Serving Middle Village and Maspeth since 1938.

Home Damaged During Botched Construction

Thursday, December 20, 2007 - Forum West

Questions why stop-work order lifted

By Conor Greene

MASPETH ‒ Maryann Todzia just wants her Hull Avenue home repaired to how it was before she says a construction project next door damaged her foundation and walls.

Construction on a two-family house at 65-61 Hull Avenue, next door to the Todzias, was halted in October 2005 because work was occurring without a permit. Work resumed in August after the city Department of Buildings approved new plans and issued a new permit. Now the Todzias are suing the contractor in hopes of recouping $50,000they say is needed to repair their home.

The issue began when the contractor, American Construction and Renovation, was forced to underpin the foundation of the Todzias' home, which sits almost on top of the property line. "We never knew they were going to do that," Todzia said. "My husband was home recovering from hip surgery and heard the noise, and saw they were underpinning." After several calls to the Department of Buildings, the stop-work order was issued.

However, with work halted, water began to collect in a large hole on the property whenever it rained, said Todzia. "I told the contractor about the problem, but he tried to put a Band-Aid on it and installed a hose ad pump." With the contractor's pump unable to keep up during heavy rains, the Todzias were forced to buy a bigger pump to keep water from pouring from the construction site into their home.

According to the DOB website, several fines have been issued to either the contractor or property owner for various violations, including $5,000 for failing to protect neighboring structures during demolition and $10,000 for failing to follow safety procedures.

In August, after reporting work was taking place at the site, Todzia was told the stop-work order had been lifted by Deputy Borough Commissioner Basil Sztylka and that a new permit was issued.

"It was strange how all of a sudden the stop-work order was lifted," she said. Concerned about damage to her home and the structural integrity of the foundation, she called DOB to find out who would pay for the repairs. "I was told the buildings department is not responsible for any damage." she said.

Todzia was not only surprised the order was lifted, but that another permit was issued without her knowing, even though it affected her house. "I don't understand why they are allowed to touch our property without our knowledge," she said. "They don't have to worry about what they do to people's property because [the city] is not going to check on them."

In hopes of recovering the estimated $50,000 needed to repair the house's wall and basement, the Todzias have hired an attorney. After letters issued to those involved in the project went unanswered, they are now seeking a summary judgment awarding them money.

"I'm not even talking about compensation for days off from work and time cleaning and lost personal items," said Todzia. "We're talking about money needed if we don't want water in our house. The damage to the foundation that could be hazardous is directly related to them. The Department of Buildings knows this, and they're the ones that are supposedly there for safety, so how are they doing their job by issuing another permit?"

BJ Beran, owner of American Construction, said on Tuesday he tried to work the situation out with the neighboring homeowners and notes the stop-work order wasn't issued until the third inspector visited the site.

"We offered to fix her basement for free," he said. "As the contractor, I'm stuck in the middle between the property owner, the architect and the neighbor, and I have rules to follow. She has somebody telling her we are investors and have money, and she is trying to milk us."

However, he doesn't deny his project damaged the Todzias' home. "Obviously, the place was left excavated and we couldn't do anything, so we had the pumps set up," he said. "If not, she would have been terribly flooded. Of course, there was the exposed wall that has problems and damage because it was left exposed, but we were stuck."

Sam Beran, who oversaw this project, says the problem arose shortly after he began excavation work at the site. "I realized it was a different condition than normal because there was a brick wall at the neighbor's property without a foundation that I knew would collapse," he said. "Even though we were not the ones that did it, I needed to support it."

The Berans claim the neighbors were aware of exactly what was going on next door to them. "We had a set of prints hanging on the fence that everyone in the neighborhood could come look at," said BJ Beran. "I think she has some ex-contractor family member pushing her [to demand more money]."

A phone number listed on building records for property owner Satyanand Sharma is disconnected. The DOB and Deputy Commissioner's office referred inquiries about why the stop-work order was lifted to their respective press offices. Those messages weren't returned by press time.

"I just need my house fixed," said Todzia. "They never approached us originally, or now with the new plan saying 'this is what we want to do'. It is going to cost me over $50,000 to repair the wall and damage done to my basement."