As many New Jersey residents decide whether to modify their existing homes in coastal areas, damaged by Sandy, identifying and retaining qualified, licensed contractors to “raise” existing structures is a major concern.  Owners in Little Egg Harbor recently suffered a catastrophic collapse of their home, just following the home having been raised approximately 10 feet by a contractor they retained to raise the home damaged by flooding during Sandy.

I have been retained as counsel by the owners to assist in determining the cause of this loss and to obtain recovery of monies needed to rebuild the home, from all available sources.  In this process, the means and methods of raising the home will be a central focus.  Given the number of homes needing to be raised, either by choice, or as a consequence of revised FEMA flood map and insurance implications, the available New Jersey contractors with experience in raising homes, pre-Sandy, is far outstripped by the current demand. 

We have seen an influx of out-of-state contractors offering to perform these services.  While some of these firms are quite skilled and competent, that may not be true of all contractors soliciting this work, and homeowners are cautioned to address the following concerns before signing a contract with a contractor to raise their home:

The need to obtain copies of valid NJ licenses for these contractors; full copies of in force  insurance policies, including general liability and workers compensation coverage; comprehensive specifications compiled by a structural engineer to inform the contractor’s work; references from other successfully completed jobs in New Jersey or elsewhere, through online sources, direct contact, or records available through state or local building departments or Departments of Community Affairs; tightly worded contracts which accurately reflect the contract price, scope of work, and other requirements set forth in the statute and regulations issued under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act; soil borings, or other pre-construction testing of the site conditions, if necessary; and other safeguards to insure against potentially disastrous consequences.

The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs has a list of 19 “elevation” contractors who have been recognized as licensed to operate in New Jersey.  Additional contractors are expected to be added to this list.

Any time a structure is raised, the potential exists for significant property damage or danger to persons and this work should not be undertaken lightly, or without adequate safeguards and protections in place.  The homeowner should have a full measure of comfort and confidence in whomever is chosen.  Required building permits must be obtained and all site conditions must be taken into consideration so that the site is fully prepared, before any actual work takes place.

Although the cause of the failure claim we are currently examining is still under active investigation, the resulting damage speaks volumes as to the seriousness with which this type of work must be viewed.  Homeowners are strongly encouraged to seek legal advice, which may also include assistance from a structural engineer or trusted contractor, to advise the homeowner, and ensure that all adequate measures are taken.  You want to do everything possible to make sure that you are confident the process will go smoothly, so your home can be safely and successfully repositioned, as needed, and can be enjoyed for many years to come.