I’m a copywriter, and know a lot about foundations because of my work. I agree with the information and tips I write about. And yet, ironically, I’m unable to take my own advice. All because I do not own this building I call home. While many tenants may not care or notice the symptoms, I do. Blame it on the day job.
As a renter, I’ve noticed symptoms of underlying foundation problems and my landlord’s dismissal of the whole situation.
It’s hard to decipher the best path to take in this situation. Luckily, my home is not falling down the hill I live on or anything dire. Still… I wish my doors closed properly, and did not leak the air I pay to heat and cool. I want to feel more confident about the stability of my home.
This is my experience as it relates to my rented home’s foundation.
A Sinking Foundation Under My Cozy Home
My husband and I began renting a house last year. It’s a great hilltop spot with an amazing view. Our landlord, a married couple, are very nice and responsive to any issues that arise. A renter couldn’t ask for a better situation.
Soon after moving in, my husband noticed the sliding doors were sticking. He dismissed it and we continued our life in blissful ignorance. Then I began a new copywriting job which required researching foundation problems, their causes, and how to navigate foundation repairs. A light bulb went off when I learned about the symptoms of foundation issues. So I followed my own advice, and completed an unofficial foundation assessment. The signs I noticed were:
- Sticking doors and windows
- Uneven doorways with cracks
- Drafty doors
- Uneven flooring
- Moisture in the crawlspace
- Big trees and roots near the building
I promptly brought up my findings with my husband, “I think we have a foundation problem. Look, we have all these symptoms.” My husband responded, “Well, good thing we don’t own it!” I agreed and moved on with my life and writing projects.
As summer brought about scorching temperatures and little rain, I started thinking about our foundation again. The landlord asked us to be diligent with watering the plants so help stabilize the ground. In the back of my mind, I wondered if this plan was enough for all the signs I’d noticed.
The Property Owners’ Attempts to Solve the Symptoms
I decided to casually bring up my findings with my landlord. I mentioned my work and research on home foundations, and concern that the current issues could be related to the home’s foundation. It is, after all, built into a hillside. They heard my thoughts, but quickly mentioned how costly foundation repair can be. And with that, my concerns were dismissed.
To give our landlord credit, they have put forth effort to slow the foundation problems. I assume they are aware the home is shifting, or at least that something is wrong. They’ve invested a lot of time and money to solve the problems, but they are only solving the symptoms.
New Sliding Doors
Their attempts began with replacing two sliding doors in the living room. The old doors were constantly getting stuck and no longer opened all the way. I thought, “Okay, the problem could just be old doors. Maybe it’s not the foundation, and the house just needs a few upgrades.” No such luck.
Three months after the new doors were installed, they both began to stick again. And in true red flag fashion, one door is sticking more than the other.
A New Gutter System
Next came a new gutter system. This is a great way to help maintain the integrity of a home foundation. I was excited to see something being installed that could help prevent more damage to the foundation. Unfortunately, they stopped short of a complete gutter system: There are no gutter extensions to draw water away from the foundation. When it rains, the runoff pools on the concrete sidewalk near the foundation. This can cause uneven soil expansion, damaging the concrete around our house, make our house sink, and damage our actual foundation, letting moisture under our house.
My landlord also installed a sprinkler system and new plants. There’s no need to grade the landscape when you live on a hillside. Instead, watering must be strategic for even watering and moisture retention. A sprinkler system makes sense to address expansive soil issues. And new plants also help with erosion and soil moisture. But this will not solve the foundation issues or magically make it better. At best, it will hinder the slab from sinking further.
A Renter’s Foundation Repair Wishlist
My list of foundation symptoms keeps growing, and I am now confident my rented home’s foundation is in need of attention. If I had my way, I would want a few repairs and upgrades to ensure our home is stable, leveled, and efficient.
Foundation Estimate and Repairs
The biggest thing on my list would be addressing any foundation problems. The first part would be easy: The owners would get a free estimate so a professional can assess the foundation and recommend repairs that would solve the underlying problems. Helical piers and tiebacks would likely stabilize and level the home.Our house is only sinking in one corner, and the house is not that big, so it would likely only take 3-5 piers to fix it. Only a professional installer can make that call though.
A stable foundation would help alleviate the sticking doors and windows, and may help with the drafts. At the very least, we could rehang the doors and install weatherstripping to remedy our drafty doors. The repairs would last much longer with a stable foundation.
By completing the needed foundation work, my landlord would likely save money in the long run. The underlying problem will be fixed once and for all, instead of spending time and money on symptom repairs.
These repairs will also come in handy should they decide to sell the property. A home foundation is always on the inspection list. My landlord may lose potential buyers without these repairs.
After the foundation is fixed, landscaping is next. Most importantly, I would immediately add gutter extensions to protect the foundation. This is a cheap intervention and can be easily done in less than an hour. The extensions could even help water the plants, thus helping with erosion and expansive soil problems. This would consequently help lower my water bill.
Next, a couple trees will have to be removed. There are three trees too close to the house. It doesn’t make sense to leave the tree roots in place after the foundation is stabilized. They may grow and shift the concrete and foundation. I do not enjoy killing perfectly good trees, but this is an important step to protect the home’s stability.
Last, I would install some drains to help draw water away from the home. Since the house is on a hillside, water tends to pool in the back after heavy rains. Drains would help clear the water and protect the foundation. It would also help clear the back porch of water and mud, making it easier to walk through!
Dear Landlord, Please Fix My Foundation
My wishlist may add up to an expensive set of fixes. But if home owners address the underlying issue rather than the symptoms, they save far more in the end. The above items would benefit me as the renter, and my landlord as the property owner. It’s a win-win situation. In the meantime, I’ve learned a lot about how to navigate home repairs and look for signs of foundation problems.
My advice to fellow renters with foundation problems is this: Voice your concerns and even ask for a free estimate by a professional. Some property managers may listen — which they should! If they don’t, then it’s time to decide what problems are directly impacting you, and what you can live with as a renter.
And for all the property owners, managers, and landlords out there: Protect your investment by paying attention to your property’s foundation. If a renter voices concerns about the stability of the foundation, take them seriously and protect your investment.