From the shelter of a neighbor’s home, Witts watched the water come in.
“It was the perfect storm,” she said. “The next day, there was glass all over. All my furniture and exercise equipment were in the middle of my dining room.”
Her 16 x 30-foot deck with a screened-in porch drifted and was stuck between two other houses, and her glass solarium was destroyed.
Post-storm, Witts’ 1,530 square foot home was placed in the “V” Zone, which covers waterfront areas that are at highest risk for flooding. That meant she’d have to raise her home to 13 feet.
After receiving several estimates, Witts hired Structural Resolutions of Pleasantville, listed on its letterhead as a division of Stone Concrete, also of Pleasantville. Structural would move the home, install new and taller pilings to comply with “V” Zone requirements and Witts’ engineer’s recommendations, and reset the home on the new pilings.
More than a year post-Sandy, Witts is still out of her home, staying with a combination of friends and in a rented room.
“I’m still living out of boxes,” she said.
That’s because Structural’s work failed the town’s inspection, records show. Witts said she initially wanted the company to correct the deficiencies. Now she wants the company to return the $35,000 she paid on the $38,000 contract, and shoulder the cost for another company to fix the job, plus attorney’s fees.
THE START OF THE JOB
Witts felt comfortable with Matt Feinstone, one of the company’s owners. She said as part of the job, he promised to include free cement pads under the residence for cars to park.
In May, Structural Resolutions presented a $38,015 contract which included $3,000 for “permits and planning.”
Witts had already paid her own engineer $1,500 to create a plan, and she also secured the permits for $1,500, so she said she asked company project manager Kevin Prendergast to rewrite the contract without the $3,000. She said Prendergast said the contract was fine and she wouldn’t be charged.
The contract said the company would supply and install 54 pilings that were 30 feet long. Thirty-eight would be 10 inches in diameter and 16 would be 8 inches around. It included girders per the engineer’s specification and would provide “NJ licensed Professional Engineer Stamped Pile certifications upon completion of the job.”
There was no start date or end date for the job, which is required by the Consumer Fraud Act. There was also no language about the consumer’s three-day right of rescission, which is required by the Home Improvement Contractors’ Registration Act.
On May 20, Witts handed over her first $3,000 payment to Prendergast, she said.
The first workers arrived on June 10, but little work, other than materials delivery, was done that week, Witts said.
On June 14, Witts said, a man she thought was another owner — Dan Westcott — came to collect the next check for $11,404.50. She paid.
On June 17, Witts went to the company’s offices to make sure Prendergast was coordinating with Witts’ surveyor, who would mark where the pilings were to be installed per the engineer’s plans. She said she was told not to worry.
On June 18, the house was moved off its pilings.
On June 19, Jeff Hauta, who Witts also believed to be an owner, came to get another check. She said she told Hauta she didn’t have anything in writing yet about the free cement pads, and he said it would be done at the end of the job. Witts wrote another check for $11.024.35.
On June 25, the surveyor arrived and put sticks in the ground with red ribbon to mark where the piles should go. Witts paid him $2,200 for his work.
The next day, Structural did the first “test pile” but the company didn’t have an engineer present, Witts said.
On June 27, Structural started taking out the old piles and adding the new ones. But, Witts said, the workers, including Jeff Hauta, who she said was operating the heavy equipment, ignored the surveyor’s markings.
“They were destroying most of the markings, the sticks with ribbons. Piles were crooked,” she said. “They did the job by their eyes — wrong.”
More supplies were delivered on June 28, and more piles were installed, Witts said.
That’s when, she said, she asked Kevin Prendergast how deep they were putting the piles.
“Kevin told me 19 to 20 foot depth. I asked him, ‘How can you drive a pile 19 to 20 feet, if the piles are 30 feet long, and have 11 or 10 feet left to raise the house to 13 feet?’” she said. “Then he said he used 35-foot piles. There weren’t any 35-foot piles.”
Indeed, none of the receipts reviewed by Bamboozled mentioned anything but 30-foot piles.
Then Witts’ partner, who was also at the site, noticed some piles were out of alignment.
“[Prendergast] said they were trees and trees are not straight,” Witts said.
As the job continued, Witts said, she witnessed most of the piles going where the old piles had been, rather than where the engineer and surveyor indicated they should go.
“I did mention that to [Prendergast] but he said they can do that,” Witts said. “I told him that is not what my engineer wanted and I paid to have the markings placed where the piles should go.”
On July 1, Witts said, she noticed wood shims were used to fill space between the notches on some pilings and the girders. She said she asked Jeff Hauta about it.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry about it. We will fix it later,” Witts said.
The piles were completed on July 5, but according to Witts, there were a host of problems. Some were crooked. Some were of different widths. Different heights. Some still had shims.
On July 10, the company put Witts’ home back on the new pilings — before the town inspector was called for approval.
Witts said Hauta asked for another check for $9,503.75, and she complied, thinking it was her responsibility.
But on July 24, the town inspector failed the job.
FIXING THE FAILURES?
Over the next several weeks, Witts said, she spoke to the men she thought were the owners — Jeff Hauta, Matt Feinstone and Dan Westcott — to request they rectify the problems.
Witts said she faxed the company what the inspector said was needed to be corrected.
She said she continued to call the company, showed photos to owners and company reps, sent e-mails and more, and she said they kept telling her everything was fine and that the inspector was wrong.
Finally, a meeting at the home was set on Aug. 22 with Structural’s reps, Witts’ engineer (to whom she had to pay another $500) and the town inspector.
The meeting ended with a plan.
According to Witts, her engineer and Phil Reed, the town inspector, Structural said its engineer — who had never been to the house, according to Witts — would need one week to come up with a plan. Witts’ engineer said he would need three to four weeks.
The two engineers would confer over their solutions, and then Reed said he would only need one day to make sure it met code when the new plan was presented to the town.
After the meeting, Witts’ engineer wrote a detailed letter explaining the deficiencies with the job. Some of his observations:
“Several of the piles installed were considerably smaller than the specified 10″ butt diameter…”
“The bottom of the lowest horizontal structure was built at an elevation of 13.93 feet which is approximately eleven (11) inches higher than what was specified.”
“Several piles were notched too low or the notching was not square. This resulted in the installation of timber shims at these locations and in some locations the girder is not bearing on the pile at all. The use of timber shims is unacceptable and the girder is required to bear on the notched pile at all locations.”
You get the idea.
The engineer recommended the structure be re-raised so that the undersized, wrongly located or out-of-plumb piles could be replaced, and more.
The town inspector, Phil Reed, gave a similar list of problems.
Reed told Bamboozled the work didn’t follow the engineer’s report.
“It certainly doesn’t seem professionally put together,” he said. “Visually, it’s out of plumb, out of square. It’s definitely very rough work.”
Reed said when he talked to Structural’s reps at the job site meeting at the August meeting, he asked why workers put the house on the pilings when they saw the condition of the work.
“They said, ‘We didn’t think it was that bad,’” Reed said.
Reed said when a pole is cut too short, it needs to be replaced.
“There is no margin for error. You have to use planning and common sense. It seems whoever cut those shoulder notches in those poles had never done that kind of work before,” he said. “It just hits you right in the face somebody did something that’s way off the mark.”
“When we see a mistake, a mistake is one pole, not every pole. Some have shims, some don’t. Every pole is a different height. Where did they get that from — a guesstimate?” Reed said.
Reed said no new plans have been submitted to the town.
“I would like to know how many of these they have done,” Reed said. “It looks like it was a first job for them, or a first job for the project manager.”
THE FIX STILL ISN’T IN
To date, Structural hasn’t come forth with a plan, and it hasn’t sent an engineer to her home, Witts said.
On Oct. 2, Witts’ attorney sent a letter to Structural demanding a full refund in seven days. Otherwise, the letter said, Witts would file suit.
Seven days later, Witts’ attorney received a letter from Barbara Westcott, who said she was an attorney “retained by Structural Resolutions,” and essentially, that the company wanted an opportunity to correct the problems.
Barbara Westcott, and not her husband Dan Westcott, is one of four owners of record of the company, records show.
Matt Feinstone is also listed as an owner of the company, which has a valid home improvement contractor (HIC) registration with the state.
Finestone is listed in state documents as the sole owner of Stone Concrete, which appears, based on Structural’s letterhead, to be Structural’s parent company. Stone Concrete made some of the materials delivery for the job at Witts’ home, and it also has a valid HIC registration.
On Oct. 29, Jeff Hauta of Structural — who is listed as the vice president and chief operating officer of Stone Concrete — sent an email to Witts’ engineer, requesting a copy of his initial plans, which Hauta said he couldn’t find. Hauta said the company should have some “solutions/responses” later in the week.
No solutions/responses were offered, according to Witts and Reed, the town engineer.
Witts filed suit Nov. 6, demanding the return of her payments, plus the money she’d need to correct the errors with a new company, totaling $86,965, plus attorney’s fees.
We contacted Barbara Westcott, the attorney of record and an owner of Structural. She called us back twice, sharing statements she said were from her “clients,” and explaining her duel attorney-owner relationship with Structural, but then declared those comments were off-the-record.
She later emailed, saying: “There is a difference of opinion among the engineers involved,” Westcott wrote. “Our engineer is reviewing the corrections list, and once the differences are resolved, Structural Resolutions will correct any deficiencies at no expense to Mrs. Witt [CQ].”
Witts vigorously disagrees.
“They in essence wasted 69 days from Aug. 22 to Oct. 29,” she said. “Phil Reed said it would take his office one day to look at their suggestions and what [my engineer] thought of their suggestions. But nothing materialized.”
We’ll let you know what happens.