2013-09-06 / Top Stories

Homeowners Want Someone To Pay

Hitting A Wall
By Katie McFadden

Post-Sandy progress has hit a wall for one Belle Harbor family. Steve and Debbie Gifford, who own a beachfront property, are in a fight with contractors who installed the beach walls along Belle Harbor after the installation caused damage to their own beach wall and parts of their home. Now the family is stuck in a game of ‘Whodunnit’ as they try to figure out who is responsible while the contractors and the Parks Department engage in a nonstop series of finger pointing.

The Giffords installed their own seawall in front of their property several years before Sandy hit. The family credits the wall, which was the only seawall still intact after Sandy, for protecting their home from boardwalk and debris damage. They also believe the wall kept their home from collapsing like many other beachfront properties. “Part of the reason their houses collapsed was because when the waves would recede, it would pull sand away from under their house and their house collapsed,” Debbie Gifford said.

The Gifford’s wall wasn’t destroyed until the Parks Department project to install a seawall along the beach and about three feet from their property began. Before the work started, Steve Gifford contacted the Parks Department to ask if there was anything that he would need to do in preparation. According to Gifford, he was told by Jill Weber, a Rockaway Administrator with NYC Parks, that his property would be fine.

Gifford says things turned out otherwise. His seawall, which supports his deck, is now cracked and sunken, which has caused damage to the deck, stairs, sidewalk and porch. When the contractors came through to install the I-beams for the wall at the end of June, the work vibrated the entire house, which compromised the wall and the property. When the contractor excavated before installing the cement pieces that go between the I-beams, they undermined Gifford’s entire seawall, which caused further damage to the stairs, deck and cement between their house and seawall.

Gifford had an engineer come to the house to inspect the damage who said that the contractor didn’t do the installation properly. The inspector said the seawall fittings should have been underpinned before the I-beams were installed. The footings are still exposed due to excavation and are continuing to deteriorate.

The Giffords have been on an ongoing quest to find out who is responsible for the damage that was done as thousands of dollars of work will need to be done to make repairs. The Giffords filed a claim with the City Comptroller’s office, but they don’t want to file with their homeowners insurance company as they were told the insurance likely wouldn’t honor it as the contractor is responsible and they don’t want another strike against them. “We don’t want to risk losing our insurance if they’re not going to pay anyway,” Gifford said.

The Giffords contacted the Parks Department who gave them the name of the contractor, William A. Gross Construction. However upon contacting the company, the contractor said it wasn’t their responsibility, as they had a subcontractor for the project. Gifford had to contact the Parks Department again to find out that the subcontractor was Posillico Civil Inc.

Gifford mailed Posillico a letter. She was told that William A. Gross was responsible for the subcontractor. “If something goes wrong, Gross is supposed to take care of it,” Debbie Gifford said.

When she contacted Gross’ insurance company, they insisted that the Parks Department gave the wrong information and that their company wasn’t working at the site. Yet she has written proof that Gross was responsible for the work even if their company wasn’t doing it directly. Gifford repeatedly called the company and left voicemails. So far, Gifford says, the company has not returned her calls.

For the Giffords, this ongoing fight has caused added stress to the family as they try to recover after Sandy. “I have enough problems. I’m still fixing things from the storm and I don’t need more problems,” Debbie said. “I just want them to pay for the damage they caused. I’m not looking to make money.”

After the letter to Posillico, the company sent someone to inspect the damage earlier this month, but the inspector didn’t give any hint that the subcontractor would cover the costs and they haven’t heard anything since.

Starting to get fed up with the back and forth fight, the Giffords are considering pursuing legal action. “The only way I feel I’ll get reimbursed is if I start suing,” Debbie said. However legal action may not be worth it. After seeking legal counsel, the family was told that the lawsuit may cost them close to $20,000 alone and a lawyer told them that it would be a difficult case to settle.

The Giffords were advised to get an estimate for the damages from a contractor that would make the repairs. They contacted the company that originally installed their personal seawall and are hoping that someone comes to inspect the damage and gives them an estimate so that they can decide whether or not legal action would be worth it. Because the poured concrete wall was cracked and compromised and may need to be replaced completely, Debbie Gifford believes the damage could cost up to $50,000.

Spending the summer writing letters, making phone calls and trying to find out who should pay up has taken a toll on the family. “This is just exhausting. You have all of these normal, every day things to do in your life, plus whatever stuff that has to be fixed after the storm and now, to have this on top of it, it sucks the life out of you,” Debbie said.

“Does it have to be so complicated? Hopefully it will work out and hopefully the insurance company will come down here,” Debbie said. “I don’t care if they need an estimate for the damages. I’m fine with that. All I want is for my house to be fixed.”

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