Is my building falling down?!


Our building is a 3 story brick built around 1899. The neighbor is excavating next door to build a building. We have cracks on the brick face, in basement floor, on stucco, and inside around windows and doors. Doors are dragging and have already been cut down twice, and locks realigned to keep them working. The crack monitors were installed AFTER most of the movement already occurred.

My question is how much of this movement is normal and should we be worried about the building falling down? A trench has been dug along our foundation but the entire site hasn't been excavated yet. Should we call the DOB and have them shut down? What can be done to stabilize our building so he can continue his construction safely? Shouldn't he pay for that and for the repairs so far?

Any thoughts would be welcome! And recommendations for an AFFORDABLE engineer and/or lawyer in the NYC area who has experience with this kind of situation!

Here's some pictures:

Apr 15, 14 2:37 pm

Call miles he charges 250$ an hour.  

Apr 15, 14 2:49 pm
J.W. Smith

Without an actual onsite observation, this seems like a serious matter. Some type of foundation stability should have been required for the adjacent building(s). In addition, you should have been provided the construction documents as well as an agreement since the work affects your property. If your foundation is undermined, the problems could be much worst. You should definitely contact a lawyer and forensic engineer as soon as possible. This should all be professionally documented.    

J.W.Smith, RA (NY) 


Apr 15, 14 2:55 pm

j.w. smith is now on the hook for offering his professional advice.  good luck with that. :)

Apr 15, 14 3:53 pm

Are you a renter?  Do you own the building?  Call your landlord and let them deal with it. Maybe it is a dirtbag way of evacuating a rent controlled building.  

Apr 15, 14 4:12 pm

Not quite falling down so much as slouching. 

Sit up straight, building!  You're embarrassing yourself!

Apr 15, 14 4:12 pm

OK, Thats scary! I guess we should report the situation to the DOB but they are going to come and see the crack monitors (that don't show anything because they were installed AFTER most of the cracks opened up) and say nothing is wrong, right? 

Where does one find a forensic engineer?

Who is Miles and is $250 an hour the usual fee for this kind of work?

I'm not a regular so I'm not sure what your comment means, curtkram.

Thanks for your help!

Apr 15, 14 4:16 pm

Sorry I didn't see your comment chigurh. Unfortunately, in this case, we are the landlord! 

Mr. Blue Sky, I am hoping that is the case!

Apr 15, 14 4:21 pm

Who put up the crack monitors?

It sounds like somebody above your pay-grade is already monitoring the problem.

I hope those crack monitors have a direct dial to emergency response, I give em about 3" before failure. 

Apr 15, 14 4:22 pm

The crack monitors were installed by the engineers retained by the builder after we put up a stink.

We got a report yesterday that said that two of the monitors had to be replaced due to "excessive deflection during curing of epoxy. Therefore, readings of ... are inaccurate. " These two monitors showed a 1mm movement before they were replaced but, like I said, most of the movement happened before they installed the monitors!

Apr 15, 14 4:28 pm
J.W. Smith

Ha ha, Curtkram is poking fun. 

Have forensic engineer or structural engineer come out and take a look at property. Then they'll be able to tell you your next steps. Not something that can be assessed 100% without being onsite. I recommend Milan V. @ SGH. They do this type of work all the time but they are not inexpensive.   

Apr 15, 14 4:52 pm
wurdan freo

how close is the excavation to your building and how deep is it? 

Apr 15, 14 4:54 pm

Thanks JW! It looks like a pretty large scale company. Its almost like we will have no choice but to sue to be able to pay for all the experts we need to protect ourselves, even though we would rather avoid that. 

wurdan, the excavation has exposed our foundation so that the builders can waterproof. They installed helical pilings along the foundation wall too.

Apr 15, 14 5:08 pm
wurdan freo

This is a generalization, but when exposing an existing foundation, typically you want to do it in small segments - 5-10 feet at a time,  complete your work, back fill and then dig the next 5-10 feet. This is to keep an existing foundation from buckling. If the entire foundation is exposed with no shoring, that would be a red flag. 

Additionally, the soil next to the bottom of the existing foundation can be no steeper than 45 degrees from a 0 degree horizontal plane.  If they have dug past the bottom of your foundation this is another huge red flag. 

I would definitely lawyer up. Maybe it doesn't involve a lawsuit, but you need someone to protect your interests. 

Do you have pictures of the excavation where it meets your building?

Apr 15, 14 5:29 pm

wurdan, They haven't dug down to the bottom of the foundation yet. They are apparently waterproofing the brick that has been exposed. I think to a depth of 5 or 6 feet. but not in small sections as you mentioned. Thank you for the info, if they try to go deeper without shoring up we will call the DOB.

I just went out and saw that they have a stop work order up from unsafe conditions based on another neighbors complaint!

The site is padlocked and has a plywood fence so no photos…

Apr 15, 14 5:52 pm
Non Sequitur

I know of a sleazy contractor in my area that has built up a reputation for excavations like this. Almost all have resulted in the neighbouring buildings needing evacuation and immediate repairs.


Get a defensive team together asap.

Apr 16, 14 7:55 am

The contractor and builders are stupid and self serving but not malicious, I don't think. That is small comfort, however. 

Apr 16, 14 8:29 am
wurdan freo

I would also get a ladder and take pictures.

Apr 16, 14 12:12 pm

I'd shut off the water if I were you.  Probably won't happen but just to be safe if a pipe cracks. You don't need a flood on top of all these other issues.  

Apr 16, 14 12:42 pm

Oh yeah, lots of pictures have been and continue to be taken...

jla-x, I would be more worried about the gas-line than water, but thanks for your suggestion. 

Apr 16, 14 1:03 pm

I wouldn't mess around with it.  Get a construction defect attorney.  A lot work on contingency and hire the experts.  Old load bearing masonry is tricky because the grout isn't great at withstanding forces.  Walls can buckle and collapse.  Also, just looking at it, it isn't high quality construction you have; more "builder grade" construction of the time period.  Those walls just don't look thick and more like dbl or triple wythe. 

It sounds like your neighbor undermined the load bearing soils for your foundation and I have seen full collapse happen. If it's not braced properly, even a rainstorm can wet those soils and masonry enough to push it over that edge.  Typically, the wall starts bucking first or sliding out at the base and you'll hear masonry cracking.

Oh, and just FYI I have seen a lot worse without collapse; like a couple inch wide cracks..  Failures usually take the wrong things happening at just the right time.  No idea how close you are to that edge.  Who is doing the monitoring or protecting your interest?

Apr 16, 14 1:24 pm

mightyaa, No messing around, at all. They have a stop work order right now. Do you know a "construction defect attorney" who will work on contingency? 

The engineer hired by the builder is doing the monitoring. And myself. So far I am trying to get recommendations from people for affordable technical and legal advice. So if anyone can help with that, would be great!

Apr 16, 14 2:21 pm

Not in NY... several in CO though.  Check with the bar association.  The way contingency usually works is they'll get 30-50% of your settlement if they think you have a case.

Apr 16, 14 3:13 pm

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: