5 On Your Side

Engineering report in on sinking driveway

Posted October 8, 2008

— Tyjuanna LaBennett contacted 5 on Your Side several months ago about her sinking driveway.

Construction crews trying to repair her driveway found railroad ties buried underneath. A foundation repair contractor, hired by LaBennett, said he saw two main problems: the criss-cross ties also serve as a support for the front of the garage, and it appears other support walls underneath the home are not properly reinforced.

Five on Your Side got the homebuilder, Pulte Homes, and the Town of Cary to look into the issue. Each now has engineering reports on the issue.

In July, WRAL spoke to a Pulte spokesman who said the railroad ties were "intentional" and, 20 years ago, when the house was built, were a "fairly common and acceptable practice."

Cary hired an independent engineering firm to assess the problem. In part, its report says the wall is "severely decayed" and notes the cause is a combination of "improper use of materials and inadequate site drainage."

The engineer went on to say the problems were "easily foreseeable by a construction professional.” The report also said the retaining wall "failed and should be replaced with permanent construction.”

The Town of Cary sent the report to Pulte and requested the company help LaBennett, but company officials refused.

Pulte received its own engineering report, but would not provide it to WRAL, saying it showed “nothing conclusive.”

Pulte Vice President Chris Martin would also not answer any of WRAL’s questions, but released a statement saying the wall "performed as intended,” but because of the wall’s age, it is "in need of maintenance."

LaBennett wonders how she was supposed to "maintain" railroad ties hidden beneath her driveway.

“I am outraged by their response,” LaBennett said. “That is just unacceptable.”

LaBennett says she’s not finished fighting.

“If they think that I’m just gonna curl up, crawl underneath that house and shrivel up, they got another thought coming. They better get up early because it’s not over. And I won’t get fat and I won’t sing.”

Questions remain about whether timber walls are allowed under the building code. The engineer the town hired said "no," but the Town of Cary said the code in place when LaBennett's house was built did allow them. However, that code does not specifically address a wall built the way LaBennett's is built.

On Wednesday, the town asked the engineer to review that code and submit a new report. Either way, a town spokeswoman says it's not the best practice and would not be allowed under today's building code.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • duvler Oct 13, 2008

    I think it's terrible that the code was allowed in the first place, come on, wood rots, and you have it holding up a driveway?

  • imtiredofit Oct 10, 2008

    Both another opinion and agricon3 have obviously no clue as to what the jobs of the builders, building inspectors and home inspectors are. A builder has the job of building the house to current building standards, the building inspector's job is to make sure that the builder builds the house to those standards and the home inspector that someone hires when they build or buy a house can only check for problems that are reasonably accessible and visible. A home inspector would NOT be able to look under someone's driveway or under their building foundation. That is why there are building codes that insure the main building structure in built to code. The Cary building inspectors department has danced around the question if this house was built to code when it was built, but a good lawyer should be able to research this and then pursue the case in court. Both of you should hope that you never buy a house with this type of hidden damage!

  • another opinion Oct 10, 2008

    imtiredofit, you're wrong. If the building code at the time the house was built allowed the type of construction it is not the builder's problem. agricon3 is correct. A 20yr old house, she should hsve hired an independant inspector in the first place. She bought and unfortunately has no warranty. The only warranty she could get would have been from the seller.

  • mrduffin Oct 10, 2008

    I am an independent home inspector and do a very through inspection. In the situation mentioned in the article the best a HI could do it to report that the driveway has sunken and the problem needed to be investigated further. The purpose of a home inspection is to point out problems that are visible without destructive testing. This means you are not allowed to damage the house you are inspecting.

  • Subdivisions Oct 10, 2008

    I lived in a Pulte subdivision in Apex for a couple years, thank goodness I was only renting a room and didn't own the house. At the time it was a brand new subdivision and the number of problems I heard about from talking to neighbors was amazing.

    I think the HOA even had to threaten legal action just to get Pulte to put in the pool they had promised.

  • soundwave Oct 10, 2008

    Always remember: The Building Code is the LEAST a builder has to do to not get sued. If the best someone can say about a home is "Well, it was built to code."- Run away. While railroad ties under a slab to shore up poor substrate conditions may have been "to code," I can't see anyone but a Jack-leg builder doing it.

  • 7Degrees Oct 10, 2008

    As bad as the situation sounds, I would have to agree that unless it can be clearly proven to be the builders fault, then she doesn't have a claim. I would point to asbestos, lead, Masonite siding and other building materials that were completely accepted but were later shown to be a bad idea. It isn't the builders fault if they conducted their business in accordance with the rules at the time. 20 years is a long time and life moves on. Regardless of what we say now, hindsight is always 20/20, so what was acceptable then, we can't say it isn't now and then apply that standard back 20 years. When you buy a home, look for craftsmanship and don't wait until it is finished to inspect it. Home inspectors are in the pockets of the bank lending the money or the builders. My home inspector was an idiot (referred to me by the realtor) and I got all my money back AFTER I bought the home and found all the errors.

  • cschnack Oct 9, 2008

    A house should be built to last at least with reasonable maintenance, otherwise the housing industry should stop using the word "investment." The homeowner didn't fail to maintain if the problem is something that cannot be "maintained," such as construction materials burried within the house or soil. Improper drainage and foundation construction are common in new homes. Houses have been built that last centuries but today, we excuse builders whose houses start falling apart in 10 years or a few months. As for suing, it's possible that the homeowner bought before it was popular for builders and warranty co's to use "arbitration" clauses. Arbitration prevents the homeowner from suing, and keeps complaints out of public record. Also, code inspectors usually have sovereign immunity even if they do their jobs poorly. I believe she should fight this, but the recourse of ALL homeowners is slim because of building industry lobbying to change laws.

  • stupiditydeservesnosympathy Oct 9, 2008

    Pople may look down at Manufactured Homes, but I much rather buy one then the new houses in Cary and Raleigh. In some instance (Palm Harbour) you can tour the facotry that builds the Manufactured homes.

    Home inspections are only good if the inspector is truly knowledgable about what to look for; othewise it wasted money.

  • ncnative1 Oct 9, 2008

    You usually get what you pay for. This is just another example of someone buying a cheap home and then wanting the media to pressure the homebuilder to come back years after the statute of limitations has expired and correct a situation that met the building code at the time it was built. Yes, building codes do evolve. But the best way to protect your investment is to buy from a reputable builder. Don't shop just on $ per square foot, you are only shorting yourself in the long run. I ran across a great quote on the website for Palladium Homes in Raleigh that really hammers that point home.