped. If their construction affects your property, then they are required to give you notice. I also learned that separate corporations are set up for each property, so their liability is limited. As soon as the property is sold, the corporation is shut down. There’s no one for you to sue years later when your wall finally collapses from all the cracks you didn’t see. Anyhoo, yes, communicate with the DCRA – firm and calm, not crazy. I was successful in prompting a stop work order, which got the developer’s attention. Good luck to you.

  • Call DCRA’s illegal construction and have them out immediately, encourage them to stop the job. DCRA will not be a long-term ally though. They’ll look to get in/get out as fast as possible. DCRA’s recent conversion to a digital system for permit drawings is a trainwreck and to make up for that they are issuing permits with little actual review. Presume the neighbor has a permit and the inspector finds them within their permit. Unbelievable, but count on it.

    After immediate inspection, don’t dwell on DCRA or rely on them. Start work immediately on hiring your own structural engineer and going after the flipper. If the flipper is listed as an LLC they will be even harder to pin down. DCRA won’t even know a person to go after. Like fighting a fog.

  • See these links to a recent house collapse/demo in Cleveland Park Historic District. They had permits. They had an “oopsie” during the work. DCRA ordered an emergency demolition. After a stop-work order, DCRA’s long-term attitude was “Oh well….” DCRA’s only value will be to put a stop work order on the project giving you time to marshal your own private effort (engineers, lawyers, insurance, etc.)

    http://www.clevelandparkhistoricalsociety.org/preservation-news/statement-on-demolition-of-3515-woodley-road/

    http://www.clevelandparkhistoricalsociety.org/preservation-news/3515-woodley-road-update-cphs-submits-foia-request-to-dcra/

    http://currentnewspapers.com/admin/uploadfiles/NW%2011-11-15.pdf

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