Is the crack in our rental house's foundation an issue?
March 31, 2015 2:12 PM   Subscribe

I recently discovered a large crack in the foundation of our rental home. We have specific rights (and limitations to our rights) as at-will tenants. What should we do?

SO and I live in a rented house we love. We'll only be living in it, at most, for two more years before moving cities, or even countries. So far we've lived here for about 9 months. The house backs onto a ravine and is built into a hill, with a walkout basement. It's an early-1950s ranch-style place.

Recently, they've been doing a lot of construction in our neighborhood. Also recently, I've discovered a huge, significant crack in the corner of the rear basement wall/foundation, and horizontally, above there, where the outside wall of the attached garage attaches to its floor. We don't use the garage for our car, FWIW. The cracks are about 1 inch in width and go deep into the poured concrete.

My question: considering we only planned to live here for another two years, and we have specific house-related needs, does this pose an immediate threat to our safety, or can we live here for another 2 years? This is particularly important because we're at-will (month-to-month) tenants with no signed lease, and our landlords have made it clear they don't want to spend money on house repairs.
posted by Miss T.Horn to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hopefully someone else can chime in re: the immediate safety question but in the medium term you can put a piece of masking tape marked with the date across the very end of the crack. If in a month or so the crack has moved past the tape you'll know it's getting worse.
posted by Wretch729 at 2:25 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: At the very least, you should be paying for renter's insurance.
posted by Think_Long at 2:25 PM on March 31, 2015

Best answer: Without an inspection from a expert in foundations and without additional details other than what you'd provided the answer ranges from "it might let in some pests and lead to water leaking issues" to "yes the house is structurally unsound and unsafe."

You should absolutely take pictures and document giving notice to the landlord that these cracks have appeared so that they 1) don't blame you on moving out and 2) if they elect to do something about it, doing something NOW will be far cheaper than later on when the damage gets worse and really does lead, (if not already) to structural issues.

You may want to consider asking that they bring out a foundation repair specialist to come and do an evaluation as to how dangerous the issue is. Some may come and evaluate it for free as part of an initial free estimate.

Would something like this bother me if I was renting and planning to move in 2 years? Barring problems stemming from the crack (termites/flooding/professional evaluation stating house is unsafe), I probably would not be bothered enough to move - but certainly you should document and ensure the landlord knows so they have the opportunity to do something.
posted by Karaage at 2:31 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: and our landlords have made it clear they don't want to spend money on house repairs

Speaking as a LL, that's...tough? Endangering the tenants is not an option. (Also, ignoring a major problem like this is not an intelligent way to treat one's real estate.)

I am not, however, a contractor, and you haven't provided photos. If the crack in the foundation is spreading, then that goes to potential habitability issues. Karaage has the right ideas in re: covering your own liability. If you see signs that the crack continues to open up, and the LL is not responsive, you can call the local code inspector--however, if the inspector determines that matters are serious enough to declare the house uninhabitable, then you may also be out of a place to live.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:34 PM on March 31, 2015

Best answer: does this pose an immediate threat to our safety, or can we live here for another 2 years?

No one on the internet can answer this question for you. 1 inch is a big crack in my opinion though. I lived in a place with issues like this, and one day the floor in the upstairs bedroom just kind of... shattered across 4-5 floorboards, from the stress on the structure of the house with different parts of the foundation pulling it different ways.

I'd look in to who to call at the city to get ahold of whatever they locally call the housing or code inspector(why does this change so much from town to town?). SOMEONE issued a certificate of occupancy for this place, and they might care.

I will absolutely second what thomas j wise said though. I actually avoided calling the inspector on a shady rental house i lived at even though i knew what was going on was not ok because i knew i'd end up without a place to live instantly.

The smart move here might be to line up a new place, start moving, then report it. Good luck finding another option that isn't a no go via costing you money to hire some contractor though, which you should never do. If the landlord wont do anything, your options are either move or do something that may end in you having to move with very little notice.
posted by emptythought at 3:18 PM on March 31, 2015

Best answer: You don't have any means to force them to fix it; if the house is uninhabitable* the city can make you leave now but it can take months to years to compel the owner to repair.

*I lived for a very long time in Texas, where foundation cracking is nearly unavoidable, given enough time and horrible summers and the (also nearly unavoidable, judging from what half my friends have had happen in the past few years) eventual collapse of the sewage system under the house. I have never seen a house condemned for anything other than a) long-term missing roof sections, b) meth. It may let in water, or bugs, or daylight if it's bad enough, but it takes a long time to rot the wall supports so much that the house isn't safe. I have seen people go through startling amounts of foundation demolition and repair while living in the house. A lot of people live in badly degrading residences that are still considered occupiable.

You do have an obligation (possibly legal if it's in the lease, but ethical in any case) to inform the landlords that you have noticed an issue of concern. But they don't have to do anything, and you have no leverage to try to force them. Just because they have a house doesn't mean they have $20K for foundation repair, unfortunately.

If you want to get someone in to look at it on your own dime (I'd pay a contractor for an hour rather than a home inspector, since that work is a state-sponsored scam in a lot of states) to see if you're going to die, you can, but it is almost certain you will not die.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:25 PM on March 31, 2015

Best answer: Where are you?

I think your location and the type of construction really really really matters. In Los Angeles, fuck to the NO. In Texas? Maybe it doesn't matter because they do not have earthquakes often (that I know of.) Ditto if the construction is old wood, or newer materials, if you have an upstairs, and basement, and does snow sit on your roof for months and months on end, do you have heavy furniture adding stress to the situation, etc. etc..

You need a professional opinion. Sorry.
posted by jbenben at 6:40 PM on March 31, 2015

Best answer: Check out Angie's List and find a foundation specialist or ask some of your friends (if they own) for a recommendation. Get three reputable people out. Usually they'll take a look for free. Write down what they tell you. Ask them for what to "watch out for." Point out the nearby construction and ask if they've ever seen that kind of thing cause this kind of damage. Take what you learn and go from there. I think photos and tape down to measure the width and length of the cracks are a good idea. Do that today. Get some folks in within a week. Go to your landlord with any info after that, including sending the photographs.
posted by amanda at 8:01 PM on March 31, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks, all. These are great, helpful answers. We're in Southern Ohio, FWIW. Very few earthquakes here, luckily.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 7:22 PM on April 1, 2015

« Older what products can I get OTC in Europe that require...   |   Does yeast mate during alcohol fermentation? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.