After a five-year struggle to get a builder to fix structural problems in a new home, a Winnipeg man has some advice for other new home buyers who find defects in their new houses: be persistent.
“You’re going to get resistance at every step,” Jeff Wills said in an interview with the CBC News I-Team. “I think what that actually says is they want you to give up.”
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Wills and his wife moved into their house in Linden Ridge in July 2007. The day they moved in was the day they noticed a problem, he said.
“When we put our young kids to bed, we couldn't close the doors,” he said. “That alerted us that the house was moving, which the put us on the journey for figuring out why.”
At that time, the house was two years old but still covered by the New Home Warranty Program of Manitoba Inc., which covers major structural defects for five years.
Within a month of moving in, Wills said he contacted the builder, A&S Homes, and expressed concern about problems in the house.
Three months later, in October 2007, Wills said he alerted the builder in writing that there were foundation problems.
“The answer we received is the same answer we received over the next two years, which was, ‘Houses in Manitoba shift and you have to adjust your teleposts,’” he said.
But the problems of shifting and cracking in the home didn’t go away, so in the fall of 2009 Wills filed a claim with the New Home Warranty Program.
Wills found that his basement floor was heaving. He suspected the problem might be that the teleposts had been installed without “slip joints," a thin layer that separates the teleposts from the concrete floor slab.
"Without a slip joint, the basement slab grabs a hold of the pole and if there is any heaving — which in Manitoba, there’s always heaving in these basements — it just pushes the house all the way up," Wills said.
But the warranty coverage on Wills’s house would kick in only if a “major structural defect” was found.
Builder closed file
Wills hired an engineer at his own expense to investigate the problem. The engineer did not find any structural problems.
A&S Homes then wrote a letter dated Nov. 20, 2009, reiterating that point, stating, “A&S Homes will be doing nothing further at [the home]. We consider this file closed.”
The letter said, “Slip joints are not installed in any of our homes.”
But Wills did not give up. The engineer he hired later sent an amended report, stating that there was indeed a structural defect that “can easily be addressed by breaking away the concrete floor slab from around the base of the teleposts so that they are supported by the concrete piles.”
“As the slab was lifted, it raised the teleposts off of the piles, because of the lack of slip joints,” the report said.
With that information, the warranty program reopened the file.
On the recommendation of the warranty program, Wills hired a contractor to dig up the concrete around the teleposts.
The results proved to the warranty program that the teleposts had lifted off the piles by about 1 5/8", which caused cracking in the main floor drywall.
In a letter dated June 8, 2010, the warranty program wrote, "The intended function of the teleposts are to transfer the load of the home to the foundation. This is not achieved if the teleposts are not sitting on the piles."
The warranty program concluded that the problem was covered as a major structural defect under the warranty and told the builder to fix the problem and the damage resulting from it.
A&S Homes did carry out the work by the fall of 2012, but Wills says the whole process took too long.
"The deck is stacked against you … it's still stacked in the favour of the builders,” he said.
"This was not a homeowner responsibility. It was a home builder responsibility, and we sure had to fight every step [on a] weekly basis to make that happen."
Official acknowledges homeowner's frustration
A&S Homes has not responded to a request for an interview.
In an interview with the I-Team, NHWP chief operating officer Lori Crandell acknowledged the homeowner’s frustration with the process.
“This did take long to resolve and your patience is going to wear thin after a while. This is just a normal part of going through this process and it's unfortunate,” said Crandell, who has been in the business for 13 years.
“I don’t get a lot of ‘thank yous,' trust me,” she said. “People are worn out after the process.”
Crandell said the three-year time span during which the warranty company dealt with the case was reasonable under the circumstances.
The warranty program had never had a claim in which the teleposts lifted up in the concrete floor slab, so it required extra investigation, she said.
“To resolve a major structural defect, I believe this is pretty accurate for a unique situation that involved a year and a half of ensuring the house was adjusted properly to prevent more problems,” said Crandell.
“On the outset, it did not appear to be a major structural defect due to many comments in the engineer's report as well as the terms of our warranty, and the fact that we had never seen a situation like this before,” she added.
“In that kind of unique situation, it does take a bit more time to get to the bottom of it, but I’m really happy that we did dig deep enough and cover this for this gentleman."
The New Home Warranty Program says it now recommends to builders that they install slip joints around teleposts. It is not a requirement under the building code for residential structures.
Crandell praised Wills for the way he handled the case.
“We appreciated his patience and the way he kept us updated with his concerns, and that allowed the whole process to get completed with minimal concerns,” she said.
Crandell said once the builder was told to make repairs, there was a dispute between the builder and the homeowner over repairing the cracks in the drywall upstairs. She said she mediated that dispute.
Crandell said Wills's case was considered to be repairs made voluntarily by the builder, which she said is the outcome in 99 per cent of warranty cases.
It’s very rare that the warranty program has to step in and make repairs to a home, she said.