In 2013, Drew and Nicole Morris bought their dream home: a $1.7 million newly constructed house at 18th and Lombard Streets. They were especially happy because the developer, Noah Ostroff, was to be living down the street as a neighbor.
Now, they're suing Ostroff; his father, Harvey Ostroff; Coldwell Banker real estate agency; construction partner Michael Murray's Murray Development; and others. Raw sewage, they say, was leaking into their basement, and the builders and developers refused to fix it.
The Morrises, both lawyers, bought 1821 Lombard in the Lombard Estates, in part because it was near work. They also wanted to send their children to local schools. Noah Ostroff and his father work as real estate brokers in Philadelphia. Lombard Estates is one of their many newly built developments in Center City. Noah Ostroff himself lives at 1901 Lombard, and Murray lives at 1915 Lombard, near the Morris family.
But after moving into their new home, the Morris family alleges in their lawsuit, the plumbing system — specifically, the pipes removing waste from the property — was "replete with defects that caused sewage and waste to back up into the home and overflow." In the spring of 2014, the sewage pump leaked on the basement floor, and the basement shower drain and toilet backed up with sewage. In 2016 and 2017, the pipes experienced "multiple" sewage backups, including up the kitchen sink, according to the suit.
In a response filed in January, Ostroff and his lawyer, David Garcia Villareal, denied that the couple's lawsuit contained any legitimate claims. "If plaintiffs are entitled to any damages, which is specifically denied," the court filing said, those are the responsibility of other third parties over which it said Ostroff had no control. Ostroff's court filing also said Murray Development, Landmark Architectural Design, Heisco Mechanical Contractors, and Coldwell Banker may be liable, as well. They have also denied the couple's claims.
The Morris home still reeks, the couple say. Drew and Nicole Morris hired a plumber, Mark McCormick, to inspect the home's pipe system. McCormick found that the main sanitary pipe was pitched backward, toward the house, instead of toward the street sewer, according to the lawsuit.
Drew Morris said suing "was our last resort after four years of trying to get our builder to resolve our issues. We are both attorneys. We are painfully aware of the financial and emotional costs of litigation, and we tried everything we could to avoid it, but in the end, we had no other choice. Who wants to live with sewage flowing into their basement? We just want our house fixed."
According to the suit, Noah Ostroff said the plumbing system failed as a result of a sink disposal system that was too small, but after replacing it, the couple said that did nothing to alleviate the waste backup.
After the initial problems, the roof also leaked and the house experienced other water infiltration issues, according to the lawsuit, filed in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas last year. The Morrises are suing for damages and the cost of repairs. They are represented by Horn Williamson.
In a twist that's become more common in Philadelphia, the case highlights what can happen when real estate agents market and sell homes in their own newly constructed developments. The suit cites a "conflict of interest" on the part of Ostroff, who at the time was affiliated with the Coldwell Banker real estate agency, which "should have known of the conflict of interest to Noah Ostroff's dual role as developer of the home and professional real estate agent."
Ostroff and his father long worked as real estate agents but in the latest boom began also building and selling high-end townhouses for suburban-type buyers who wanted wider homes than the typical Philly rowhouse — and who wanted to live squarely in Center City.
In 2014, Noah Ostroff left Coldwell Banker and moved to another real estate agency, Keller Williams. (Noah Ostroff is pictured below in one of his Twitter posts, on the right.)
With partners such as Murray, the Ostroffs in recent years completed Lombard Estates and Rittenhouse Estates, townhouses bigger and wider than typical for Philadelphia at 18th and 19th Streets along Lombard. Through their company, Center City Development, they repeated the model with the development of Walnut Estates at Walnut and 22nd Streets. Most of the units fetched $1 million or more in a hot market.