A family in Northeast D.C. is suing Bethesda developer SGA Companies after the builder caused nearly $100,000 in damages to the couple's rowhouse, forcing them to abandon their home as construction on SGA's multi-million dollar condo project continued next door.
Anna Mariano and her family staked their livelihoods on a $200,000 rowhouse on Florida Avenue just around the corner from the hip Atlas District neighborhood along H Street. The Marianos say their house was in good condition when they bought it in 2009, but shortly after buying the property, they learned that SGA Companies was planning a nine-unit condominium next door on what was then an empty lot.
At first, things went well with the new construction, but Mariano says that shoddy work from SGA's contractors left their house uninhabitable, with cracked beams, floors and sheared gas and waste lines. She says her backyard was virtually wiped out after the builders dug a giant pit next door to begin construction.
"Right now I don't feel safe living here ... or even being here," Anna Mariano told FOX 5's Sherri Ly. "Imagine sleeping at night pregnant and waking up hearing cracking in your own house."
The damage was so bad, she said that a structural engineer told the family they had no choice but to move out.
The founder and chairman of SGA Companies, Sassan Gharai, refused to speak to FOX 5 on camera, but he told us he fired the first contractor that caused the damage and told them to fix Mariano's house. But instead, the Marianos say the contractor left piles of construction debris in the house. The second contractor, the family claims, was even worse.
According to Washington Gas, he severed the Marianos' gas line, and even tried to cover it up. That contractor was also apparently fined more than $15,000 by Virginia safety inspectors over the past decade. SGA's Gharai said he was unaware of the contractor's record.
Terrence McShane, an attorney with Lee & McShane of Washington D.C., told FOX 5 in a telephone interview he's confident his client did nothing wrong and that the Marianos' suit will be dismissed.
FOX 5 also spoke with the neighbor on the other side of the nine-unit condo, Collin Harris, who said SGA paid him $1,500 a month to move out while the construction continued. Harris said that while he's had damage to his property too, he's happy with SGA's effort to make good on his damages. McShane, who represents SGA, couldn't confirm the payment amount to Harris.
But even more frustrating for the Mariano family, according to D.C. municipal construction code, so long as the construction site itself is safe and neighbors are informed about what's going on beforehand, damages that occur to adjacent properties are a civil matter to be resolved outside the construction code.
Andrew Hysell of the local advisory neighborhood commission said he was shocked at the damage – and that there no remediation outside of going to court.
"It's essential that people who own homes, who are affected, are treated fairly and that there is quick remediation when there's problems like this," Hysell told FOX 5. "When I look at what has occurred to their home, it's been rendered uninhabitable. The backyard has collapsed. There's been a severance of a gas line. To me, to say that's up to code, says there might be a problem with the system."
The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees building construction, didn't respond to numerous calls from FOX 5 for comment. But just a day after our cameras showed up at the Mariano home, the agency slapped a stop work order on the project, but just for one week.
Now the project is back on and the Marianos' bills keep piling up, more than $100,000 in damages. Anna Mariano says she doesn't have the money to fix the house.
"Unless we receive appropriate compensation, then we can't think about moving back," she said.
While the lawyers sort it all out, her family has moved into a one-bedroom apartment on Capitol Hill, even while they're paying the mortgage on a house they can't live in. She says she just wants her life back and a backyard that's safe for her son to play.
"It's not the American dream for me," she said. "I'm sad that I have to say this."
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