What s happening to my crack?
This week, I met a client who has a house in Devon, which is showing signs of extensive cracking, reaching the point where further investigation will be required to sort out the cause of the problem. I have not inspected the property, but have been shown an extensive series of photographs, which quite clearly demonstrate the problem. In this case the house is constructed of a Devon cob wall, with rendered outer surface, to first floor height. Above this, there is a brick walled construction up to the eaves; above this there is a pitched slate roof, which is not overly heavy.
The house is built into the side of a hill, and what would be the basement at the front of the house, in fact forms the ground floor accommodation. Life is slightly further complicated because the property is duplex, i.e. there are four floors, the bottom two form one flat, and the other top two forms the other flat. So in order to make the necessary arrangements legally, there has to be a ground lease granted to the first floor flat, to allow the two ownerships to sit side by side.
Immediately a surveyor hears the word ground lease, the antennae will start to twitch. A ground lease is a legal contract defining the relationship and agreement between two people. One party, known as the Landlord, will own the freehold of the property, the other party, known as the Tenant, will either rent the whole property, or part of the property, in this case the first floor flat. Ground leases tend to be quite complicated documents, usually ranging from 20 to 60 pages in content.
Ground leases cover every aspect of the property, from access rights, behaviour by both parties, they run for a fixed term, and state what the rent will be. In this case, more importantly the document will determine who is responsible for repairing the property, who pays for it, and who is responsible for taking out the buildings insurance policy. It will also define the access rights each party has over the others property, so that necessary repairs can be completed.
We will have to gain access to both flats to make a detailed examination of the property, to determine what the cause of the cracking is. My client s main concern is whether the building is going to fall down. Even in this recession, houses still tend to be very valuable assets, and a house with sever cracking is worth substantially less than a house without. It is therefore important to determine the cause, and make suggestions on how to remedy the problem, and repair the property so that it is returned to a crack free condition.
From a surveyor's point of view, I do not want to sound alarmist, there are not many occasions when a crack, or even a series of cracks indicate a major problem. That's because the client usually spots the cracks at an early stage and before they get to the horror proportions, where you can see through the gap in the wall to the outside. They do become serious however when they affect the structural integrity of the building. For example a hairline crack through one brick in a large panel of walling is of no consequence at all. On the other hand a crack 5mm wide, running diagonally across the wall from top to bottom is indicative of a problem that needs resolving. One needs to look at the problem and make a judgement. As ever in nature, size is not everything, but it sure goes a long way.
See Page 2 for a continuation of the story