WEST FARGO — Amanda Delapointe found the house she bought attractive. She liked the secluded part of the garden, which reminded her of a country cottage.
The house was surprisingly spacious with enough space for a small dance studio, space for her to sew her costumes, and plenty of room for her young son.
“I thought it was cute,” she said. “I love the area.” “It was just perfect for me.”
A special touch included a deck with a small enclosed gazebo. The layout of her house was a little odd, but she loved the quirkiness.
Delapointe, a single parent, bought her first home and prepared diligently. She took her first-time homebuyer’s class and hired an inspector to inspect her home before committing to her most important financial investment of her life.
Everything was exactly how she wanted it when she moved into the house in July 2017. And a few months later, one day in September, she noticed something disturbing in her new home. It means that there are cracks in the wall.
As I looked closer to Delapointe, I could see that the ceiling and walls had fallen away. Not only that, but she alarmedly noticed that the second floor of her house had sunk in.
“It was frustrating,” she said.
The previous owner had revealed some repairs to the foundation, but an inspection of the house showed no signs of a problem.
“It wasn’t a big concern,” she said.
After she discovered the cracks and learned the extent of the damage, it became clear that more foundation repairs were needed, so Delapoint completed the work.
She thought that repairing the foundation would solve the problem. However, cracks soon began to reappear and gradually got worse.
Delapoint watched in horror as the floor sank two inches in three weeks.
“It goes really fast,” she said. “It’s scary when it’s really fast. You can see the cracks forming.”
In time, Mr. Delapointe realized that he was facing a very big and very expensive problem. She reached a sober comprehension.
“I realized my house was sinking,” she said.
DeLaPointe specializes in home repairs. Using a jackhammer, she demolished the cracked concrete floor and hauled 1,600 pounds of concrete pieces out of the house.
She learned to hang drywall and became proficient at painting. She had to make numerous repairs, and she redid the room three times in five years.
Her house kept moving, the walls and floors kept cracking, and she kept fixing them.
“I learned a lot,” said Delapointe. “You can patch drywall with the best of the best. I’m quite the painter.”
She hoped that the repair work would fix the problem.
“And it went on for a while,” she said. “But I always felt that doom was imminent. It was always in my mind.”
Despite having to do a number of cosmetic repairs over the years, the house seemed to settle down and her problems were solved. And in 2021, the rift quickly got worse.
Delapoint contacted a company the previous owner had hired to strengthen the foundation, and in 2016 installed a steel beam with three wall anchors in the basement.
Seeking a solution, she borrowed money from a friend to pay a company to install stanchions called piers. For this project, all floors on two levels were stripped and a deep trench was dug underground.
During construction, Delapointe and her son had to live in the motel for a week until the work was completed.
Ultimately, it became clear that the project, though extensive, hadn’t solved the problem. Work focused around the foundation. A more drastic solution would require the entire foundation to be removed, costing an estimated $100,000 or more.
This was more than Delapointe, who works as an administrative administrator at a local university, could afford. Also, given her experience, I was not convinced that such an extensive restoration would solve the problem.
She contacted a real estate agent to ask if she could sell the house. After seeing her house, the real estate agent started crying.
“She said, ‘I don’t know how to help you.'”
Delapointe was becoming desperate. She accepts that despite spending her thousands of dollars, she cannot conscientiously sell her own gold pit with structural problems this severe. rice field.
But what can a sinking house do? Her dream home turned into a nightmare.
As Delapointe searched for a way out of the dilemma, the question haunted her: “How was her house built on such unstable soil?”
Looking for ways to fix her sunken home, she turned to geologists and geotechnical consultants.
She reported from the North Dakota Geological Survey that a report released in 1974 to assist land-use planners in Cass County found that unstable soils, including ancient Lake Agassiz sediments, were unsuitable for construction in certain areas. I know you are warning the community.
“These areas generally have low yield strength, high moisture content, high liquid limit and high plasticity index,” the report said, along with maps and descriptions of problem areas. . “Those areas are particularly problematic because the saturated sand water buried in many areas is under considerable pressure. To do.”
Delapointe’s home at 2120 East Fourth Avenue in West Fargo, just a few blocks from Fargo, where a grain elevator along Fargo’s Main Avenue collapsed in 1955, the report notes. Not too far from the scene.
West Fargo’s Meadowridge neighborhood homes were built primarily in the 1970s. Delapointe’s home was built in his 1980.
On a map in a 1974 report for land-use planners, Delapointe was able to locate her home. It was located over a buried sand channel identified as one of the areas with low load-bearing capacity.
Did the city’s engineers and planners know about the problem areas, and if not, should they have?
The report and others like it can be used by engineers and planners alike, said North Dakota Geological Survey geologist Fred Anderson, who is familiar with the unstable soil beneath Delapointe’s home.
The Geological Survey has a page with links to maps containing information about the geology of areas in the state, including the Fargo area.
“Now, whether or not they adhere to that information is another matter,” said Anderson. “Certainly, the information existed for public awareness and the planning and engineering community.”
In October 2022, Delapointe contacted City Engineer Ben Hanson to find “a resource for viewing geotechnical/soil suitability reports submitted for approval in the late 1970s for the Medridge District.” asked for help.
Hanson replied that he could not find the document.
“When this home was built, the City of West Fargo did not have an engineering department or engineering staff,” said city communications manager Rachel Richter-Lordman in an email. “The development was done by consulting engineers. We have no record of what reports the consulting engineers used when building these homes.”
The records from that period “are significantly outside the time period of any records retention policy, and it is likely that those records are no longer on file,” Richter-Roadman added.
Although it is difficult to guess, “the geotechnical reports that would have been used for the development focused on the construction of roads and utilities, and contained no analysis of the means and methods of housing construction.” I wouldn’t have,” she said.
She said some of her neighbors in Delapointe have similar problems with their foundations, though they’re not as severe or severe.
Donald Schwart, a retired professor of geology at North Dakota State University, has studied extensively the underlying geology of Fargo Moorhead and the problems associated with the sometimes unstable soil layers left behind by glacial Lake Agassiz.
“She’s not the only one with structural problems in the area,” he said, adding that he hadn’t researched the problem but had heard of it. “There is no insurance available for this type of problem. It is beyond the scope of normal homeowners insurance.”
Delapointe said she was disappointed with the city’s response to her problem over the years, which she found unhelpful and at times rude.
Richter-Lordman said the City of West Fargo was not in a position to provide any assistance to Delapointe, saying, “This is a private homes and property issue and there is no solution the city can offer in terms of repairing the foundations. ‘ added. ”
The never-ending problem of cracked walls and movement became so severe in November 2022 that Delapointe no longer felt safe at home and moved.
I can’t pay my rent and house, I’m behind on my mortgage, and I’m under foreclosure.
She still has about $160,000 in debt from the $170,000 mortgage she took out to buy the house. After repeated requests, city building inspectors ruled the house uninhabitable in January.
“This is not something I did on my own,” said Delapointe. “I did everything I could to mitigate this problem,” she said, including a pre-purchase inspection of her home.
“I followed all the correct steps,” she said.
But her duties as a homeowner haven’t gone away. She continues to pay her city utility bills and continues to mow lawns and clean sidewalks in the winter.
Because the repair costs are more than half the value of the house, the house may be classified as dangerous construction. The city’s emergency manager asked Ms. Delapointe if the city could burn down the building for firefighter training, but given that she thought the city was useless, the request was dismissed. was infuriating.
Still, it might be cheaper for the city to set the house on fire than pay for the demolition.
Delapointe fears he could be forced into bankruptcy and lose his credit rating for seven to 10 years.
“I lost everything and have to start over,” she said. “I’m just trying to do the best I can.”