A case of attempted senior abuse

A case of attempted senior abuse

It has been my experience that seniors, especially those above 80 years of age, are more susceptible to scams and fraudulent dealing than younger people. I saw this happen with my mother. This lady had run her own successful business for years, but after age 80 or so, she lost some of her normal scepticism. For this reason, older homeowners are often targeted by unscrupulous contractors and sales people.

This is the most obvious case of a pier salesman taking advantage of an elderly home owner I have ever come across.

Here are the basic facts

The house was an older house in Kingwood. The homeowner was an elderly widow who lived alone. I would estimate her age as in the early 80s.

She had contacted a well-known foundation repair contractor after finding a vertical crack in the brick veneer on the left side if her house. The repair contractor wrote a proposal for underpinning the perimeter of the foundation. The cost was around $15,000.

Fortunately, her children found out and convinced her to talk to a Structural Engineer before allowing the contractor to start work. That is when she contacted me for an appointment.

What I found when I visited the house

The crack at the left side was about 3/16th inch in width. It was widest at the top. There was no doubt that it was due to foundation movement. However, it was the only significant sign any distress caused by foundation movement. The house was over 50 years old, so it had experienced numerous wet/dry cycles over its life.

Most tellingly, there was  no expansion or movement joint in the left side brick veneer wall. There was no drywall cracking on the inside of the left side wall. Elevation measurements were consistent with moderate slab movement. There were no door issues.

What I told the homeowner about her slab foundation

First, I told her that the crack in the brick veneer was caused by foundation movement. Second, the crack was cosmetic and was not consistent with excessive slab foundation movement or with structural, load-carrying damage to the house. Third, if there had been an expansion or movement joint in the brick veneer that joint would have opened slightly and prevented any damage to the brick veneer.

What I told her after I reviewed the foundation repair proposal

I next read over the repair proposal and then pointed out some provisions that the owner had not noticed. The proposal only warranted that the piles would not settle  more than a certain amount; it did not promise that the brick veneer cracks would not return. The proposal explicitly stated that her house might be damaged during the repair and that the homeowner had to bear that risk for the contractor to do the work. The damage that could happen included structural damage to the foundation, cracks in brick veneer nd damage to her underground sewer lines.

The owner had to agree to accept the risk of all the damage. I pointed out to her that there was a chance that her house would be more damaged after the repair that it was now.

What happened in the end

I gave her the name of a contractor who created a movement joint in the left side brick veneer wall. The joint was created at a cost of $150. She has had no new issues.

Her kids gave her sound advice when they recommended that she retain a structural  engineer for advice. She was able to actually solve her problem and save close to $15,000.