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Question DetailsAsked on 1/25/2015

A crack is appearing in the ceiling where a wall was removed. Who should we call/what should we do?

The house remodeled before we bought it 5 months ago and part of the remodel was removing a wall to open up the kitchen to the living room. There is now a crack where this occurred and there appears to be some slight sagging. Our home inspection didnt mention any concerns with this. What should we do? What recourse do we have? Who do we even contact about estimates or fixes?

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You could contact the prior owner and ask you can get a copy of any plans from an engineer or architect for the wall removal, showing what was there and that it was non-load bearing. Or if they do not have the plans, find out name of architect/engineer and the contractor who did the work, who presumably have the plans. You might also be able to find plans for the mods at the local building department - take proof of house purchase paperwork with you or they might not be willing to show them to you. They will also be able to tell you if a proper permit was issued on the work, and final inspection done.

Otherwise, you need a Structural Engineer to determine if the wall that was taken out was load-bearing - in which case you will have to put some support back in under there. Structural engineer (who might work for an architect, a civil engineering firm, or as an independent consultant) can determine the situation and any needed repairs, and should be able to give you a ballpark cost estimate for the repair too.

It is also possible that what you are seeing is support creep - the overlying trusses or floor joists have existed since construction with that intermediate wall supporting them, so they did not creep and sag like they normally would - commonly as much as an inch or two gentle sag over the width of a house. Even though the wall was not load-bearing, unless there was an airgap left over the top of the wall (highly unlikely), the wall, as soon as they started carrying load and sagging, did end up bearing some of the load from any overlying structural members that crossed over it. Take the wall away, even if not needed structurally, and the members start their normal creep under load and start sagging, which will commonly crack drywall at or near where the old wall was. Usually cracks right on or adjacent to the prior alignment because that is where there will be a joint in the drywall from the ceiling repair after the wall was taken out - sometimes one crack pretty much centered on the old wall line, sometimes two cracks, one along each edge of a repair strip of drywall that was put in to complete the ceiling after the wall was removed.

Because you say cracking AND sagging, while I wouldnot be worried about a simple hairline joint crack only, with the sagging unless you can find proof that it was not a structural wall, to be on the safe side I wouldhave it checked out before it potentially develops into something serious - particularly if the overlying members are roof supports.

Unfortunately, it is way too common for load-bearing walls to be taken out because someone who does not know his structures decides they are not load-bearing. I have worked probably 20 or so jobs where structural failure was either imminent or actually occurred due to people taking out load-bearing walls, or modifying them (like to put in pass-throughs or larger doors or windows) without adequately supporting the overlying load during the modification, so while your case might be innocent, I would not assume that till proven otherwise.

Sorry this is happening to you in a new house. As for recourse - if you can prove that a proper building permit was not issued and final inspection done, or that the work was done without required engineer's plans, you MIGHT - and that is a pretty big maybe - have some recourse against the prior owner, but an attorney would have to advise you on that. And given the maybe factor since you had opportunity to inspect the house, unless you were able to get the prior owner or contractor to kick in for the repairs as a settlement in lieu of a possible suit by you, I doubt a suit will be viable because it would likely cost more than just putting in a support beam with a few columns - or putting the wall back in.

Answered 5 years ago by LCD

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