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Probably Gonna Need More Than a Touch of a Spackle

by Prince Of Petworth March 23, 2017 at 1:45 pm 53 Comments


Holy crack! Thanks to a reader for sending this photo of a home that’s “about to collapse” in the 5400 block of 9th Street, NW. Apparently construction crews were digging a new foundation after demolishing a home and this resulted in damaging the foundation of a neighboring home that is now expected to a collapse, per DCRA. Yikes.


Update – thanks to a reader for sending last night:


  • “construction crews” = some dude with a rented backhoe

  • dat

    Hmmm… you can see that they underpinned the neighboring foundation (in what looks like 5 sections) — I’d be interested in learning more about exactly what went wrong here. From the pictures it kind of looks like they didn’t pour the bottom (horizontal) portion of the underpinned footer sections. Maybe they did and they’re just deeper than what I can see in the picture, but I see horizontal rebar exposed…

  • ANON

    Sweet, this outta put a hold on construction of both properties for the next 10 years or so….

  • anon

    this doesn’t seem like the correct way to underpin (obviously). why didn’t they go all the way up the party wall? cheap and lazy? or is it a process to get up there, starting at the bottom?

    • dat

      are you referring to the section on the right that looks like dirt? I think that’s just dirt on the exposed foundation.

      • anon

        ah, ok. yeah, i was talking about that section. that makes a lot more sense.

    • Vered

      Wasn’t a party wall. Two detached houses in my neighborhood. The developer had razed a fire damaged house and was digging out the foundation. I don’t understand how they knocked into the foundation of the house next door, but that is what caused the structural damage (as displayed by brick displacement above). It’s possible that neighboring house is going to be taken down if it doesn’t come down itself.

      • doot mcgoot

        doesn’t seem like they would need to bump into it. digging right up next to it without proper support likely caused the shift/crack. who know what the integrity of the structure was before though..

  • Elkhaert

    Yeah, that doesn’t look properly supported at all, I am not surprised the foundation sank. Hope they have insurance.

  • DC

    If this house collapses does the owner of the new lot pay for that? Their insurance? The homeowners insurance of the damaged house? This sucks.

    • FridayGirl

      +1. Agreed. I would be so beyond furious if that were my house. It’s not just the money, it’s the fact that it was someone’s home and presumably holds some sentimental value.

      • ah

        +2. Pretty outrageous. I’d be pretty livid to come home to a big orange “uninhabitable” sticker on my door.

        Don’t builders have to post some sort of bond when they’re working near row houses? If not, they should.

        • eva

          This happened to someone I know–except in that case the house next door (not adjoined, but only a small gangway between) collapsed onto her house during unpermitted basement excavation. Her nanny was in the house with her infant at the time. They made it out unharmed, but her house was not declared structurally sound for another 8 months, during which time she lived in a hotel room with her baby. And when they got back in the house you can imagine what it was like to find a refrigerator that had last been opened 8 months ago, wet wash stuck in the laundry etc….

          • FridayGirl

            omg. that is literally my worst nightmare. that is HORRIBLE.

    • ET

      I would be surprised if the house that may collapse gets much of anything for what amounts to the destruction of their property. A lot of developers set up LLCs for specific projects as a way to minimize any damage that they may incur. The absolute minimum that is required and do whatever they can to confuse the owner/responsible party issue. What this amounts to is that the owner of the other house is screwed.

  • JS

    Just checked the lot out on Street View – grossly incompetent doesn’t begin to describe it. They were demolishing a detached house!

    • Anonamom

      I think you are looking at the wrong house. If you put in “5400 9th Street NW” (which I can understand because it’s listed as the 5400 block) you get a duplex, but the porch looks completely different, and the remains of some sort of climbing plant on the white brick above indicate that this house was not attached. Look at thew street view for 54159th Street, I believe this is the house in question, with the same porch and the ivy or whatever intact.

      • JS

        We’re talking about the same house. The hole is being dug on the lot occupied by the detached house to the north of this one (the boarded up green one with white siding.)

    • dat

      It looks like they were razing the existing detached home and sub-dividing the lot to build two new multi-unit buildings:


      • ah

        Now I’m suspicious they did this “accidentally on purpose” to force out the owner of the collapsing house (i.e., we’ll buy it from you for what FMV is rather than what you demanded).

        • Anonymous

          Given that someone could have been killed, that would be a high level of malevolence. (And probably not worth the risk.)

        • Anonymous

          In addition to being an incredibly illegal and dangerous way to acquire an adjacent property, deliberately undermining the foundation of a neighboring property is also not likely to result in the acquisition of said adjacent property.
          The house may have to come down but the land the house sits on still belongs to the owner. So the owner doesn’t have to go anywhere – especially since, per other postings, the house was being rented. If the owner has insurance, the insurance company will pay to rebuild/repair the house (maybe even reimburse the owner for lost rental income) and then try to get repayment from the developer of the adjacent property. It would probably be in the best interest of the developer to pay whatever has to be paid to make this right since if this goes to court and a judgment is rendered, the adjacent owner/insurer can slap a lien on this project – which would make it really difficult to complete. At the end of the day, the owner of that white house could find his or herself owning a much larger plot of land, or walking away with a multiple of what the property would have ordinarily sold for.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Builder will say, “I’m a LLC. I have no assets. You can have your judgment against me, but the mechanism by which you can actually collect money from me does not exist because I don’t have any and never will have any.”

          • Nathan

            The LLC has assets; the house and land next door – just as the poster pointed out.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Doubt they own it outright, more likely it is collateral for a big loan and basically owned by the lender. I’m honestly not clear on how that would play out in the event that the court awarded a large monetary judgment against an LLC that has no liquid assets and a mortgage on a bank-owned property. Basically, this is a no-win situation for the LLC, but it’s likely going to be awfully hard for the neighbor to get a win that means anything either. This is basically a situation where all parties involved lose.

  • OP Anon

    Do we know if the developer owned both lots? Or is some poor family now homeless? Good luck recovering assets from a shell LLC.

    • dat

      According to PIVS, the white house is owned by someone else. The developer who purchased the standalone house was demolishing it to sub-divide the lot and build two new mutli-unit buildings (presumably right up against the existing white house).

    • msfrizzle

      A friend of a friend is one of the tenants of the collapsing house and had to vacate on Saturday (and is looking for a new place). For what it’s worth, it wasn’t a family living there, more of a group house situation and the individuals are being put up by friends until they all find new place(s) to live.

      • FridayGirl

        Oh… that’s… kind of a relief. But it still sucks. No one should have to deal with that. Although admittedly I am relieved that it wasn’t an ailing old lady or something.

      • Ava16

        This is why you make sure you have renters insurance that includes loss of property use coverage. A few grand to rent an AirBnB or hotel for a few weeks would be so clutch in this situation.

        • Vrem

          Renters insurance doesn’t cover a loss like this. The landlord’s homeowner’s insurance theoretically does, but the builder/builder’s insurance is who should pay for this. The tenants are basically homeless right now,and their stuff is stuck in the house that could collapse at any minute. Not a normal situation.

          • Ava16

            You can add “loss of property use” to a renters insurance policy. It’s basically funds that cover a temporary living arrangement until you can either return to your property (if that so happens to be situation) or until you find a new permanent living arrangement. For example, my policy covers up to $4,000 in costs.
            “Temporary housing expenses coverage, also known as Loss of Use (Coverage D), reimburses you for living expenses that exceed your normal living costs if you cannot live in your home due to a covered loss. These additional costs may include hotel stays, additional food preparation costs and other expenses that exceed what you would normally spend if you remained in your home.”

          • FridayGirl

            Ava16 – That says “due to a covered loss.” The question is whether “my house is collapsing because of someone else’s stupidity” is a covered loss.

          • Anon NS

            FridayGirl – these policies generally cover events that render your home uninhabitable, including due to someone else’s negligence (i.e. when my apartment building negently set off the sprinklers in my apartment) – just like they cover damage to your personal property caused by someone else’s negligence. They wouldn’t cover, for example, loss of use bc you didn’t pay your rent and were evicted.

  • Anonymous

    Oh no! Does someone live in that white house? That’s terrible!

    • Someone did live there. I walk up that street almost daily and saw the gentleman who lived there on multiple occasions. Admittedly, I don’t walk up that way as much during the winter months, so he could have moved out relatively recently before this happened.

  • Guillermo Brown

    Caulk it

    • Anon

      Pretty sure it’ll buff right out afterwards.

    • ah

      Amateur – you need something stronger: Duct tape.

    • Spicoli

      My Dad’s a TV repairman, he’s got an ultimate set of tools, I can fix it

      • DJFinance

        You can’t fix this, Spicoli.

        • lisavfr

          Dude. The car will be fine.

    • Timmy

      Caulk and paint. Done.

    • pacerguy00

      I’m partial to liquid nails. A few squirts in between the bricks should clear that up. no problem.


    I am living through a horrific situation like this but not as bad. My home is semi detached and the adjoining wall (made of shiplap) has been damaged by the owner’s contractor. DCRA issue a stop work order and the house remained a see through house nearly 9 months. Now I have wildlife in between my ceiling and floor joist that made their way through the party wall. I can see full sunlight in my ceiling through the recess light cavity.

    • doot mcgoot

      that’s awful… I have a free standing home in NE and have been cleaning out raccoon poop in the attic that piled of during years that the house was left vacant before I moved in..

  • K

    DC Fire and EMS just tweeted out that this house collapsed this morning. So sad. From the pictures you can see right into someone’s bedroom closet, which is full of someones stuff. Now just exposed to the elements.

  • anonymous

    Saw on the news that the roof and a portion of the wall collapsed Tuesday morning.

  • not telling

    Well it definitely looks like some degree of negligence.

    But that white row house appears to be Italianate (late 1800s). The concept of foundations and footings didn’t really come into common use until later. Builders literally just tamped the dirt down and started piling up bricks. The way structural forces work, the weight of the outside walls is directed downward to the bottom of the brick walls and then diagonally out/down. Thus relying on the neighbor’s dirt to hold up the white house.

    That’s not to say that the contractor doesn’t bear some responsibility in ensuring no damage to the white house. But imagine if this were a modern building, and it’s foundations or structural support were on a neighbor’s property. The neighbor would not be fully obligated to maintain or repair another home’s structural support.

    • Architect

      Even in modern construction structural forces of a foundation still go outward. Any structure built right on the property line (common in urban environments) depend on “the neighbor’s dirt” to support them. Obtaining proper permits for excavation and construction on any site include plans and calculations to account for that. I live next door to the collapsing house. The builder of the neighboring lot had only a raze permit posted. It’s possible they had obtained another permit before they began the excavation, but I didn’t see it posted. Regardless, when they were first excavating there was no support at all provided against the neighboring house. I watched the excavation getting deeper each day, and then one evening noticed a cluster of 2x4s propping up the rear corner of the house. All the concrete you see in the photos was put in place days AFTER the white house began collapsing; it was already too late.

      • textdoc

        Thanks for the background info. This account makes me sad. :(

  • Worried

    OMG! This only makes me more worried living next door to a flip in progress. They’re tearing into the brick wall and basement foundation. Sadly, I think this is going to be more and more common as unscrupulous developers have their way. Just hope no one gets hurt or dies.


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