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An impending tragedy


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I inspected a four-unit on Friday, June 19. There was a common deck at the rear, serving the two second floor apartments. There were patios under the deck. The frame was welded steel. It was the most dangerous deck I've ever seen.

It was attached to the building by only ten lag bolts. The five on the north side were doing nothing, because whatever they had been embedded in had rotted away. The three columns were not attached to the slab they were resting on. So the only things keeping it from dropping and the columns kicking out were five lag bolts into wood that was likely rotted (it was not flashed). Here's what I wrote in the report:

The deck is not adequately attached to the building. It is not attached to the building along it's entire length; about 5 feet on either end has no attachment points. The 5 lag bolts intended to attach the portion of the deck on the 817 side are completely loose and some are partially out. They can be easily removed and are providing no support at all. It appears that the framing the bolts were screwed into has rotted away. The deck is visibly sagging at the northwest corner and is in danger of collapse. A qualified contractor should remove the deck and repair any damage to the building. If the existing deck is to be reused, it should be properly attached to the building and properly flashed to prevent water damage from occurring again. The deck and patios below them should not be used until proper repairs are made. See Articles 1C.16 and 1C.55 for more information.

A few hours after I left the property, I was thinking about it and regretted not notifying the tenants of the danger. Monday, I called the city code enforcement office and told them about it, stressing that I felt it warranted immediate action. The person assured me that they would have someone look at it, then thanked me for calling. I then called the listing agent and told him what I had done and why I did it.

I was in the neighborhood today and decided to drive by to see what was done. I was dumbfounded to see that it was not a friggin' thing. The only person who was home (or would open their door) was a boy of 11 or 12. I asked him if anyone had asked his family not to use the deck. He replied no. I was and still am pissed.

I'm mulling over what my next step should be, to try to prevent this otherwise sure-to-occur tragedy. I'm thinking a letter to the head of the code enforcement office with a cc to the mayor.

Any thoughts would be welcome.

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I would fire off an email with photos and what you found. Send to the Mayor, Codes offical, Fire Chief (yes, the fire chief sometimes has more power than anyone when it comes to Life/Safety issues), the listing agents broker. This would protect you and hopefully the family.

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I'm mulling over what my next step should be, to try to prevent this otherwise sure-to-occur tragedy. I'm thinking a letter to the head of the code enforcement office with a cc to the mayor.

If you notified the occupants to stay off and away from under the deck, you wouldn't have to rely on local gub'ment workers, who really won't bother to try to understand the exigency.

Sorry Joe, but I can't think of anything that would stop me from warning the tenants. In one situation, I called an interpreter. In some others, I've screwed doors shut, padlocked gas valves and electric disconnects and even wrapped structures with caution tape. It's bright red and says "Danger-Danger-Danger..."

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I emailed (with pictures) the director of Building Standards & Safety, the mayor, the fire chief and the assistant chief. Thanks for the suggestion, Scott. I wonder if any will be in the Friday before the holiday. I did get an auto response from the assistant chief stating that he's out til Monday. If I don't get a response, I'll make some phone calls.

Bill, as they say, hindsight is 20/20. There were only tenants in one of the four units when I inspected it. I guess I could have left notes in the other ones, but I didn't.

I like your tape idea. The next order I place at Grainger's is going to include a roll of it. At 1,000 feet, I'm guessing it will last me til the end of my career. Danger! Danger! Danger!

On an unrelated note ....... a few months back, there was a discussion of pent roofs. This building had one. WJ, here's yer pent roof:

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I checked messages when I finished my morning inspection at 12:45 but no one from the city had called me back. I figured everyone I emailed had taken Friday off as their paid holiday. At 1:20 I got a call from Mayor Ed Pawlowski (Allentown PA). He asked some fairly detailed questions and said he would get someone over there today to look at it. He also said he was very disturbed that something wasn't done when I first called. He sounded like a good guy.

I don't have anything scheduled in that area next week, but I might just mosey over anyway and check out what was done.

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I checked messages when I finished my morning inspection at 12:45 but no one from the city had called me back. I figured everyone I emailed had taken Friday off as their paid holiday. At 1:20 I got a call from Mayor Ed Pawlowski (Allentown PA). He asked some fairly detailed questions and said he would get someone over there today to look at it. He also said he was very disturbed that something wasn't done when I first called. He sounded like a good guy.

I don't have anything scheduled in that area next week, but I might just mosey over anyway and check out what was done.

It's gratifying to hear that Pawlowski was conscientious enough to ring you back.

Maybe some public servants are exactly that.

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  • 1 month later...

Well, the story has a happy ending. I was talking to the buyer a few days ago, setting up an inspection on a 16,800 sf 21 unit apartment building that he's buying (it's steak next week!!!!!). He told me that the new deck had just been completed. He was very happy that he didn't have to negotiate with the seller to do it, but more importantly, was extremely appreciative that I went the extra mile, contacting the city before someone got hurt.

I had an inspection a few blocks away from the place this morning, so I stopped by to see it. There is a brand spankin' new freestanding deck, smaller than the previous one, because it doesn't cantilever out beyond the columns at the corners of the patio.

The Raze or Repair order was still on the front door, but it was dated July 21. It was July 3 when the mayor said he'd get someone over right away to look at it. I don't know what caused the delay.

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I've tried the notifying AHJ, even brought up an issue at a village board meeting. They tell you how concerned they are but that's were it stops. It's a dead end effort.

Notify the occupants (in writing) - they're the ones who have the true interest in hazardous conditions and are most likely to sue.

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Well, the story has a happy ending. I was talking to the buyer a few days ago, setting up an inspection on a 16,800 sf 21 unit apartment building that he's buying (it's steak next week!!!!!). He told me that the new deck had just been completed. He was very happy that he didn't have to negotiate with the seller to do it, but more importantly, was extremely appreciative that I went the extra mile, contacting the city before someone got hurt.

I had an inspection a few blocks away from the place this morning, so I stopped by to see it. There is a brand spankin' new freestanding deck, smaller than the previous one, because it doesn't cantilever out beyond the columns at the corners of the patio.

The Raze or Repair order was still on the front door, but it was dated July 21. It was July 3 when the mayor said he'd get someone over right away to look at it. I don't know what caused the delay.

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That has to be extremely gratifying, Joe. Well done.

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