No recourse against seller for foundation woes likely


February 10, 2002

Dear Mr. Azrael,

I have owned my 42-year-old home in Timonium for seven years and rented it for one year before owning it. The elderly couple who owned the home were very religious and trustworthy, so I thought. Their brother, a real estate agent, was directly involved in the sale to me.

The house had some evidence of a structural problem when I moved in, and prior to actually purchasing it, I insisted that the sellers have a structural engineer provide a report that the house was no longer settling.

The owners hired an engineer, a friend of theirs, who provided the report.

Now, seven years later, the foundation is sinking. Doors and windows won't close, and the floor is sloping so that a marble rolls from one end to the other.

The house appears to be cracking in half.

I have had the same engineer back who advised me to trench around the footers and install drain tile. His theory is that there could be a stream running under the house.

I have done this very expensive work, and have had to replace doors so that they will lock. Only time will tell if this is going to stop the problem.

I am also beginning to believe that the prior owners knew that the problem was ongoing.

My questions are: Is there any recourse from the prior owner? Is there a county or state agency that can help with this problem?

Cathy Ward


Dear Ms. Ward,

The owner did not guarantee the foundation and, apparently, made no representation in the contract about the home's condition. So, after seven years, your chances of placing responsibility on the prior owners are slim to none.

State or county agencies aren't likely to help with your underground water problem either, unless it affects roads or other public improvements.

I suggest you hire another structural engineer to inspect your home and assess what's wrong with the foundation. You should make sure the second engineer reviews the original report you got from the first engineer when you purchased the property. If the first engineer was negligent in failing to alert you to the potential structural defects, you may have legal rights against the engineer.

I also suggest you make a claim with your homeowner's insurance company. Most policies exclude damage to sinking or cracking foundations, but you might have paid an extra premium to waive these exclusions. Also, you might have coverage for damage to doors or floors.

Your insurer might agree to pay for a structural engineer to investigate and provide a report analyzing your problems and recommending solutions.

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