The small College Park house was trouble from the start for 66-year-old Margaret Wiener.
After her $36,900 bid for the one-bedroom house was accepted in May 1979, it took 18 months more for the owners of the house and a neighbor to work out the problem of the encroachment that was turned up by Wiener's settlement attorney. "The house was sitting six inches on my neighbor's property," Wiener explained.
After the owners and the neighbor agreed to swap some land, and the sale was completed, in November 1980, the roof and siding at the back of the house began to leak--badly. She decided that, so long as she was going to fix the roof and siding, she would expand her kitchen and add a second bedroom at the same time.
When construction on the addition was started in September 1981, extensive termite damage to the house's structure--more than 50 percent--was discovered, and a "stop work" order was placed on the house by Prince George's County.
Now, the house has been torn down--the "only viable solution" in the opinion of a professional inspector--and Wiener is suing the two brothers who sold her the house--one is a real estate broker in College Park--and two area pest control services.
The suit, filed in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, names as defendants real estate broker Donald Hintze and his brother, Edward D. Hintze; Hintze Real Estate Inc. in College Park; and two area exterminators: Suburban Pest Control Co. Inc., based in Hyattsville, and Norman E. Cook, the owner of Norco Pest Control in Bowie.
Wiener contends in the suit that the Hintzes knew of the termite problem when they sold her the house. According to court papers in Upper Marlboro, they had purchased the house in August 1978 for $19,750 from the estate of a woman who had owned the house, after the appraised value was reduced from $28,500 to $17,000--because of the extensive termite damage and encroachment problem.
A report filed in the estate of Mary F. Maffay says an inspection of the house done by Aardvark Exterminating Co. "revealed previous termite infestation and dwelling structural damage as a result therefrom."
In contrast, Suburban Pest Control, after an inspection of the house on Aug. 14, 1979, reported that there were "no active termites." The report, for which Wiener paid $30, cited some old damage on a "rafter in the basement" dating from 1964 that they had treated in October 1964.
In November 1980, two weeks before Wiener's settlement date, Norco Pest Control Service inspected the house for the Hintzes and reported that "evidence of subterranean termite infestation was not found."
Wiener's suit, first filed in May 1982 and amended several times, charges both Cook, Norco's owner, and Suburban with negligence and breach of contract in their inspections of the College Park house. Had they inspected the premises properly, they would have discovered the pervasive termite damage and structural unsoundness of the property, and warned her about it, the suit alleges. The suit charges that Wiener wouldn't have bought the property had she known about the extensive damage.
In papers filed in the case, Norco's Cook denied the charges, contending that he had no contract with Wiener and therefore no duty to her because his inspection was performed for the Hintzes. Cook also contended that Wiener's claim was barred by an applicable statute of limitations.
Surburban Pest Control also denied any breach of contract or negligence. In addition, it filed a cross claim last month against the other defendants in the suit. Suburban contended that if Wiener sustained damages as alleged, "said damages were caused by the breach of contract, negligence and/or intentional fraudulent acts" of Hintze Real Estate and the two Hintzes and/or the breach of contract or negligence of Norco's Cook.
Donald and Edward Hintze, the former owners, were charged in Wiener's suit with fraud, concealment, breach of contract and negligence. The suit contends that they knew when they sold Wiener the house that "the property had long-term substantial pervasive structural damage and was structurally unsound due to termite damage." It also charges that they had made "cosmetic or other changes" to the property "so as to conceal the . . . termite damage."
The action charged that the brothers knew Cook's report was "incorrect and misleading" and that they had "the duty to disclose to her" the termite damage.
Hintze Real Estate, licensed by Maryland, was also charged in Wiener's suit with violating Maryland laws regulating the real estate industry. Under rules and regulations of Maryland's Real Estate Commission, it is the duty of real estate licensees "to disclose to prospective purchasers . . . material information about the property," the suit charged.
Hintze Real Estate and Donald and Edward D. Hintze also denied the charges against them. In court papers, they contended that the property was sold "as is" under the terms of the contract and that they, as well as Wiener, had relied on the reports of the two exterminators.
In an interview in the house--the day before it was demolished--Wiener pointed to fissures in the living room paneling which she said were the work of termites. She said they had been filled with plastic wood before she moved in.
Until last week, Wiener was living in the house, with the back door tied shut with a rope to a chair, and some holes poked clear through the outside walls of the house. One hole near her bed was inhabited by birds. While the outside air has been warm recently, it was cold last winter, she said, adding, "I wore sweatshirts and heavy shoes."
The house hadn't been condemned; if it had, she would have had to move out in three days, she said. "I told them I had no place to go," she said, adding that it wasn't pleasant. "People would ask, 'You're living here?' I would say, 'No, I'm existing.' "
The small house sat far back from the street on a deep treed lot. A former tenants' house, it was built about the turn of century, with brick veneer added to the front in the 1930s.
Wiener, a retired government worker who lives on Social Security and a pension from the Postal Service, seems to have a lot of good friends. After she put her furniture--including some antiques that were her parents'--in storage, the old house was leveled, and work on a new house has begun. It will cost about $30,000; she said she's getting the materials at cost and most of the help--from more than a half-dozen neighbors--is free. While the two-bedroom house is being built, a process that will take about three months, she's staying with a friend across the street. "People are wonderful," she said. "If I should win this suit and get anything extra, it's to be divided by the people who have helped me."