Garages come up short, say owners Some homebuyers say their cars just won't fit

April 02, 1997|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Sanjay and Nutan Mathur saved money for more than a decade to buy their first home. Finally, last fall, they found one: a two-story, four-bedroom house in Columbia's Long Reach village.

The new tract home built by the Ryland Group seemed perfect -- until they tried to fit their cars in the garage.

The Mathurs' Corvette and Nissan Maxima barely fit inside. Some of their neighbors on April Brook Circle and April Down Way are not so lucky: Their vans and station wagons stay parked outside their $180,000-plus houses in Columbia because the garages are not long enough to hold them.

It is a problem that has 10 buyers of the Ryland Jonesport model home picketing on weekends -- and their county councilman planning a change in the county building code.

Technically, the garages in the 10 homes match blueprints approved by county officials, and violate no building laws, county officials and experts said.

"We built the houses according to the plans and specifications we showed them, and they signed it," said Maurice M. Simpkins of Ryland.

"I can understand how they can be upset, but not to the point where I feel we've done something underhanded or wrong."

But residents, most of whom are first-time homebuyers, say they didn't get what they paid for.

"You'd think that for a garage you'd have enough room for cars, and you could maybe put up a few shelves for a little workshop," says Sanjay Mathur, a software consultant. "We can't do that. We can barely use the garage for what it's meant for. This does not function as a two-car garage."

"The builders may have followed the law to the letter," says says county Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, "but there's the letter of the law and the intent of the law. This is clearly a case where the spirit of the law was not honored."

Within the next three months, Gray says, he will propose an amendment to the county building manual to prevent this from happening again.

Residents of the Kendall Ridge homes say they noticed the garage problem as soon as they moved into their homes last summer and fall. They struggled to fit their cars into spaces that were too small, often bumping walls and scraping fenders.

At least three say they complained to Ryland immediately -- but received no return calls for months. Even then, Ryland disputed the problem and postponed action, Mathur says.

Decision to pressure

Last fall, at a neighborhood barbecue, the homeowners decided to pressure Ryland as a group.

In December, Ryland inspected the garages and found that they meet the length called for in blueprints: 18 feet, 4 inches.

Residents acknowledge that, technically, Ryland is right. If measured from wall to wall, the garages fall just 1 or 2 inches short of what building plans called for.

But residents talk in terms of usable space. The slope of their properties meant the garages sit below the level of their houses. Steps had to be installed, and they take up about 2 feet of garage space.

A lip on the garage door side takes up another 6 inches or so, leaving one side of the garage with barely 16 feet of usable space.

The American Institute of Architects recommends minimum garage dimensions of 21 feet, 10 inches, according to Gopal Ahluwalia, of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), based in Washington.

"I've never heard of anything like this before," he says.

In other new homes in Kendall Ridge, the shortest garage is 19 feet, 4 inches, and the longest is just over 21 feet. The average length of garages in Howard is 22 to 24 feet, county officials say.

"I'm shopping for a new car right now, and it's tough," says Dominic Scurti, a Jonesport homeowner who meets with his neighbors every third Tuesday to discuss the problem.

"I'm trying to figure out what will fit -- and already we have to rule out half the cars out there," he says.

No technical violation

The complaints of the homeowners received little initial response from the county. When inspectors did examine the garages in March, they agreed with Ryland that there was no technical violation of county codes.

"There was reluctance on the part of county inspectors to look into this," says Gray, the councilman. "They said as much. I had to almost threaten them to do something. They felt they had approved this before the houses were occupied."

"This is not an issue that deals with an issue of codes or laws," says David M. Hammerman, director of the Inspections, Licenses and Permits Department. "This is an issue between the homeowners and the builders regarding poor design."

The problem is not isolated. In the same Long Reach neighborhood, four homeowners who bought Andover-style homes had space problems in their garages.

But in those cases, after inspectors found the garages were several inches shorter than they should be, Ryland agreed to pay for expansions. Construction has begun on two homes, and plans are in the works for the other two.

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