Dangerous settling and cracking?!

artfulgardenApril 15, 2014

Hi all,

Our 3 story brick building is showing cracks, inside and out and in concrete basement floor, and other evidence of movement, such as doors dragging and deadbolt locks out of alignment. Our neighbor is excavating to build on the empty lot next door. We insisted on crack monitors and when we received the first report from the readings, two of the monitors were replaced because readings are said to be "inaccurate" due to "excessive deflection during curing of epoxy". These two monitors showed about a 1mm vertical shift before they were removed. (I've attached a photo of one crack)

Of course we are very worried that the building structure is compromised. But also that the neighbor is trying to cover up any damage by removing the monitors. They also conducted a "preconstruction" survey about a year after they started work, showing the cracks and pronouncing them as "preexisting". We have photos showing the progression of the damage and a diary of the work being done on each date.

I welcome any thought but have two specific questions:

One, how much settlement is normal. A 1mm shift doesn't seem too much, but we don't know. It is a soft earth location (landfill).

Two, If anyone knows of an affordable structural engineer, or lawyer, website or other source of professional advice, we would be very grateful!

Thanks in advance for your help!

Raina A.

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toxcrusadr Clay Soil

Thanks for the pic, can you post more to show both the excavation AND your house so we can get an idea how close it is?

Also, we have no idea what city, state or country you are in, so it's impossible to recommend anyone local to help. I would suggest finding a structural engineer immediately though. Do you know anyone in the construction business? Ask them who would be good. Or ask a home inspector who they might recommend. Or just look in the yellow pages.

And take LOTS of photos, every day or two of the same cracks. In fact, photograph the whole house inside and out. Make sure the photos are date stamped. If a new crack appears, you'll have a 'before' pic.

Call the city building inspection office and find out who is the inspector for this job, and have them come out and look at your house. They have the authority to completely halt a job a lot faster than searching for a lawyer would accomplish it.

Good luck and keep us posted.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 4:44PM
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Thanks Toxcrusadr,

I've been taking a lot of pictures!

The builder has a stop work order in effect right now because of another neighbors complaint. And we filed a complaint about the cracking, too. The builder has been our neighbor for 20+ years so we let some conditions happen without jumping to getting him shut down. But, according to the site survey we received from his engineer, it looks like he is trying to avoid any responsibility.

We are in NYC. The crack monitors were put up after we put up a stink and much of the movement had already occurred.

Here are some more pix⦠but I can only upload one at a time soâ¦I'll try to get more on

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 5:06PM
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The excavation is to the left. The lot had been empty for 20+ years. I'm not sure if there was ever a building there before.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 5:09PM
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cracking in the basement cement floor in the boiler room which is on the north wall adjacent to the excavation.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 5:13PM
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Cracking in the stucco on the other side of the building, the north wall adjacent to the excavation is on the right.

I don't have pictures of the excavation.

They installed soldier piles along the fence line, helical piles along the north wall, installed a dry-well, and dug a test pit all before notifying us or putting up monitors of any kind. Now they have dug a trench which runs the length of the north wall (about 45 feet) about 5 feet deep so they can waterproof the exposed brick of the wall.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 5:23PM
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I went out and took this through the fence. It appears that they have partially filled the trench. Our building is on the right, with plastic on the north wall.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 6:01PM
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You definitely have some structural issues but the root cause needs onsite investigation from a professional. Hire your own structural engineer and have him give you his/her assessment.

The crack monitors will show if itâÂÂs getting worse but you already know you have an issue. The monitors are inconsequential at this point as the real question is whatâÂÂs causing the settlement.

If the building has been without a structure to the one side for 20 years, your foundation could have been compromised in many ways prior to the construction even taking place. The neighbors work may have caused enough disturbances where a compromised foundation now shows signs of problems.

If your structural engineer states the neighbors work is the problem, request your neighborâÂÂs insurance information. The neighbor may be willing to allow you to turn in a claim directly with his/her carrier.

Understand if your foundation is the issue, the fact that construction is going on next door may or may not get you paid from an insurance carrier. Your foundation needs attention either way and your structural engineer can give you advice on how to make repairs economically.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 6:15PM
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I can see evidence that the brick and mortar was replaced underneath the window sill some time back. That means that the settling was occurring years before.

Every time I visit NYC it amazes me how many brick buildings are being repaired brick by brick. It is very high maintenance.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 12:29AM
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mepop, Thankyou for your thoughtful and intelligent advice! I am worried about that north wall. The cracks in the brick on the facade, though scary looking, are not structural (I'm not sure, but that's what someone in construction told me) but the wall along the excavation is.

aisan_m, if any settling occurred it was before we owned the building.

If anyone has the name of an affordable structural engineer in the New York City area, please share!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 8:42AM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil

Let me get this straight, they dug that trench right up next to your wall? How could that NOT undermine the building? Where is the property line, right at the outside surface of your wall? Otherwise they were digging on your property w/o permission.

I'm no construction expert but I do oversee a lot of excavations for environmental cleanup, and it's typical to stay 5-10 ft away from most buildings and slope the excavation wall to prevent exactly what is occurring here. This seems outrageous to me.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 12:57PM
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toxcrusadr, This is in an urban block partitioned into 20 or 25 foot wide lots. The buildings are butted up against each other or sometimes even share a wall. The builder will make use of the entire width of the lot for his new building. I'm pretty sure he is not allowed to dig below the foundation of the adjoining property (ours) which is (I think) ten feet.

Building in the city is pretty contentious because of the close quarters, among other things.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 3:11PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil

Yikes. I understand the situation now. I hope this works out for you, please keep us posted.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2014 at 4:12PM
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zero lot lines are common in manhattan, and in many parts of brooklyn, queens, and the bronx.

you can go to the city records to find out if there was ever a building there before, and also get some more history on your own. it would be helpful to know what, if any, foundation work has been done in the past. the north side of your home is not finished and has no windows so it is likely that there once was a building there.

depending on the neighborhood you live in, there was a time when some of the boroughs were really run down and homes were destroyed by fire. Where my grandmother lived in NYC, the home next door was vacant and rat infested for 20 years, she complained and it was never taken down. In more recent years - late 1990's - when her area was becoming 'hot' an investor took it down along with another one beside it and built a 7 story tall condo building with seven units, each one sold for over 1million and now are worth twice that. he bought the rat infested home for 400K and my grandmother thought he had been ripped off.

It is worth to pay for an engineer's report, call the city and ask for names. If you have foundation issues, it would be easier to address them now when there is a way to excavate from the exterior. Most of these houses have rubble foundations, I have been in some with sand floors, and I know that the basements (or cellars as they are called there) often need extensive digging with new foundations poured.

This post was edited by detroit_burb on Fri, Apr 25, 14 at 20:20

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 8:15PM
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detroit_burb thanks for your comments. I hope your grandmother was able to cash in on some of the neighborhood's "hotness"! We are in one of those areas too. That is why there is construction going on everywhere. If we can make it through without the building falling down that would be great!

We have an engineer but are not very confident in his abilities at this point. He has yet to draft a written report. And he hasn't made any recommendations for repairs. He says that he has been trying to set up a meeting with the builder, but its been months. This is one of the reasons I have resorted to posting queries on the internet!

BTW, the stop work order is still in effect. Based on the complaint of a neighbor. The complaint says "undermining adjoining property" "failure to protect adjoining property" "lack of fencing", things of that nature. Not sure if our property is included in this determination or not. The city will not give out the name or contact info of the inspector on the case so I can't speak to anyone about the specifics. I only know what I can find on the city websites. Bottom line is, if they start working again without shoring up our building they will be shut down again and pay more fines. Hopefully they have wised up and will do things right from now on...

Raina A.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 8:13AM
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It is likely that the brick that appears to have been replaced under the windows on the parlor floor was done to fill in a shortened window and is not indicative of an old problem.

The original parlor floor windows frequently extended down as far as the brownstone band that would be near the floor. Way back when windows were replaced, a new window that size was expensive so the opening was filled in with brick at the bottom to fit a standard window.

Also the blank side wall does not necessarily indicate that an attached building existed there previously.

You do have a serious problem and in addition to getting an engineer as soon as possible, I would report it to the DB as your neighbor has done.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 8:13PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil

It seems strange that you can't contact the inspector for a project next door to yours that is potentially damaging your building, and which the inspector has shut down. So the neighbor who filed the complaint doesn't know either?

Perhaps a bit of leverage is in order to get the builder to meet with your engineer. You could contact them and suggest that if they can't find time to talk to your engineer about this problem, maybe they would prefer to talk to your attorney?

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 4:14PM
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toxcrusadr, it is odd that the inspector's contact info is not publicly available but that is what the city info line at 311 said. I still have yet to call the borough office of the DOB to see if they can give me any more information.

Yes, threats do help sometimes!

judeny, I did look up the property and there was a building there that was demolished in 1950. The windows were indeed all the way to the floor and were filled in at some point.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 5:56PM
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