“We all received a request to survey the inside and outside of our homes”

by Prince Of Petworth April 12, 2016 at 10:22 pm 32 Comments


“Dear PoPville,

Neighbors around Lamont and Morton Street would like community input/reactions and advice. We all received a request to survey the inside and outside of our homes:

“Dear Owner/Resident/Authorized Representative:

We are contacting you concerning the soon to begin redevelopment of the ALSCO facility located at 713 Lamont Street near your property. Seismic Surveys, Inc. (SSI) is an independent, third party consulting firm that has been engaged by The Holladay Corporation, the developer of the ALSCO facility, to conduct pre-construction photographic surveys of the buildings and improvements that are adjacent to the project prior to the commencement of the construction. These surveys are being offered to property owners immediately adjacent to the site…. at no cost to you.

The construction operations are not expected to have any impact on your building. Nonetheless pre-construction surveys are conducted to document the visible conditions of your building and associated improvements prior to the start of adjacent construction operations to form a basis of discussion and resolution in the unlikely event that any concerns arise from these activities. This survey is a precautionary measure used to protect all parties involved.

The preconstruction survey will involve an interior and exterior observation of your building with photographic and written documentation of the various building materials and pre-existing conditions that are visible during the survey….

…If you desire to have a survey of your property completed, please call the SSI scheduling department at 1-888-250-6566 to schedule an appointment…”

  • Anon

    Common sense says: Corporation isn’t spending money as community service.
    Reading between lines, they want to document any cracks in your foundation, etc, before they start blasting, so you can’t claim they caused damage to your property. The only reason for them to spend money documenting pre existing conditions is to limit their potential liability.

    • jusayin

      But if your property is fine and they indeed do damage it could benefit you.

      • Anon

        Doubt they will give the homeowners a report that says: your property has no preexisting conditions. They will just keep the evidence to themselves. Or give some report that says there are hidden flaws that are not their fault or that no conclusions can be made, then if there are issues down the road, their expert will have the upper hand and homeowners will be screwed.
        I’m just saying, as a lawyer who has represented corporations in product liability & consumer class actions: don’t be naive.

        • Anonymous

          Do you recommend just taking time stamped photos yourself then calling it a day? Will that hold up the same in court?

          • Anon

            Taking your own photos wouldn’t hurt, I guess. But if something were to happen, it would end up a battle of the experts. Whoever they send to do the inspection will not be a layperson. So just having the homeowner say years later – “well, I took this picture back then and it looks fine” probably won’t go far. Bc they will counter with “well, here is our structural engineer who did a careful study and documented these preexisting conditions that a layperson would not have seen.” Then what? You can’t hire an expert to go back in time and do a pre-construction survey to counter theirs.
            I guess if you wanted to be belt/suspenders, you would hire your own inspector to document everything? I know nothing about construction.
            But I absolutely would not give them access to my house right now to write a report that will surely be slanted in their favor.

          • TJ

            If you are close to the construction area and have concerns you could hire your own structural engineering firm to do a report. Will cost several hundred dollars. I’m not a lawyer, but I would be wary of letting someone in my house to create records designed to reduce their own liability.

        • Nathan

          I had one of these done prior to the start of the DC Water First Street Tunnel project. My house was a brand new renovation so there was no damage. An engineering firm came out (funny enough, the same PE that stamped the drawings for the reno), and did a pre-construction survey and I received a report. The only existing damage they noted was repointing of the mortor on the exposed brick wall in my house, so otherwise I have a clean report. I’ve asked for a post-construction report as well, but so far it looks like no issues.

    • pcat

      This is correct. Holladay did this sort of a survey before they began work on the Logan 13 project. They took pictures of every crack, etc., so we can’t blame them if we have problems.

      • SilverSpringGal

        Did it work out fine?

  • Anonymous

    I figured it was to cover their rear ends but might be good to have if there are no visible foundation issues at your home. Though it doesn’t say anything about providing homeowners with a copy so I would definitely inquire about that. Also, on a side note, they’ve already been working well outside the legal hours of 7-7…not a good start for neighborhood relations IMO

  • whovous

    Say I let them in and they find a previously existing condition I did not know about. The sort of condition that is likely to be aggravated by the upcoming construction. Are they under any obligation to warn me that my house is likely to fall down soon?

  • Rich

    This came up when new building went up next to mine. We had the contractor’s folks do an inspection and they shared their pics. Good idea for you and your neighbors figure out how to do your own assessment. If there is a problem you’ll need both pieces of evidence.

    The pile driving probably will make things rumble and excavation can find all kinds of soil problems or hidden utilities, etc.

    • Anony

      Don’t understand why you recommend getting your own assessment. Did it go bad?

  • anon

    From DC’s code: 3307.2.3.1 Failure to grant access. If the owner of the adjoining premises fails to grant written permission (conditional or unconditional) for entry after appropriate notice in compliance with Section 3307.2, then any protective work requiring access to the adjoining premises shall be the responsibility of the owner of the adjoining premises, and shall execute such measures to make safe the premises without delay so as not to impede or materially delay the original construction, subject to the provisions of Sections 3307.2.3.3 and 3307.2.3.4. The owner of the adjoining premises.

    Basically, it the neighbor who is doing construction’s responsibility to protect against any harm to your property as a result of their work. If you do not grant them access to your property to assess existing conditions and perform any protective work, it becomes your responsibility.

    • dunning-kruger

      Exactly, if you end up with damage and didn’t let them in you’ll have no recourse to make a claim. I would not count on their docs to prove their liability should that come up though; I’d shadow the engineer and take the same pics and ask for a copy of the report as well.

    • jcindc

      Eh, this is a simplistic reading of this provision. This is under the chapter relating to protection of adjoining property. There’s a whole series of notification requirements that have to occur and it doesn’t sound like that’s happened. The access referenced would be access required in order to protect the adjoining property, not to assess its current state.

    • CRT


  • jcindc

    This is a CYA manuever of the developer. I see this as a huge warning sign that the construction COULD affect your property. You and your neighbors should hire your own engineer and do your own assessment. And only then, if you feel like it, you can let the developer’s engineer on your property (but I’d require them to sign a liability waiver/right of entry to protect you). You might also want to consult a lawyer before doing anything.

    Of course, a downside of this would be that you then know of structural defects (if any) on your property that you’d have to disclose to a future buyer. But I think the risk is greater (and more costly) that your property will be damaged by the adjacent construction.


      CYA is a basic necessity when trying to do ANYTHING in a place like D.C.

    • navyard

      I live near the VA Ave Tunnel excavation and CSX hired a structural engineering company to come to all of our houses to document any pre-existing conditions. The guy simply took pictures of foundation, windows, corners, trim, any nail pops and any drywall cracks. I followed him and took the same pictures (about 2 feet behind him) and made sure to get him in every shot. I also received a copy of his report and a CD with every photo he had taken of my house. They really were just looking for visible signs of damage. For instance, he didn’t find the leak in my roof which was just about to start coming through the ceiling. But it did make me realize I needed to do a little bit of caulking and touch up on the trim and around windows. Pictures always show the flaws in our houses that we get used to!

      I have newer construction, so I didn’t expect to have a lot of pre-existing issues. My thought is that as long as I don’t try to rip them off by claiming damage that already existed, then I have nothing to worry about.

      Best advice for this project and life in general — try to assume the best in others and don’t assume everyone is out to rip you off. Remember that these are just human beings doing their jobs too, and usually the people you run into have no interest in saving their company money by hurting you. Having an adversarial relationship from the start just puts everyone on the defensive and makes every issue harder to sort out.

      • jcindc

        That might work for you, but it’s not always the case. I’m a real estate lawyer and I have seen too many sad tales of when someone assumed the best in others and then got burned, especially by developers.

        • HaileUnlikely

          I am no real estate lawyer, but it would seem to me that the way to protect yourself against the negligence of a malevolent developer would be to hire a licensed home inspector, or better, a structural engineer, to inspect your own property and provide you a report before but as near to the start of the developer’s work as possible. I do not understand the hypothesized mechanism by which declining the developer’s inspector access to your home protects you.

          • Anon

            Lawyer here. You are assuming that the company’s expert will have an unbiased opinion bc facts are facts. That’s not how it works. Two experts often view the same facts and come up with very different conclusions about damage, causation, etc. The harm in granting access is that you are giving the company a chance to set the baseline in their favor. It may not harm you. But I’d bet anything it won’t benefit you. I mean, do what you want. But if I represent the company, I dream of homeowners like you.

  • Tony

    I am one of the affected homeowners who received this notice. I’m just curious, is anybody aware of a redevelopment adversely affecting the structural integrity of a row of houses located across the street? I have not.

    I’m actually more concerned about pest control measures the developer will take as they unearth decades of rat nests.

    • Anony

      The rats are going to be a doozy, this is a block long building that hasn’t been kept exactly ‘clean’

    • Anon

      Lawyer here. Haha, no. My totally-uneducated-about-construction guess is that there is an extremely remote chance of damage to your home. But that doesn’t stop me from being paranoid! This is probably why folks hate lawyers.

  • petworther

    Man, people complain if developers don’t offer to help, then complain if they do.

  • Wallach Pl

    We live adjacent to the JBG construction on U Street, and they also engaged Seismic Survey to conduct a survey of all of the homes adjacent to the construction. They went through our house with a video camera documenting all cracks, etc. You can absolutely ask for (and we received) a copy of the video that they made. I didn’t see a real downside. If they do damage your property, the video may assist in proving that the damage wasn’t there previously. If you don’t have the video, the burden of proof will be on you to demonstrate that the construction caused the damage and it wasn’t pre-existing.

    • Anony

      Why not just do a video yourself then?

  • Anonymous

    For PUDs that will involve blasting, it is typical for the closest neighbors to ask the Zoning Commission to require that the developer do pre-construction surveys like this of the nearest homes.

  • Waterfront

    As a developer, I don’t view this request for access for documentation purposes as a negative, cover your ass maneuver by a developer. Lots of times images provide FACTS that are so helpful in resolving situations quickly and in ways that everyone ends up if not happy, but at least satisfied.

    In construction, things go wrong even if you have the most conscientious of contractors (let alone an bad actor type contractor). I guess you can put me in the minority, but as a developer if something goes wrong on my jobs I’m going to fix it. (Knock on wood, that’s actually never happened.) Where things get sticky is when folks ask for (and expect) the moon when boo-boos occur.

    Frankly, people expect developers to all be bad actors…and that’s just not true. Conversely, when a developer actively tries to protect neighbors and themselves (as in this request to for access for documentation purposes) we get vilified. Truly, sometimes we cannot win.

    It makes me sad to see biases against developers negatively reinforced again and again. This time to the point where people on this site are literally advising people to not allow a developer to do due diligence so that we can effectively rectify problems if/when they were to occur.

    I realize there’s a lot of lawyers who read these threads and comment. Most comments are really helpful. However, sometimes lawyers abundance of caution and inability to appropriately assess risk in a construction application doesn’t help and actually hurts.

  • neighbor

    I am a homeowner across the street from this construction, and I am an architect. In my experience, this type of survey is a regulatory action required by the city. The intent is to protect all parties in case of an incident. I believe it is in the best interest of the homeowner to allow the survey of their home, and request a copy. If the homeowner does not allow the survey, and damage occurs, the burden of proof (during mediation or litigation) is on the homeowner. This can be costly, time consuming, and sometimes viewed by the court as improper channels or uncooperative measures. In my experience, there are always unforeseen circumstances during construction, and as unlikely as it may seem, damage could happen across the street, especially during the demolition phase. For these reasons, my plan is to allow the contractor to conduct their survey of my home, and request a copy. In addition, there has been some great concern and advice from lawyers and others on this blog. It makes sense that perhaps the surveyor will provide documentation more in favor of the company who hired them. Also, I have seen, time and time again, the unsavory practices of contractors. That is not to say they are all bad, I have seen some with excellent integrity as well. But I do not know this company, and I will most likely take the advice of hiring my own structural surveyor for comparison. If my neighbors were interested, we could negotiate a reduced bulk rate. The other thing that I am doing is I am talking to my insurance company for advice and their level of interest in the surveys. I have yet to hear back, but will keep you posted.


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