Empty house, full court 

Builder sues and homeowners sue over poor construction in The Ranch.

click to enlarge UNOCCUPIED: New home in The Ranch.
  • UNOCCUPIED: New home in The Ranch.

Renaissance Homes Inc. finished construction on a 5,424-square-foot home in The Ranch subdivision in January 2005. But no one has ever lived there. Instead of moving vans, litigation ensued.

The driveway has collapsed into airspace below the foundation and the garage, according to a structural engineer, will not support the weight of a car. The city refused to issue a certificate of occupancy after its inspector’s notices of framing and foundation code violations were disregarded.

The builders, who deny the city’s claim and say the owners of the house owe them money, filed a foreclosure suit shortly after completing the house. The owners countersued for breach of contract and negligence. The city ducked out when the lawsuits were filed, letting private engineering experts take over.

The case comes hard on the heels of other high-profile residential construction projects that have been completed or virtually completed while in violation of code or contracts. Most recently, the city discovered that contractors putting a $1 million roof on University Plaza and doing concrete work never took out permits. They then underestimated the value of the work and the city tripled their fees, the city code office said.

Inspectors go to building sites when contractors call them in; if work is completed without the proper inspections, the city can deny a certificate of occupancy to force corrections.

Renaissance filed its foreclosure suit against Raymelle and Philip Greening in March 2005, two months after finishing work. The company says the contract price for the home was $377,241.85 and that of that amount, $61,059.07 (plus $2,997.22 in interest) is due.

In April 2005 the Greenings countersued, demanding “recission” — that the money they’ve paid be reimbursed, the house torn down, and the lot returned to its original condition, creating a clean slate at 67 Ranch Ridge Road.

A four-day trial has been set to start Tuesday, Aug. 29.

Construction on the house started in 2003. Renaissance Homes’ filing says the Greenings stopped paying in July 2004, but the company completed the house anyway. Its lawyer maintains that the builders did everything the city asked it to do and that the case has come down to engineer disagreements on issues not covered by code.

City code manager Chuck Givens said, however, that there’s no record that Renaissance corrected deficiencies found by its inspector. Code violations included problems in the garage slab, the garage retaining wall, the driveway and first floor framing.

Engineer Edward Grubbs of Grubbs, Hoskyn, Barton and Wyatt engineers dug test pits at the Greenings’ expense and reported a crushed joist and problems with other joists and piers. The Greenings claim that doors and windows in the house do not open and close properly and that there’s damage to appliances. They say in their filing that they had to hire other contractors to tear out work done by Renaissance and rebuild.

That the driveway concrete has collapsed is not disputed; only the party at fault is. Grubbs found fill dirt had settled as deep as 7 inches beneath the driveway slab. Grubbs also found vertical cracks in a retaining wall and footings that may shift in case of frost heave. Renaissance Homes said it did not pour the concrete for the driveway.

Engineers have also noted that the foundation for the house, which is built on an angle of 24.7 degrees, is sloped, rather than stepped, which could make the house slip down the ridge it occupies. Though city code has required stepped foundations on slopes greater than 10 degrees since 2002, the rule wasn’t enforced during what code manager Chuck Givens called a “transition period” that covered Renaissance’s footing work.

Givens said it was “pretty rare” for a residential contractor to finish out a job without making fixes to problems found by inspectors.

The Greenings have also filed a complaint against Renaissance with the state Contractors Licensing Board.

The Greenings’ is the only complaint pending against Renaissance Homes, board records show.



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