Construction chaos

February 16, 2009 8:38:30 PM PST
Homeowners are aware of all kinds of construction issues that may arise. But here's one you may not have heard about before: disrepair to your home caused by work going on next door. It happens more often than you might think.

"I can fit my whole hand in there."

Hakim White said his West Philadelphia home is literally falling apart!

He showed Action News a broken foundation, separating walls, cracks running the length of house, the floor's been compromised and in the kitchen?

"When it rains it leaks."

He said the damage is extensive and is not his fault. Hakim bought the Catherine Street home in April 2007.

"Out of all the houses we found this was the only house that we could move right into and we didn't have to do a bunch of work."

He moved in that summer. At about the same time, Sharon Baptist Church began converting a neighboring building it owns into a community center.

In October of 2007, Hakim said a Church Deacon called him to arrange for his family to move out of the house temporarily.

"They have to reinforce the house so it wouldn't tip over," he said he was told.

A month later, Hakim said those arrangements changed.

"He (Deacon) said they've changed their mind, we had a new engineer come out you know the situation was different all of sudden."

Then Hakim said he started noticing cracks in the walls.

"They said they would fix it. They started sending me letters."

The project architect sent Hakim a correspondence concerning the willingness of W.H. Myers Construction Company to make the repairs. Included was a letter, which stated that, the "construction company is willing and able to repair this cosmetic damage".

"I let them know, listen this is beyond plaster repairs," Hakim said.

Then in December of 2008, Hakim received a letter from the construction company's insurer, Harleysville. It stated, "Our investigation reveals that the excavation work for the new church was the cause of the structural damage to your home".

It goes on to say "it is our conclusion that our insured was not legally responsible for your damages".

"We knew that this was uh from the construction," Hakim said.

Action News contacted Travelers, who is the insurance company for the JPC Group, which did the excavation work. Travelers could not comment directly on Hakim's claim but did say they are looking into it.

Action News also contacted Sharon Baptist Church for comment; they said they are not responsible for the damages and that the dispute is between Hakim and the insurance companies.

Meanwhile, over a year later the home remains damaged.

"We obtained an engineer's report from the contractor indicating the condition is safe," said Deputy Commissioner of L & I, Michael Fink.

The Department of Licenses and Inspections said it gets complaints like this often.

"People will allege that things were damaged during the construction activity but it's not always apparent to us we cannot ask as judge and jury in that regard," Michael explained.

So homeowners need to protect themselves. Make sure permits are displayed for any construction taking place close to your property. Videotape and take pictures of your home prior to construction. If you think your home is in danger, call the city's new non-emergency 3-1-1 number to get a city inspector out to take a look.

In the end, Hakim just wants a safe place for his family to live.

"It's very scary we can barely sleep in here some nights."