Ask the Architect

Take the contractor to court


Q. We’ve written to you many times over the years about a continuous leak that has never been found and fixed. We’ve been through two contractors and still have no luck. We had decided to use the roof outside our upper-floor kitchen as a terrace on our split-level house. The terrace was built over three rooms below, but it has always leaked. We’ve spent the past 10 years with buckets, no ceiling board, and no insulation. Our children moved out of their rooms and now are off at college, unable to use their bedrooms for most of their lives! You’ve offered advice, even come to our home, but nothing seems to light a fire under the contractor to get the job fixed and done. He has made excuses that the plans were bad and he couldn’t follow them, that we owe him more money to come back, even though he wrote, in his own handwriting, that the job would be waterproof and guaranteed for life. What else can we do?

A. Sue, contact consumer affairs, post pictures online explaining the problem to a mass audience. Money talks, and your contractor sees no reason to act urgently, because he’s still making money elsewhere. Unless there’s a reason to do an about-face of his current behavior, because he begins to feel the loss in other ways, he probably will not act. He hasn’t, so far.

I’ve been to your home (after the third desperate letter) and have seen the problems and the damage. Unfortunately, the contractor has not acted fairly, according to his contract or guarantee, or professionally. Now, hearing that he wants more money to finish the job to make it waterproof, is astounding. I know your frustration, and if I hadn’t seen the conditions you were left with, I couldn’t have imagined how bad things were.

I regularly see construction that is not to code, not going to last and defies common sense. For example, railing posts shouldn’t be installed through a roof if they were designed, on the plans, to be side-attached at the roof edge. Side-attaching with an internal bolting system avoids the tendency for the posts to expand and contract, allowing water to penetrate by gravity straight down the post and into the roof. By side-attaching, the posts are outside the roof, not penetrating, to eliminate the possibility of a leak. That may be unconventional to some, but it’s common sense.

If your contractor wants to impose his own ideas and not follow what your plans show, he’s acting in breach of the contract drawings. If you paid him, you let him off the hook for not following the plans. By removing the upper siding material, we discovered that he did not put in waterproofing, according to plans, either. It is a huge hassle to sue, but that’s where you are. Good luck!

© 2017 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.