PSI: Sinking home creates sinking feeling

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - In quiet section of northwest Charlotte, under some big old shade trees sits the home where Christie Preston grew up.

"It's a good neighborhood," said Preston.

Unfortunately, the house isn't just sitting anymore. It's sinking. If you stand in the living room you'll feel an unsettling lean.

"You get kind of a queasy feeling after awhile," said Preston.

If you set marbles on the counter, they will roll away. There are also cracks in the walls and cabinet doors lose out to gravity.

"They just continue to close on you," said Preston. "It's a fight, it really is."

The issue is what has happened below the house.

"It's really scary," said Preston. "I don't stay under there long."

Dennis Siracusa doesn't have a choice.

"A lot of things are broken here," said Siracusa crouched down the in mud layering the home's basement.

Moisture weakened the brick and mortar. The retaining wall came crashing down. The mud flowed in. Asked what kept the house from coming down altogether Siracusa will tell you "prayer" and a few jacks strategically placed under the home's supports. Siracusa's company "Residential Technical Services" is now lifting the home up and getting it as close to level as possible.

"The water level down here has been wet for so long that you can smell the mold in the air," said Siracusa.

Preston's mother, who recently passed away, first noticed problems in 2006. Her insurance company sent out an engineer. She was told it could be an underground spring, but more likely the moisture was rain runoff.

"I asked my mom to kick out $12,000 to put in a French drain," said Preston.

It turned out to be a waste of money. The drain didn't help. Preston then applied a few band-aids over the next several years, sump pumps and jack, until a washing machine malfunctioned last August. It got stuck on the rinse cycle.

"It didn't flood the house, or anything," said Preston. "It just kept dumping water into the sewer line."

Water didn't fill the house, it filled the yard, so she called out a plumber who found a block in the line. The city came out to take a closer look, by running a camera through the pipe.

"They said the pipe was broken," said Preston. "We're going to dig it up."

What they found was another pipe, bored right through the sewer. The line belonged to Piedmont Natural Gas. Preston says the company sent out a representative who she says admitted it was their fault. She says she was told someone would get back with her on the repairs.

She says days turned to week and then months. She eventually got a letter back from the contractor hired by Piedmont to actually run the pipe. It turns out it was put in way back in 1994. 18 years created another problem.

State law has what's called a statute of repose, basically a statute of limitations. It last 10 years in such cases. So it expired in 2004. Two years before the Preston's knew something serious was going on.

It didn't matter the contractor was going to "respectfully deny any payment towards this loss."

"Do the right thing," implored Preston. "That's all I'm asking."

Preston, with a husband away in the military, a 2-year-old son at home and bills running in the thousands, seemed to be out of options.

"I'm in trouble," she said.

She had dipped into her son's college savings to start the repairs.

WBTV contacted Piedmont Natural Gas. The company promised it would take a closer look at the situation. This weekend (April 21st) we heard some good news. A spokesperson told us, they were going to "do right" by the Preston's. Piedmont and Preston are now talking and working out a final number to help pay for the repairs.

Christie Preston hopes to have all the repairs finished quickly, so she can began to use the home as a rental property.

Copyright 2012 WBTV. All rights reserved.