New Brunswick

Saint John couple forced out of house sliding down slope

A Saint John couple is trying to pick up the pieces, after being forced out of a Manawagonish Road home that's now sliding down the bank.

Retired couple bought dream home that turned into a nightmare

The Finnigan's house is uninhabitable. The cliff on which it is perched is sliding away. (Google)

A Saint John couple is trying to pick up the pieces, after being forced out of a Manawagonish Road home that's now sliding down the bank.

The home that Lori and Terry Finnigan bought in 2009, overlooking the Bay of Fundy, transformed from a dream retirement home to a building deemed "high risk" that's now being foreclosed upon by the bank.

"It was our dream home. We purchased it for a couple of reasons. One reason was that it was an income property. We had two tenants that were paying for the mortgage, so it was part of our retirement plan. My husband, who is a motor coach driver -- he was away a lot so it was easy to look after," she said.

The home, purchased through a private sale, passed inspection, and no problems were raised on the disclosure.

"The long and the short of it is that we bought our dream retirement home," said Finnigan.

Now, the home they paid $310,000 for in 2009 is uninhabitable, and the words, "Warning, slope failure," are written in yellow spray paint across the front window.

Signs something was wrong

Finnigan said there were signs something was wrong with the property the day they moved in.

"The day we moved in, my husband and I are standing on our back deck and we recognize this huge, I’ll say four-foot crevice, a crack in the foundation of the house next door — that was a new build," she said.

"We immediately were contacted by the contractor who built it and he was in panic mode. He said, ‘This home I just built is in slope failure,’ and he said ‘I am going to need to access your property to help save this house.’"

Finnigan said they agreed to allow the contractor to fill between the two homes to protect his from sliding any further, pending an engineer's report.

Said she had a neighbour in crisis.

"We said sure, but do not — nothing happens until we see an engineer’s report showing that this is a good thing for you, and for us, and that we have a release from your lawyer saying that we’re not going to be held liable if anything else happens," said Finnigan.

She said she and her husband also specified that the landscaping would have to be fixed following the infilling.

As it became clear that the contractor was dumping more and more fill, Finnigan kept asking to see the engineer’s report and she said the contractor would say things like, "I’m on it," or "These things take time."

"Eight hundred loads later, and I’m talking, I’m standing in front of a bulldozer to get them to stop," said Finnigan.

She said the work began but no report was submitted. Finnigan believes the hundreds of loads of fill compromised her property.

"If you’re a property owner, you can bring dirt in, you can take dirt away, and you can move dirt around on your own property. So you’ve got to keep in mind our home has been there for over 50 years. These new builds on either side of us have been within the last five to seven years," she said.

"They literally have brought tonnes and tonnes and tonnes of dirt on either side of us, elevating the land to the place where the back of our house … was in a crevasse."

City said it was a civil matter

She called the City of Saint John and told them what was happening. The city then told her it was a civil matter and recommended that she get a lawyer.

Her insurance policy did not cover slope failure, said Finnigan.

She said she has spoken with the city on many occasions, but nothing has come of it.

In December 2012, the Finnigans received a letter that their mortgage company was cancelling their insurance.

"I hope that the city comes to the forefront. As taxpayers we have paid the city’s solicitor, the city engineers. Those contractors received permits to build those homes and who, who said that was a safe thing to do?"

Finnigan said she hopes others can learn from her experience.