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$300,000 Rowhouse Collapses in Upper Fells

June 13, 2008

Daniele Ard says he was working in the bathroom of his three-story rowhouse at 1715 Gough St. when it collapsed.

“I just walked out to get my Gatorade,” he says. “And I felt a whoosh of wind. I heard a big boom and a gust of air. I was like, ‘What the hell was that?’”

The partial collapse on June 11 damaged the neighbor’s house at 1717 Gough. By the next afternoon there was a foot of water in the basement, an observer says, and both houses appeared to be in peril. A city housing inspector condemned 1715 Gough.

It was an unusual collapse in a city that has far more than its share of them. Unlike most collapses, Ard’s home was not a long-abandoned wreck and it was not under renovation when its walls buckled. A few hours after the event Ard says he doesn’t know what happened. “There’s speculation that it might have been an explosion,” he says, “and speculation that it might have been a foundation issue.”

Four blown-out windows next door and a blown-out door in Ard’s house suggest the possibility of a sewer-gas or natural-gas explosion.

Ard paid $300,000 for the renovated home in January, according to land records. He borrowed the whole amount (minus transaction costs). He says he had trouble with the house from the start–first a gas leak, which BGE fixed after some prodding, and then a mold problem under the first-floor bathroom tiles. “The subfloor did have an absolute horrible smell on one side,” Ard says, adding that he had removed the toilet, plugged the drain pipe with a rag, chipped out the tile, and removed part of the subfloor on the day the back wall of his house fell.

Ard sounded surprised when a reporter told him that the home’s previous owner had pulled a permit in January 2007 to “repair basement walls due to deterioration,” and another in March 2007 whose online summary reads “excavation and placement of concrete must be done under the direction of a structural engineer as indicated on the certification of the work filed with the approved plans. Engineer’s certification containing inspection dates and approvals must be filed with the building official within 10 days of the completion of this work.”

He says he does not know who did the work or who engineered the basement excavation. “If you find out, you let me know,” Ard says. “If the insurance doesn’t cover this, obviously it’s a hell of a loss for me.”

Records indicate that Tyler Weidman owned the building when the permits were pulled. He paid just under $160,000 for the house in November 2006 and apparently oversaw the renovation work.

Weidman could not be immediately reached for comment.

But court records indicate that he is currently facing three foreclosures on city properties. His partner in a company called “C&W Investments,” Joel Colley, also has a pending foreclosure and had a court judgment entered against him in February, totaling nearly $400,000.

According to an “Investor Prospectus” for C&W Investments, Weidman has bachelor’s degrees in business management and civil engineering from Salisbury University, is a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, owns and operates a wholesale auto dealership, and has been a real-estate investor since 2003.

C&W Investments offered investors a guaranteed 9.25 percent return, at minimum. “We strive to exceed our clients’ expectations,” the prospectus, dated 2007, reads in part, “with unsurpassed quality and in the fold of the utmost integrity.”

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