Fishtown house collapses after contractor next door works without permit

“I went straight up into my front room [and I saw] another crack all along the same side of the wall, where the parting wall was,” Roger Klenk said. “So I ran downstairs.”

[From left] Clovena’s son-in-law Frank Bezotsky, Jonathan Romaniw, his mother Jen Romaniw, and Jen’s aunt Karen Klenk stand in the rubble wear Clovena Klenk’s home of more than 60 years used to be.

Less than a half-hour after Roger Klenk returned home from running errands on Friday, Feb. 8, he heard a loud bang while sitting at his computer.

“Then in two places in the wall, cracks started to form — in front of the room and in the back,” he explained. “Then you had plaster falling from the ceiling, dirt.”

Klenk ran out into the hallway, and there was a big crack there, too.

“I went straight up into my front room [and I saw] another crack all along the same side of the wall, where the parting wall was,” he said. “So I ran downstairs.”

94-year-old Clovena Klenk’s Fishtown rowhome was reduced to rubble after an alleged contractor error compromised the house’s foundation.

Klenk, a retired veteran who lived at 635 E. Thompson Street with his sister Nancy and 94-year-old mother Clovena, knew the vacant house next door — 633 E. Thompson St. — was being remodeled by a contractor. There was always loud noises coming from next door because of the construction, and it had been that way for several months. It was Clovena who owned the home.

“It made it hard to hear the TV and talk sometimes,” he told the Star as he stood on the pile of rubble where his mother’s house used to be.

He ran outside and tried to ask the contractors what was going on.

“I said, ‘What happened? What’s going on? The wall’s cracking inside the house.’ “

But none of the contractors spoke English.

He noticed a big hole excavated under the parting wall that was “about maybe 10 feet, maybe more,” by “about 2 or 3 feet high.”

“I ran back into the house and said, ‘We gotta get out of here.’ “

At that point, Klenk informed his sister, mother and her mother’s nurse’s aide, who was also in the house, that everybody had to leave. They got in touch with the city Department of Licenses and Inspections.

“Once L&I arrived on the scene and saw how bad the properties were buckling, they were very concerned and asked the residents to move out of the properties right then and there,” said L&I spokeswoman Karen Guss. “The first problem was that the contractor undermined the foundation wall, which is a weight-bearing wall shared by 633 and 635 E. Thompson St. and that wall collapsed. 635 dropped about a foot and was balancing on shelving units and pipes in the basement.”

Family members allege that the construction company was removing parts of the foundation and placing them in a “hidden Dumpster” in a garage directly behind the property.

“They were hiding what they were doing,” Karen Klenk said, pointing at the Dumpster from beyond the pile of rubble.

From a short distance, you could see the Dumpster was filled with what looks like chunks of broken concrete and other debris.

Guss said L&I was aware of the Dumpster situation, and that a company called Q Construction Group was the contractor on record for doing the contracting work. She said they had a permit to do work, “but what [the contractor] was doing was well beyond what that permit allowed him to do.”

“It’s completely fair to say he exceeded the permit or he was doing the work without the proper permit,” added Guss.

L&I went on to deem the property imminently dangerous, and ordered it torn down that weekend. Despite the situation, the Klenk family remains in good spirits.

“The insurance company has been terrific up until this point,” said Karen Klenk, sister of Nancy and Roger and daughter of Clovena.

According to Karen Klenk, the insurance company put 94-year-old Clovena in temporary housing in a location that’s handicap accessible (Clovena uses a wheelchair). Before the house was torn down, the demolition company allowed the family to quickly re-enter the building to fetch Clovena’s wheelchair, walker, medication, her late husband’s military flag, tax records and various sentimental photographs. Other than that, not much made it out of the house.

Since the demolition, the family has spent time rummaging through the remains of their demolished house, searching for whatever they can find. So far, they’ve found nothing but clothes, some photographs and other random trinkets.

“We’re pretty resigned to the fact that there’s not going to be much left,” said family member Jen Romaniw.

Clovena and her late husband first moved to the house in 1957 and raised 10 kids who all, at one point, lived there, according to Karen Klenk.

Guss described Q Construction Group as, the “contractor on record.”

Attempts to contact Q Construction for comment went unanswered because the phone line was disconnected. Guss said that the department is looking into another contractor for potentially being involved with the project. Currently, the site is being monitored by police 24/7 as L&I’s investigation goes on.

As the family scours through the remains of what was their house, they admit that recovering all of their belongings is a longshot.

“Lots of photographs and sentimental things we’re finding,” said Karen Klenk, “but we’ll never know if we get everything.”

On Tuesday, Feb. 19, the First Presbyterian Church in Kensington is hosting a rally for the Klenk family. It’ll start at 7 p.m. and take place right outside where the Klenk’s home once stood at 635 E. Thompson St.