By John Burton
HIGHLANDS – Federal and state agencies are continuing their investigations into what caused a Locust Street home to fall while being elevated.
The home and two neighboring houses were demolished hours after the Friday, Aug. 23 incident occurred.
The state Department of Community Affairs’ (DCA) Office of Regulatory Affairs and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are looking at very specific aspects of the incident.
OSHA is responsible for investigating workplace safety issues, according to U.S. Department of Labor spokesperson Leni Fortson. The agency is looking to see whether the contractor working on the location, Hasenfus Construction Services, LLC, Long Branch, complied with the safety requirements.
There were no injuries at the scene, she said.
The state Office of Regulatory Affairs is responsible for monitoring local enforcement of the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code and is looking to see if the code was being properly enforced, said Department of Community Affairs spokesperson Lisa Ryan in an email.
“There is no conclusion at this time,” she said.
Hasenfus is registered with the DCA as a home improvement contractor, said Neal Buccino, a division spokesman.
OSHA cited Hasenfus in 2011 for what Fortson labeled a “serious violation,” for not having proper fall protection on a work site. The company was fined $2,550.
Calls to Hasenfus seeking comment were not returned.
The incident occurred as workers were in the process of elevating the home on the corner of Locust and Willow streets.
“There was a failure” of some sort that caused the two-story home to come crashing down for an unknown reason, said Highlands Fire Chief Charles Wells.
The structure twisted at a 45-degree angle, landing askew on its foundation, and hit and damaged the house next door at 3 Locust St. That house and the home next door to it at 5 Locust St., both of which had been slated for demolition, were also demolished Friday afternoon.
The 1 Locust St. home was built about two years ago and had sustained damage in Super Storm Sandy. The homeowner, Prince Gelpin, had repaired the structure. The other two buildings were abandoned after last October’s storm, according to local officials.
Gelpin was on vacation in Florida while the work was being done. All of the home’s contents were destroyed with the structure because it was too unstable to let anyone inside.
Paul Vitali, the borough’s building inspector, said about a dozen homes have been elevated in the borough in Sandy’s aftermath without incident.
As homeowners consider elevating their homes to protect them from future flooding and meet new standards set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the DCA’s Division of Consumer Affairs is offering some recommendations on finding a contractor, including:
• Check to see if the company is a registered home improvement contractor and always write down the registration number.
• Check with your homeowners insurance to find out if the policy will cover damage incurred by elevating.
• Find out if the contractor has adequate insurance. A registered contractor is required to have liability insurance of at least $500,000 per occurrence.
• Inquire as to how long the contractor has been in business.
• Does the contractor have experience with the type of home you need to be lifted?
• Ask for a detailed contract that includes the scope of the project, the time frame, total cost and whether the contractor will hire subcontractors, and who will be paying them.
Additional tips can be found at NJConsumerAffairs.gov/brief/improve.pdf.