Couple's dream home now a nightmare 'House from hell' causes headaches

September 20, 1992|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Staff Writer

Kathy and Dennis Woffinden were newlyweds filled with the (( excitement of owning their first home together when they moved into the two-story Colonial in Severna Park in 1986.

But today their front yard is a pile of dirt, they're out nearly $30,000, and their dream home has become their nightmare.

Since buying the house in the Chartridge subdivision, they have wrestled with plumbing problems and a leaking basement. The basement trouble became so bad that Mrs. Woffinden said she was bothered by the smell of mildew and had to leave the house for two months during the summer when she was pregnant.

She is back in the house now, hoping that work completed a few weeks ago at last has cured the leaking basement. "We're

hoping now we can live in a house that was supposed to be a home," Mrs. Woffinden said.

But the house represents a collection of bad memories: expense, aggravation, illness.

They spent thousands of dollars to repair the basement and have had to borrow money from family members because they have been unable to collect a $21,000 judgment against the contractor, Evergreen Builders.

Meanwhile, the owner of the company continues to build houses under different company names, leaving behind a string of creditors.

Richard Nash, the builder, refused to return repeated phone calls for this article, and his lawyer, Michael L. Wilsman, said he could not comment on the case.

Looking back, the Woffindens say they should have been more suspicious when their real estate agent showed them the partially completed house at 517 Stockbridge Court.

The house had been under construction for several years, and several people had backed out of agreements to buy it. Even on their first look at the $125,000 house, the Woffindens commented on the mud in the basement.

They were told that poor grading had allowed water to run in through the basement door during a storm. The builder agreed to regrade the back and side yards to correct the problem. The Woffindens withheld $750 in an escrow account to cover the grading and seeding, but the job was never completed.

Soon after the Woffindens moved into the house in November 1986, other problems surfaced. They discovered that no insulation had been placed around a window in the family room. A leak developed in the upstairs plumbing -- water dripped onto the stove.

And one day, they discovered a wet wall and carpet in the family room. That was when they learned the sealant in the sewage pipes had either failed or was never applied. As a result, the pipes separated and whenever they flushed the toilet, water ran between the walls.

The plumber corrected most of the problems, but the wet basement persisted. Water collected in pools on the floor, even during dry weather. The Woffindens' washer and dryer were ruined. The basement was unusable.

When the Woffindens' tried to collect on a home owner's warranty insurance plan, they learned the builder had not paid the premiums.

Eventually, they learned that their home was insured by another home warranty company. The company told them they had one month to make any claims. They filed a claim within two weeks, to have the basement repaired, but were told they were too late and were no longer covered.

In the meantime, Mrs. Woffinden began to suffer from repeated sinus infections that doctors told her might have been aggravated by bacteria and mildew growing in the soggy basement.

Getting no satisfaction from the builder, the Woffindens took action to correct the problems themselves. Mr. Woffinden dug up the back yard with a shovel, trying to direct the flow of water away from the house. Then they hired a company to bring several tons of dirt to regrade.

When the problems persisted, the builder hired an engineer to investigate. The engineer said the drain tile had not been properly installed and advised digging up the outside foundation and installing filter cloth to prevent silt from flowing into the drain tiles.

Instead, Mr. Nash tried to address the problem by digging up a corner of the basement floor and flushing the clogged tiles, which by then were packed with mud, Mrs. Woffinden said.

At first, that seemed to remedy the situation, but within six months, water was again standing in the Woffinden basement.

Finally, during the summer of 1989, the Woffindens sued Evergreen Builders and the warranty companies, seeking compensation for the grading, loss of possessions ruined by the water, and money to repair the basement.

Last May, nearly two years after the suit was filed, the builder told his lawyer to withdraw from the case, and the judge ruled in favor of the Woffindens.

Residential Warranty Corp., which had been named as a co-defendant, agreed to pay $4,470. Evergreen was ordered to pay $21,841 for the grading and basement repairs and $5,000 for the Woffindens' legal fees.

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