Water making him boil Air-conditioner leak plagues homeowner

August 07, 1992|By Deidre N. McCabe | Deidre N. McCabe,Staff Writer

After searching a year and a half, Richard Novak finally found the house of his dreams on the water. He just never expected it would be under water.

In the five weeks since he and his wife, Barbara, have moved into the rancher on Aisquith Drive, gallons of water have seeped from a newly installed air conditioner into bedrooms and halls, buckling floors and leaving mildew marks in closets.

Mr. Novak said there is little recourse for him to recover an estimated $4,000 in damage caused by the leaking air conditioner.

County inspectors can force contractors to fix shortcomings in their work if they violate county code, but they can't force them to pay for damage caused by that work, explained Henry Farrell, assistant director of inspections and permits.

And to make matters worse, the central air conditioning system had been installed by the former owners only months before they sold the 30-year-old house to enhance its value. But they never used it because the moved out in May, before warm weather.

The Novaks had a home inspection done before settling on the house, in which all major systems -- including the air conditioning -- passed muster. But, as Mr. Novak explained, the inspector "turns it on for maybe 30 minutes," not long enough for the problem to become noticeable.

"I'm fit to be tied by now," Mr. Novak said as he recounted his story. "I just want to get the job done," he added, threatening to sue American Mechanical Associates of Glen Burnie, the contractors who did the work.

Hugh Faucette, owner of American Mechanical, said his company has "bent over backward" to satisfy the Novaks and has promised to get the damage repaired.

"We're doing everything we possibly can. The company will fix it if it's still leaking," he said, adding that Mr. Novak is "just hard to get along with."

Moreover, the Novaks don't even have a warranty because he did the work for the previous owner, Mr. Faucette said.

But the Novaks don't see it like that. The warranty was transferred with the title of the house, they said.

Movers had no sooner begun hauling in boxes and furniture on a steamy day in June when they noticed water seeping through the living room ceiling. Since then, Mr. Novak said, he has called the company dozens of times trying to get the air conditioner as well as the structural damage repaired.

He has missed days of work waiting for repairmen who never showed up. Other times, repairmen showed up with parts, but without the tools to install them.

Mr. Novak said one contractor came out to look at the job, and even set a date to start repairs. But he later called to cancel, claiming that American Mechanical would not pay him for materials needed to start the job.

Mr. Faucette said yesterday he has resolved a misunderstanding with Samuel Jacobs, the contractor, over the money and that he would start Monday.

"I'm not set up to [do] the work," Mr. Jacobs said last night.

"It's still up in the air. By Monday, if I don't get the money, I'm out of this."

A county inspector who checked the air conditioner at Mr. Novak's request found several violations, including missing drains and non-functioning parts.

He also found that the company never called to schedule the final county inspection on the work, something Mr. Faucette said was an oversight.

The company has since repaired the air conditioner to meet county standards, but Mr. Novak said that it still leaks.

And he still has no way to recover damages other than to sue.

Under county code, officials can revoke or suspend the license of any contractor found guilty of violations, such as failing to obtain a permit to do mechanical or plumbing work. While that may keep the contractor from harming future consumers, it doesn't do much for those who have already incurred damage.

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