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Question DetailsAsked on 4/7/2015

Should contractor know that sill/floor joists are rotted/twisted & house is buckling before putting 2nd floor on?

second floor addition has already been added on second floor ranch.
contractor said he had no way of knowing that sill/floor joists are rotted/twisted & house is buckling before putting 2nd floor on
warning signs: rotted side of house, dry/cracked uneven floors, smell of mold in house before any work began.

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3 Answers


Sorry to hear about your issue - sounds like the house might not have been worth adding onto, eh ?

Depends on what the scope of work was, and who designed the addition. The person designing the addition (architect, engineer, or contractor) should have inspected the foundation and lower level of the house in general for its suitability to put a second story on to - so IF the damage was exposed and visible (like in exposed basement ceiling joists and sills) it should have been picked up by that person and you might have some recourse against them. Cracked floors, unless severly sloping or warped, and a bit of siding rot would NOT immediately scream unsuitable first floor conditions by themselves.

If the contractor did the second story without any plans at all or generated them himself and your state law (you would have to check with professional licensing board staff AND also your local building department about this) requires that such designs be done by an engineer or architect, then you might have recourse against him for practicing without a license.

In the end result of course, assuming you are looking for recourse on this, you will need a good attorney who is familiar with both residential construction contracts and with professional practice/licensing laws in your area.

Untimately, my call on it - had they seen the issues and told you they had to be fixed first, you might have decided the job was not worth it because of the degraded value of the house - a possible cause for financial recourse, though any appraisal increase in the value of the home would normally be deducted from any recovery.

However, had you been committted to doing the 2nd story, you would have had to pay for the remedy anyway - which would be about the same cost regardless of whether a second story is over it or not, so a court might well find that any basement/first floor repair costs you have to do now you would have had to do anyway, so no basis for claim. Depends a lot on who was responsible for what, and if you contracted with the general contractor to evaluate the house for a second story and then design and build it, or just to build it without any responsibility spelled out on his part for seeing that the first story was suitable for it.

Of course, if a building permit or stamped plans were required by law and they do not exist, that would strengthen your case against him - but would be real hard to quantify your losses because the repair costs would have been needed anyway, so basically after the foundation/joist repairs are done you would be ending up with the expected cost and net change in value of the house - whether done before the addition or after, so I can't see a real large benefit from suing, to tell the truth. IF he did not have plans and permits as required, and remediation of HIS work to meet inspection could probably be recovered, but that is probably about it. Does leave you in a likely financial bind though, with this addition maybe being worth nothing at resale time if you do not sink more thousands into it to fix the first floor problems.

I was going to say I was a bit surprised the building inspector did not catch it, but if the building permit was only for adding a second story, he would not be looking in the basement or first floor.

As for the mold smell - a LOT of older homes have some mildew or mold smell in them - either from minor siding or plumbing leaks, or from less than perfect housekeeping or a damp basement, so that in itself would NOT be a red flag.

Hate to say it, but this sounds like another case of a second story addition being put on a house where it might have been smarter to do it as an at-grade addition, or even just sell and buy a new home with the footage and features you wanted. SOOO many people get it into their mind that to get what the want they need to modify the home they are in, rather than consider the possibility of just moving to a new home that already has basically what they are looking for. With new home construction costs being depressed as they are, that is quite commonly a viable alternative once you consider all the costs.

Answered 5 years ago by LCD


Thank you for your prompt and detailed response!

The entire house was gutted to the studs. The permit was for complete first floor demo and 2nd floor addition. The contractor kept saying he was worried about the side of the house -- the whole left side is rotted. And the floors...he and his workers were constantly bringing up the slope in the floor.

We went to the building inspector today who said he doesn't inspect until the work is done. From early on in the project, I guess there were red flags but we didn't want to believe it because we got to like our contractor!


He didn't know we'd need a variance for a legal non-conforming lot, and set our timeline back at least 5 months. For our variance hearing, he hired a lawyer (3K), told us we needed one -- the building inspector has since told us we could have respresented ourselves.

The plans the architect created were essentially not used. They cost us $7K. Basically, he said he just needed them to bring to the building inspector. He, apparently is not speaking to the architect.

The plans had 2 dormers, an additional kids bathroom on the 2nd floor, and a very detailed vestibule. We are getting none of that. When we asked where that money went in the budget, he said the kitchen -- um, it has not been deigned yet!

He refers to insurance, and "getting money we deserve" a lot! We were even asked if he wanted him to go and "grease the building inspector" offer him money so that we could redo our entrance -- something that was shot down at the variance hearing. We were very wary of such ideas, and did not go along with them.

What should a contract look like? Ours is vague...does not say # of windows, lights, etc. Nothing is very specific. Even our payment schedule is when he asks for it. Essentially, right now, he has $165K of our $237K budget. And he said he needs to start getting paid more often, yet it isn't in writing.

His workers apparently quit because "I kept changing things." Since there were no plans to work from, we were told he would snap the lines and decide whatever we wanted, When we walked into the downstairs, the walls were all up. Truth be told, I was there for maybe 3 times, a half hour each time, and the changes were minimal and I was told that by the workers. I think he fired them because he was running out of $ and wanted to pin it on me!

All this is stressing us out. We have never done anything like this before. We need the work to get done, but do not know where to go from here!

Answered 5 years ago by kady


Yeah - lots of red flags, and you were too trusting by far- but you already know that by now.

What was the architect's role - he should have had inspection scope as well as just doing the drawings, so you knew you were getting what you were paying for. $7K does not not sound at all out of whack for that - but if the contractor hired the architect, not you, that is part of the problem.

Non-conforming property issues would not normally be in the contractor's balliwick except on total rawland development from scratch where he is doing a turnkey design-build job. That is where the architect usually starts, with enviornmental and planning and zoning compliance and approvals.

You say you are not getting dormers, bath, vestibule - what use are the plans if he is not building to them - theat is definitely out of line, but since it has evidently been going ahead without you saying anything about it you have really weakened your case. If you are not gettign what the job calls for, you need to lay down the law with him and get that back on track, otherwise he is just spending your money as he wishes !

$165K out of $237K so far - at that point you should be (approximately) totally closed in - all roofing, siding, framing, rough flooring, utilities in - and maybe drywall too, leaving interior furnishings and painting and finishing out fixtures and flooring/wall finishes in bath and kitchen to be done with the remaining $70K. Or if a major kitchen remodel, then should be down to just finishes and appliances, roughly, at that progress payment. Contract should have had definite completion milestones for each progress payment, not just when he wants them.

You being there maybe 3 times for 1/2 hour and the fact the architect is evidently not involved in inspection or working for you probably helped get you where you are. I foresee, assuming you do not have the upstairs bath, dormers, or vestibule yet, that he is heading for something in the ballpark of $50-100,000 in overrun, or as much as he figures you are good for, whichever is more - and that maybe without the first floor problems being repaired. Has he said he is on budget - not that "saying" it would mean much.

I certainly hoep for that amount tht you are either in a very high priced area and getting about 800-1000 SF in new floorspace, or if in a low priced area that you getting about 1500SF of new space.

If he says the workers have quit because you are changing things but you have not been, BIG red flag. If they are quitting it is probably because he is not paying them, which would lead to them filing liens on your house. Attorney should contact subs and suppliers right off and see if they are being paid.

I am sorry, but this is beginning to sound like the Tom Hanks and Shelley Long movie The Money Pit - you should watch it, if you can stand to laugh at the comedy and cry at the same time as you watch it as you see your project in his work.

My recommendation - you need an architect working for YOU, maybe under an attorney (for client confidentiality) - but you DEFINITELY need an attorney , because not only do you have an addition being built on top of damaged first floor so will probably be out of plumb and level and may also be overloading the ground floor structure, but you are not getting what the contract calls for and you need to get that on track. Architect shouldl NOt be the one who did the plans, because you may end up going against him if he should have seen the rot and warping and did not when he measured to prep the plans.

I am guessing, without seeing the project, that demanding he follow the plans is not going to get you anywhere and you are probably going to have to end up calling his bond to get it corrected - and NOW, before it goes any further. The first thing, after getting the attorney on board, should be a progress meeting with the attorney (and this is where a separate architect is probably going to be needed to act as an expert witness on whether he is following the plans or not and whether his work is acceptable) to either get him to correct the failure to follow the plans, or if he refuses to issue a stop work order for violation of thae contract and file a claim with his bonding company.

I hate to say it, but I think this job has gone seriously sour - so your moves now have to be to preserve what you have, get the structural problems fixed, get the construction back on track to follow the plans (assuming they show what you wanted), and straighten out the entire financial and scope issue and get some builder back to work on finishing it. Where you will be if it runs to $300,000 or more I can't hazard, but you need to be thinking along those lines. And I hope for your sake that the addition, when done, will be worth it both in terms of $/SF and in terms of the house being of a size and cost for the area that is is resaleable, becuase too big an addition can make a house outsized for its neighborhood and hence hard to sell.

Oh - a word to the wise - no reviews or comments on AL or other blogs until this scenario is totally done with and then only if attorney says you can (because there may be terms about that in any settlement) - don't damage your position by posting commentary about the job (including on Facebook and such) without attorney's approval, and let him see this so he knows what you have posted to date.

Answered 5 years ago by LCD

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