Is the remodeling contractor responsible for pre-existing structural issues?

Answered by Jeffrey Anderson ~ December 27, 2012 ~ No Comments

My potential customer has a home where 25 feet of an 8 foot tall, 70 year old foundation wall is bulging in by 3 inches from top to bottom in an area being converted into living space. New structural bearing framed wall will be placed on the old, bulging foundation wall. The homeowner does not want to fix it. If I leave it the way it is and it gives way in the future, am I responsible because I did not insist that it be fixed?


Jeffrey Anderson

Mark, my suggestion is to walk away from this project, but I realize that can be a tough decision considering how challenged the remodeling industry still is in some regions. It can be difficult to turn down work -- especially if you have idle crews. If I really needed the job, I would have a structural engineer look at the wall and do a detailed report.

The bulging could have happened years ago and if the engineer felt the movement had stopped, I would probably go ahead with the project. However, I would attach a copy of the engineer's report to the contract along with a statement that I still felt the foundation wall should be repaired or replaced prior to doing the new work -- there would also be a paragraph stating that I was not responsible for any repairs or damages if the wall began to move again. My attorney would have an opportunity to review the documents and if they approved them all, I would sign the contract.

If the engineer's report stated that the bulging would continue unless repaired, I would decline the project no matter how badly I needed the work. It doesn't make much sense to take on a job if there is a good chance it could end up costing you money -- perhaps a lot of money.

So my final advice is to avoid the project if at all possible and if not, make sure your attorney includes verbiage in the contract that will protect you if the job ends up in court.

It might also be a good idea to have the local building inspector out to take a look at the wall before signing any contract. There is a strong possibility that they may not pass the framing inspection if a structural wall is on a foundation that could be failing. I would think that they are also going to want the protection of a licensed engineer's report and if they do, it should be the customer's responsibility to pay for the structural engineer's visit.

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