Celebrating a football victory against Penn State last season, LSA senior Vanessa Furtado and eight of her friends assembled on her porch to take a picture. But before the picture was taken, the porch collapsed, causing Furtado and her companions to fall six feet into a pit of black dust.
“We were all stunned,” Furtado said. “It just sank out from underneath us. It looked like a bomb hit.”
An old black sofa on the porch also fell into the pit, landing on Furtado’s leg and breaking her knee. The injury prevented her from walking or running for three months.
Furtado, who wore an immobilizing hip-to-ankle cast and underwent eight weeks of intensive physical therapy to repair her knee, said she was disappointed by her landlord’s response to the situation. Oppenheimer Properties, the contract manager for the house, addressed the incident by calling to express their sympathies and sending a card and gift certificate to Cottage Inn to the housemates, but denied responsibility for the accident, Furtado said.
“They said it was a freak accident and they felt really bad about it, but there was nothing they could do about it. They said it was the city of Ann Arbor’s fault because the city said the house was up to code,” Furtado said.
When Furtado and her roommates inspected the house last year, they noticed problems with the structure of the concrete porch, which was uneven because of a crack running the length of the porch, Furtado said.
Her roommate, LSA senior Andrea Grady, remembered discussing the condition of the porch with her prospective tenant managers.
When the housemates initially viewed the condition of the porch, they inquired about the safety of the porch. However, their concerns were quickly dismissed by the landlords, who told the housemates the porch was completely safe, Grady said.
Judy Paron, property manager for Oppenheimer, said responsibility for the accident lies solely with the city.
“The city gave us a clean bill of health, so this was something we were totally unaware of,” Paron said, referring to the unsafe porch. “It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but there are no violations,” Paron added.
Liz Sturgis of Arbor Maintenance, the repair subcontractor for Oppenhiemer, said all the city inspector orders of repair were made before the housemates moved in. However, many of the maintenance problems the housemates reported when they moved in were on the original inspector’s report, including non-functional door locks and reinstallation of a fire escape.
“After the porch collapsed they said we were top priority. It’s sad that it takes a medical condition and a huge incident like that to become top priority,” Furtado said.
Still, the housemates lived with a caved-in porch for more than five weeks before any repairs were made to it, Furtado said. During this time, Furtado was immobilized by her cast and unable to leave the house through the side door on her own.
Paron said the extensive lack of repair on the porch is the fault of the insurance company.
Furtado’s parents, Robert and Tess Furtado, were angered by the treatment both they and their daughter received from Oppenheimer following the accident, and said they plan to file a lawsuit for damages.
“It seems like a clear case of negligence,” said Tess Furtado, adding she has spent up to $6,000 on medical costs, airplane fares and other necessities since her daughter’s accident. She said Oppenheimer was very rude and uncooperative with her and her husband when they attempted to reconcile the affair with the landlords.
“My husband was very put off by the landlord’s attitude with him over the phone. He calmly tried to ask them to reduce the rent, as the lease stated was permissible under special circumstances, but they adamantly refused to give the kids any compensation,” Tess Furtado said.
Vanessa Furtado said that the experience shows that student’s voices often go unheard by the University, landlords and the city.
“All we wanted to do was communicate with them and they kept putting us off. They didn’t want to talk to (me and my housemates) at all, which really made us feel not in control of our situation,” she said. “They make you feel like you’re asking for these outrageous things, like you’re spoiled children making ridiculous demands, when they are just little things that you hope will ensure your safety and comfort.”
Furtado and her parents said they were disappointed by the lack of support they received from the University.
“The University of Michigan is a wonderful institution with a wonderful reputation,” Tess Furtado but these kids have unsafe living conditions. You pay for the reputation. You pay for the good education, so you assume that they are going to be taken care of by the University and by the city of Ann Arbor in safe housing conditions.”