Lawyer can help you fix 1-foot misunderstanding

Mailbag

November 22, 1998

Dear Mr. Azrael:

My wife and I spent four months looking for a home. At the end of our search, we decided to build a house in a development in Harford County.

When going over the options we wanted for our house, we specified that we wanted a 9-foot foundation poured. The intention was for the basement to have an 8-foot ceiling when we finished it off in the future.

During our weekly inspection of the home, we noticed that the windows were not placed where we wanted and added where we did not want them.

When we called the developer to ask what was happening, we were told of another problem. The foundation that was poured was only 8 feet high and not 9 feet.

To make matters worse, the bank paid out the portion of the construction/permanent loan to the builder without even verifying that the foundation was, indeed, 9 feet.

My wife and I like the location of our land, but if the basement cannot have a finished ceiling height of 8 feet, the house is useless to us.

What are our options to have the builder fix his mistake? Do we need a lawyer? What would you recommend? Our meeting with the owner of the construction company is coming up and we would like to get an idea of what is and is not reasonable from our and their perspective.

John Pentikis

Edgewood

Dear Mr. Pentikis:

You should have hired a lawyer before signing the contract with the builder. The written contract is the first place to look to determine if you have any rights and remedies because of the builder's mistake.

Usually, a new-home construction contract spells out the plans and specifications for the home. The building plans, including foundation and ceiling heights and the location of windows, may be specifically referred to. Or, the contract may refer to a builder's model home as the standard for construction. Since you indicated that a 9-foot foundation was an option, I would expect there's a special provision in your contract specifying this height.

If the builder has not yet installed the first-floor deck, he may still be able to give you a basement height of 9 feet by adding a course of concrete block over the existing 8-foot foundation. But if the first floor has already been built, it would have to be removed before raising the height of the foundation.

You should consult a lawyer to analyze your particular contract and to advise you what your options are. At a minimum, the builder should give you credit for the extra money charged for a 9-foot foundation.

Unless you're a Michael Jordan-type tall guy, I'm not sure I agree with your claim that a home with an 8-foot basement foundation is "useless."

If you and the builder are both reasonable, you can probably reach a solution that will satisfy you and give your family a home it can use and enjoy.

Pub Date: 11/22/98

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