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#63279 - 03/12/06 02:47 PM Legal action?  
Charles  Offline
Joined: Oct 2003
Posts: 60
North America
Hey everyone;

This topic deals with my grandmother's house. Although it is in Nova Scotia, Canada and this topic may be moved, I think it is imperative that it has more exposure here because I really need answers quick.

My grandmother's home of now over 30 years was almost completely destroyed by fire in August 1998. This house is a two storey duplex with basement. The fire started in the living room on the first floor, causing the floor to partially cave in. The basement and first floor were gutted down to the firewalls and framing and the top floor had all of the floors torn up.

After three failed inspections, the house was passed in December 1998 and my grandmother moved back in.

The electrical was supposed to be completely replaced. I knew something was wrong immediately when I first say old NM with black outer insulation in the basement laundry room. Basically, there are points where this old NM is spliced to newer NM in junction boxes, etc.

The first real problem came when one of my grandmother's two switch-operated outlets in the living room literally started to shoot flames. An electrician was called in the outlet was replaced. Then after, the breaker would trip when something was plugged into it or whatever was plugged into it would be fried. Today, I took the cover off and a bunch of melted conductors, some aluminum, others copper. The tab for the outlet had not been broken off when replaced and instead, the whole outlet was (supposed) to be switch operated. The other outlet was rewired by the electrician to be totally switch operated as well.

Basically, what I had to do was shut the power off to this mess. When doing so, the breaker labelled "living room" didn't turn off anything in the living room. Rather, it turned off the hallway lights. However, the breaker labelled "kitchen" turned off all of the lights and receptacles in the kitchen, all of the lights and receptacles in the dining room and the disaster in the living room.

I am 100% certain that a completely gutted kitchen needs to be rewired with more than one counter-top circuit, let alone one not shared with the rest of the first floor.

Furthermore, the entire upstairs is on one circuit and random outlets throughout the house are on other circuits. Aluminum wiring passes through walls that would have been torn down, up from the basement to the top floor where aluminum is pigtailed to copper and then to the fixtures. Aluminum is present at every box I have opened up so far.

And even still, my grandmother says they she can't have her oven on at the same time as the microwave. That sent a few chills down my spine. My grandmother's previous house burnt down because the oven took power directly from the service conductors into the house, bypassing even the main breaker. I'm worried that she'll have a house fire for a third time.

Basically, she was told (and paid for) that all of the electrical in the house would be replaced. And it obviously has not. Either someone was reusing aluminum wiring (dangerous as is) or left damaged wiring in the walls. Either way, I'm pissed.

My grandmother isn't a wealthy woman. How strong of a case does she have, if any, and against who?

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#63280 - 03/12/06 02:59 PM Re: Legal action?  
earlydean  Offline
Joined: Dec 2003
Posts: 751
Griswold, CT, USA
From what you said, she would have a strong case against the electrical contractor and the inspector who allowed the mess. I don't know about the laws in Canada, though.
I would get her out of the house and cut the power.


#63281 - 03/12/06 03:12 PM Re: Legal action?  
watthead  Offline
Joined: Oct 2001
Posts: 172
South Carolina
If she has a contract that calls for a total rewire, I would think she would have a good case. If not it will be, he said she said, and you can roll the dice with a jury. It never suprises me that when there is a later problem that the customer remembers they had paid for everything done first class, sparing no costs, when the fact was at the time they only wanted the bare minimum that would get them by, and they thought that cost too much and wanted you to cut out anything that wasen't smoking at the time.
Does she have the contract for the total rewire???

[This message has been edited by watthead (edited 03-12-2006).]

#63282 - 03/12/06 03:37 PM Re: Legal action?  
Charles  Offline
Joined: Oct 2003
Posts: 60
North America
At the top of her head, at this time, my grandmother says that she signed a contract with her insurance company to have the house redone with <removed name, may be litigious?>. As far as I know, this company is merely an organization of independent companies.

Without seeing the paperwork myself at this time, what she has told me was that all of the electrical, all of the plumbing and all of the floors, etc. throughout the house were to be redone. And in the extreme case that this wasn't so, old electrical passes through ares that were burnt out anyway! Indeed, the plumbing was, but even that is faulty. She did say that there were subcontractors for the various trades in and out of the house.

The insurance company sent the inspector out three times and he failed the house three times. It passed on the fourth time, but I don't know if it was a different inspector or if the drywall was up by then.

I have seen pictures from the fire. There is no possible way that the electrical would have been fine anywhere in the vicinity after that point. I know for sure that the CEC has been breached many, many times in this place. Bare minimum wasn't even achieved. Old ductwork is still present here. We have even found debris atop new drywall ceilings.

I am absolutely certain that there are hidden junctions in this place was well. Breakers trip all of the time here.

All of this just seems too shady. I read about it all of the time. I will discuss with my grandmother about procuring all of the necessary documentation and I will cut the power to everything I can.

[This message has been edited by Charles (edited 03-12-2006).]

#63283 - 03/12/06 03:44 PM Re: Legal action?  
macmikeman  Offline
Joined: Jul 2002
Posts: 717
Honolulu, Hawaii
In the course of doing lots and lots of service work over the years, I have run into two situations more than once. One is homeowner pays to have house totaly rewired and unethical electrical contractor does a partial, such as replacing lights and running a short new nm into the attic to get spliced into old wiring (usually k+T). Thankfully I have not seen this happen very much.
Number two is homeowner has some electrical repair work done, and then proceeds to confuse themselves by thinking they had a rewire done. Now this one I see all the time. I have customers call once in a while and start off with saying " You were the one who rewired our house" when in fact I did some repairs such as a panel swap, or replaced outlets/lights or some such. I blame this on lack of knowledge on the customer part as to what is bieng done on repairs. Even if you are very good at explaining exactly what is getting done, and put it all in very careful writing, you see their eyes get glassy and you know they are not bothering to really listen to you as you explain. A couple of times I did repairs on houses, and then found out that they put the house on the market, and advertized it as recently rewired. New homeowner calls up six months later all mad, and now I have to show up with my work order/ invoice and straiten em out. At that point they treat you like you are a party to a scam, when in fact you had nothing to do with the misrepresentation. Watthead said it best. If she has a written contract she has a case. If not, she might have gotten herself confused with what has actually happened. Still it sounds to me like somebody really hacked things up good at this house. Good Luck

#63284 - 03/12/06 03:47 PM Re: Legal action?  
Charles  Offline
Joined: Oct 2003
Posts: 60
North America
I will keep that in mind and am weighing that as a possible option. I just spoke to my grandmother. She will procure the documentation in the near future.

*If and only if* this is not the case, there are still many very dangerous errors in the wiring that I would like to have fixed for her.

#63285 - 03/12/06 04:08 PM Re: Legal action?  
stamcon  Offline
Joined: Mar 2001
Posts: 329
So San Francisco CA
If the insurance company hired the contractors, have they been notified that there are problems with the work from the people THEY hired?


#63286 - 03/12/06 04:28 PM Re: Legal action?  
Charles  Offline
Joined: Oct 2003
Posts: 60
North America
As of this moment, no. My grandmother is going to get the contracts tomorrow and then we'll see what is going on.

#63287 - 03/12/06 04:29 PM Re: Legal action?  
Charles  Offline
Joined: Oct 2003
Posts: 60
North America
I should add, the first manifestation of the problems was the flaming outlet. An electrician came in and "fixed" that. My grandparents were unaware of the rest of the problems.

#63288 - 03/12/06 04:34 PM Re: Legal action?  
renosteinke  Offline
Cat Servant
Joined: Jan 2005
Posts: 5,316
Blue Collar Country
Since you are in Canada, the specifics of your way of doing thins will certainly differ in detail from how things are in the USA. However, since 49 of our 50 states are based upon the same "common law" as yours, the outlines ought to be similar.

The short version is...I think you're up the creek without a paddle.

The first issue is one of time. 1998 to 2006 is a pretty long period to let pass before raising any issues. If there has been an on-going dispute, well, that's different.

The second major obstacle has to do with a possible conflict in the way insurance work is done, and the way building codes are enforced.
As a general principle, an insurance company will only pay to restore things to the way that they were. If the old toilet was a hole in the floor, well, that's what you'll get.
Also as a general principle, laws (including building codes) cannot be applied retro-actively. That is, something made in 1900 to 1900 code need not be brought up to 2006 code when it's repaired or maintained. This can change if the repair work required is extensive enough to essentially require replacement. That's what the loss you describe sounds like.

I should also point out that older wires were often of "tinned" copper, and look like aluminum at first glance. That might be what you have present.

Our electrical codes, until rather recently, were completely lacking in any guidance as to how a circuit was distributed. This resulted in the circuit seeming to "hop all over the place" as the electrician made the wire runs as short and direct as he could.

The final problem is that old houses typically have lots of improper, or unsafe, electric work in them, as various unqualified parties try to "improve" things over the years.

I think you're stuck with an unwinnable situation here.

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