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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2012

    Default Who Is Responsible for Retaining Wall Repair Costs

    My question involves civil rights in the State of: Pennsylvania

    A timber retaining wall is collapsing behind my house. For a video overview of the extent of the damage please click here.

    The issues are complex. My township wants nothing to do with it. They say it's private property and basically "It's your problem." They treat me like i'm an idiot who can't read or conduct research. They messed with the wrong Marine!

    I have viewed every document in the township's files pertaining to this development. In addition I have purchased and downloaded a copy of the building codes in effect at the time the wall was constructed. In a nutshell the development was 6 to 12 months behind completion schedule.The developer was insolvent and prone to cutting corners. I believe I can prove the township pressured the developer to complete construction of a retaining wall because without the wall being complete, the row of houses I live in could not be issued occupancy permits. Without the occupancy permits the homes could not close. Naturally the township wanted the development complete because they wanted the meter to start running and collecting their taxes.

    The township claims, and has stated to me in writing that the wall was not subject to design/engineering requirements, load bearing tests, soil tests, hydrostatic pressure tests and final inspection because it was part of the ongoing land development plan. They never even certified that the timbers used in construction met the code requirements. I have had engineers and retaining wall experts tell me they believe I am correct, that there is a responsibility of the township to ensure the wall was engineered to achieve the result of retaining earth, constructed according to the code as it existed, and that it was inspected and approved and most important, would not pose a safety risk to the property owners.

    Under the building code a structure is defined as "That which is built or constructed." The code also states that a retaining wall is a "structure". My opinion is that a developer is subject to the permitting and inspection process to ensure that the home is constructed according to the architect's plans, that specified materials are used and not substituted, and that the intent of foundation inspections, framing inspections, electrical inspections and plumbing inspections exist for one reason - to ensure the owner or tenants are not subject to danger from the collapse of the structure or it burning to the ground. Since a building is a structure, and a retaining wall is also a structure a retaining wall should be treated exactly the same as a building. In my case the imminent collapse of the retaining wall poses a threat to everyone's safety and perhaps, our lives.

    Why is this a 1983 case? Due to the condition of the wall the value of my home has been reduced by at least 50%, and I could not sell my home to anyone requiring a conventional mortgage as the wall fails property inspection. This is not simply speculation, it is fact. The home next to me was mortgaged at $158,000 and the owner declared bankruptcy. It was sold out of bankruptcy for $112,000 to a company who flips houses. They listed it at $140,000 (I believe) and had a buyer who backed out because the wall failed inspection. Each successive potential buyer lowered their offer and again, failed home inspection. The home was eventually sold to a cash buyer for $75,000.

    If I were to try to sell my home now my only option is sell it to a cash investor. However; the wall has substantially deteriorated since that sale of 14 months ago and even cash buyers would be scarce considering the condition of the wall. My options are limited to short sale to an investor, or hand the keys back to the mortgage company. I either harm my credit, or completely ruin it. That's the basis of my property rights being violated.

    I believe it will not be difficult to prove the township's negligence and resulting liability in court. The township is notorious for its lack of code enforcement, especially in this neighborhood. There is an elaborate two story deck that was never permitted. There is a 22,000 pound wall installed above me that was never permitted. The same home has an large rear porch and patio that likewise was never permitted. There is a home that ran a corrugated drain pipe off their downspout and is discharging water directly onto the wall contributing to the decay. Both code violations have been brought to the attention of the code officer who has refused to issue notices of violations or citations. Incidentally, the wall was built with ZERO drainage behind it. No stone, no drain tile, nothing.

    Experts have roughly estimated the replacement of this structure to be at least $2 million. As to the affected homeowners, which could be between 12 to 26 we simply don't have that kind of money. Even if it was $2.6 million and all 26 homes were liable for the cost that's still $100k per homeowner. State Farm has denied my claim but it was filed simply as a matter of protocol.

    The township has been concerned about this matter resulting in litigation since I first approached them 18 months ago. They have asked me twice what I intend to do. They have gone as far as consulting with their liability carrier, which may be SOP, but believe me they are afraid. Frankly I believe they're terrified of what I know. They have promised me assistance with independent engineering studies but that help never materialized. Their response has been to engage a local reporter and feed them a story about how the township engineer is helping us. It's never happened and frankly isn't likely to.

    If I have to file this case Pro Se I will. That doesn't scare me one bit. What I am looking for is case law that is relevant. If anyone has any advice, can offer legal or financial assistance I will be most grateful.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Behind a Desk

    Default Re: Who Is Responsible for Retaining Wall Repair Costs

    You apparently have a lawyer working on the issue, and he has apparently been unable to clearly establish who owns the wall or that the township has any duties in relation to the wall.

    If the township has attempted to turn the claim over to their insurance, and the insurance carrier either declined coverage or says they won't pay unless and until you prove that the township owns the wall, then that's what happened - we can't investigate that for you.

    If you believe you can make a case against the county for not catching your builder's negligence, some twenty or so years ago, I'm skeptical but that's something you can discuss with your lawyer.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2012

    Default Re: Who Is Responsible for Retaining Wall Repair Costs

    Well, Marine, thank you for your service.

    Still, I don't see a section 1983 violation, as civil rights cases aren't related to real property issues.

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