By STEPHEN SIFF
Vindicator Staff Writer
AUSTINTOWN -- Two years after he moved in, Jim Mosier discovered that structural inspections of his $121,000 Fox Chase home had ended at the foundation.
Building inspectors "should have stopped by to follow up," he said. "I'm the one who's stuck now."
Mosier looked up the inspection record because he and his wife, Cheryl, had other concerns about the house: In 1998, they received an insurance settlement after a windstorm blew the exterior wall of the attached garage four inches off its foundation, and he said the living room floor creaked badly enough to send compact disks tumbling out of a stand.
Building department inspectors did make some effort to follow up on Mosier's house during construction. Department records show the inspector who looked at the house's foundation in May 1997 stopped again a month later to inspect the frame, but it wasn't ready.
There is no record of building inspectors' returning to the home until inspector Michael White did what he termed a "partial walk-through" of the house June 6, 1999, at the Mosiers' request.
Findings: White said that there were several building code violations including an undersized header beam over the garage door; an unfinished fire wall between the garage and house; holes drilled too close to the edge of basement floor joists; a bathroom fan that did not appear to be vented to anyplace, and metal straps holding the house walls to the foundation installed as far as 16 feet apart, rather than the 31/2 feet required by code, according to a letter in the building department's files.
In a letter to the Mosiers dated Sept. 13, 1999, the company that built the house, Shutrump and Associates of Boardman, offered to fix the items detailed by the building inspection department the following week.
That same week, the Mosiers filed a lawsuit against Shutrump and Associates, accusing the company of unfair business practices, misrepresentation and breach of contract. The company denied the Mosiers' allegations and countersued, alleging the Mosiers are damaging its reputation and hurting its business.
Shutrump and Associates partner Fred Shutrump faxed a four-sentence written statement to The Vindicator: "We have built an excellent reputation in our 28 years in business. Our hundreds of satisfied customers have enjoyed great value in our homes. Anyone in business will tell you, there are a few people who can never be satisfied. On advice of counsel, I cannot comment further on litigation."
Homeowners' concerns: Now the Mosiers worry that they will be legally required to disclose the alleged violations when they try to sell the house, potentially slashing its value.
And the walk-through inspection did not settle all their concerns.
"I'm worried about what I can't see," said Mrs. Mosier.
While a house is under construction, if an inspection is missed a building inspector can dig down the side of a building to check the footing in one location, or pull off a sheet of drywall to spot-check the frame, said Don Hall, chief building official in Mahoning County. But these measures become less practical once the house has been painted and the landscaping done.
"Once the foundation is backfilled, once the basement floor is poured ... someone is just taking the contractor's word that they did what they are supposed to do," said Linus Orr, owner of K.E.L. Home Inspection Co. in Austintown, a private business that inspects houses on behalf of potential buyers. "Once it is sealed -- the drywall is up and the walls are finished -- what you get is what you got."