Subcontractor's mistake damages home

South Bethany officials want residents to know that they did not overlook an incident of construction without a permit reported at 10 North Sixth Street. The work to be done actually had a permit — just at 10 South Sixth Street.

The incident was a hot topic for residents of the town at the town council’s Feb. 10 regular meeting, with concerns expressed that rumors that the town’s code enforcement department and police were being lax in following up on the matter might be true.

Police Chief Joe DeLoach said everything the police could do was being done and explained the incident to those in attendance: In an apparent honest mistake, a subcontractor and crew working for the contractor of record at the home being renovated at 10 South Sixth Street instead went to 10 North Sixth Street. Despite the lack of a building permit at the incorrect address, they proceeded to remove some of the home’s siding — work that had actually been requested at 10 South Sixth Street.

The town, upon finding out about the problem, had contacted the home owner of the northern home where some siding was already removed, DeLoach explained. The police had also followed up with the contractor at the correct, southern home, but had been unable to track down the subcontractor in question. DeLoach said it appeared that the subcontractor and his crew were not U.S. citizens and had no known location at which they could be contacted.

Following up on the complaint, DeLoach said the SBPD had received a ruling from a judge that there was no criminal case for them to pursue. With no criminal intent established — just a mistake — the matter is left to the civil courts and the legal representatives of the injured homeowner and their insurer to clear up with the contractor and/or subcontractor (if they can be found).

Mayor Gary Jayne acknowledged that subcontractors working in the town are supposed to be licensed with the town — something that might have helped enable the police to track down the mistaken crew. But he said that requirement was hard for the town to police.

Jayne said the town had sent code enforcement officers by the North Sixth Street home near the time of the incident but that no one had been there at the time, though work had been started.

Town Manager Melvin Cusick emphatically denied reports that any town staff member had laughed at the home owner when discussing the incident with her. The town staff had actually been the ones to notify her of the problem, he said.

Council Member Richard Ronan also emphasized the caring nature of town hall employees. “They’re very caring about people,” he said.

While he did not suggest anyone at town hall had laughed, he did allow that the situation might be considered humorous, in a truly comedic kind of way.

“If anyone did laugh about this, it would be like laughing at Laurel and Hardy,” he said, referring to the classic comedic pair known for physical comedy and humorous situations. “But we felt terrible for her,” he said quite earnestly. “They would not laugh at her, but at the situation.”

Jayne also noted that comments by code enforcement officials that referenced the incident as being typical of contractors had apparently been taken out of context when reported in a local newspaper. He emphasized the need for the town’s citizens to recognize that what they read may not necessarily reflect the full truth of what happens there.

But on the topic of the contractor’s responsibility in such a situation, Council Member Marge Gassinger focused on the need for contractors to supervise their laborers — especially considering the number of day laborers hired in the area.

When asked about the wisdom of any contractor or subcontractor — or their crew members — starting work on a site without checking for a posted building permit, the mayor agreed it was an important safeguard that might have prevented the incident. But it’s one that may not always get done, in practice.

“They probably didn’t know any better,” Jayne said.

Also at the Feb. 10 meeting, council members heard reports of at least one home in the town that may be violating rules against renting space as a “rooming house.”

While some older homes in the town do have more than one kitchen — the maximum currently allowed — and some serve as residences with “mother-in-law suites,” there is a prohibition against renting individual rooms under the “rooming house” restriction.

Residents reported regularly seeing advertised a home that the ads said “sleeps 23” and allowed would-be renters to reserve a single bedroom versus the entire home or an established “apartment,” and did not differentiate between an extended family and unrelated strangers sharing the home.

DeLoach acknowledged that his officers had visited the house in question in the past and found that residents of one part of the house did not know others who were staying in another part.

The town’s code clearly defines use as a single-family residence, and Jayne said the town would be looking into the matter and whether it was, in fact, a violation of town code.