Margaret Fulcher lives on East Baltimore Street in Washington Hill, and over the last 1½ years, she has bought $225 worth of mouse poison for her house.
The poison comes in big buckets: nine pounds, each holding 144 one-ounce, peanut butter-flavored blocks.
She doesn’t know how many mice she’s killed, only that she’s bought $225 worth of the stuff; the receipts she holds in her hand prove that.
She’s also spent a little on floor traps – the sticky stuff – that she lays along the light blue carpet in her living room. Mice like to run along that wall after getting into her house through the broken foundation on the southwest corner.
The mice didn’t start running around, she says, until construction workers for the city came and messed up her foundation.
Fulcher wouldn’t have known that anything was amiss had she not returned home on the morning of April 21, 2017, to see workers tearing at the foundation of her well-kept three-story rowhouse, which is assessed at $350,000.
It was a curb cut procedure that required rebuilding the sidewalk against her house for a new curb ramp.
“I did not know they were going to do the curb cut,” said Fulcher, who has owned the house for nearly 50 years. “I just came home, and there they were in the process. No notice was given to me.”
The curb cut installation process can be an annoying part of city life in Baltimore – and usually not much of a problem after the concrete dries up. What proved a problem in her case was all the jackhammering done on the foundation.
“Sixteen feet was already gone!” she exclaimed, recalling the broken-up bricks and other rubble she saw around the exposed foundation. “The guy who worked for the company came out and told me, ‘Oh, we’ll put it back.’”
Fulcher didn’t trust him, so she called Baltimore Police.
The police were of no help, so she called her Councilman, Robert Stokes. He connected her with Kenneth P. Church, a Department of Transportation (DOT) inspector, who said he’d look into the matter.
Calling her back eight days later, Church told Fulcher to contact the city law department, who mailed out a form for her to file.
Meanwhile, workers for Priority Construction, the subcontractor working for DOT roadway paver P. Flanigan & Sons, showed up to lay cement for the curb cut.
Fulcher buttonholed two more DOT inspectors, Wanda Voss and Kevin T. Williams, who scoped out the damage and agreed with her that the foundation was missing bricks and had incurred a cracked drain pipe.
The inspectors assured her that any problems would be settled before cement got poured against her home.
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That didn’t happen: Workers returned the following day and completed their cement pour.
“Fresh cement wasn’t going to help my house,” Fulcher said. “That’s why I have all these mice.”
Calling on the Mayor
Fulcher captured these events in a May 2, 2017 email and a May 4, 2017 follow-up letter to Mayor Catherine Pugh.
“The City inspectors and others in charge promised to make the repairs before leaving. They did not,” she wrote. Referring to the subcontractor, she added:
“If they had been courteous and completed their job in a workmanlike manner as was promised to me, I would not have a complaint today.”
Fulcher said she never heard back from the mayor.
Since Priority completed its work, Fulcher has dealt with more trouble than just the mice.
The jackhammering damaged the drain pipe for her sump pump. The pump still works, but she’s had to deal with a leak in her drain pipe.
And the curb cut has survived poorly. There’s an incline of uneven concrete, and some areas are already cracking. The cement so split apart from her foundation that she laid down cement mix she purchased herself.
“I did this last summer,” she said, pointing to the off-color cement, part of a futile attempt to keep the mice at bay. “That’s how I know they’re coming in from beneath the cement.”
She also plopped some cement along the bricks in her basement.
“To try to get the mice out of here,” she said. She believes they use an entryway under the sidewalk, then navigate through the broken foundation to get into her home.
When it’s cold outside, in they swarm.
Passing the Buck
Presented with details about the case, DOT spokesperson Kathy Dominick said questions about liability and process “are dependent on the facts of each situation,” including the “terms of any contracts or locations of the problem.”
Echoing inspector Church two years before, Dominick said aggrieved residents should contact the law department to file claims.
City Solicitor Andre Davis said that liability by either the city or the contractor depends on “contract terms and contract performance.”
“If it’s the city’s fault, then we pay,” he said.
In this case, it appears that the contractor is on the hook for the claim she filed. A release form sent to Fulcher last year by the Zurich-American Insurance Co. indicated that P. Flanigan agreed to a payout if she agreed to drop her case.
Zurich offered her $1,097.86 – far less than she thought the repairs would cost, so she held out and was proven right a few months later.
She found Winston Bower Jr., owner of L&L Building Blocks, who was doing a renovation of a nearby home.
She asked Bower to perform an estimate on her foundation. He came back with a $23,450 price tag, including $2,500 to demolish the existing sidewalk, $4,450 for digging required to repair cracks, $7,500 for prep work, labor and cleanup, and another $3,000 for permits, drawings and deliveries.
“He said, ‘We can’t start digging up this cement and not deal with the footing,’” Fulcher recalled of Bower. “He said, ‘It’s going to affect your whole house.’”
“I blame both of them”
Zurich declined to comment on the discrepancy between the payout and the independent estimate.
“As a matter of policy and in the interest of privacy for our customers, Zurich only discusses claims directly with its customers,” said Jennifer Schneider, a spokesperson with the company.
Flanigan spokesperson Christinia Reasbeck said she was not familiar with Fulcher’s case and added that the company does not comment on insurance items.
Phone calls and emails to Priority Construction and its office manager, Anna Ponce, went unheeded.
Margaret Fulcher would like to see the city step up and help. She points out that there is a significant difference between $1,097.86 and $23,450.
“The city hired Flanigan,” she said. “It’s their responsibility to deal with my house, and then they should go against Flanigan and deal with whatever’s going on.”
“I blame both of them,” she concluded. “The contractor came out and did the damage, and the city just turned away.”