Contractor fined, has license suspended after Point Breeze house collapse in May

The code violations include deviating from an initial structural plan that had been approved by the department, utilizing unlicensed subcontractors and illegally restarting work after a failed inspection.

In the aftermath of the Watkins Street collapse in May, construction workers cleared the property. Damage to the neighboring house can be seen in the background. | Photo by Tom Beck.

The City of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections has suspended the license of Ambler-based Platinum Construction and Development for code violations that led to the May collapse of 2053 Watkins St. in Point Breeze. The department also fined the company $8,000. The code violations include deviating from an initial structural plan that had been approved by the department, utilizing unlicensed subcontractors and illegally restarting work after a failed inspection.

Back in May, Platinum Construction’s owner, Matt Mullen, told the Review that despite the collapse, “there were no structural issues” with the structure, and he blamed an unexpected “freak wind that came through” for the collapse. 

Documents obtained from L&I show that shortly after the collapse, engineer Alex Rong, who was hired by Platinum to assess the cause of the collapse, confirmed in a report that an “unusually strong” wind gust of 50.75 miles per hour caused the collapse of the structure, and not substandard construction. However, L&I’s Chief Code Official, Elizabeth Baldwin, noted inconsistencies in the report. She disputed Rong’s claim that a 50.75 mile-per-hour wind gust was “unusually strong” and said that the structure, if built to the approved plan, “would be able to withstand wind gusts of 92 miles-per-hour during construction,” according to a letter L&I’s director of audits and investigations, Will Fernandez, sent to Mullen. 

The letter says that Rong ultimately conceded that the structure would have withstood more intense winds had it been constructed properly.

(According to L&I spokesperson Karen Guss, Rong had previously been barred from working as an engineer in Philadelphia for six months after an October 2017 investigation and hearing that revealed he failed “to properly plan and monitor underpinning work that was supposedly being performed under [his] supervision,” she wrote.)

Additionally, despite not being a licensed contractor in Philadelphia, Demoura Construction was hired by Platinum to be the Watkins Street project’s framing subcontractor, and worked at the site from May 4 until the date of the collapse on May 8. Demoura also worked at each of Platinum’s three other active worksites earlier in the year at 2230 Wilder St., 616 Dudley St. and 618 Dudley St. As a result, Demoura was issued fines totaling $7,000 for working without a license and for deviating from or disregarding “plans and specifications approved by the Department.”

Fernandez’s letter states that Mullen admitted to hiring Demoura as a subcontractor despite knowing “for months prior” that the company wasn’t licensed in Philadelphia. 

Lastly, the company was also fined for illegally restarting work after a failed inspection. Because of a failed March 18 inspection, Platinum was not authorized to continue construction until amended plans were submitted and approved. Fernandez’s letter says that the project’s architect, Charles Kerr, emailed amended plans to L&I Construction Plan Review Specialist Varughese Koithottu on April 10. Four days later, Koithottu rejected Kerr’s attempt to submit the amended plans and requested that he follow protocol by submitting the amended plans through a new permit application – not by email.

But, “Mr. Koithottu never received a response and no amended plans were submitted,” the letter states. Despite not formally submitting the amended plans, framing work started onsite four days before the collapse. 

“This framing was not authorized because the amended plans had not been reviewed or approved, and because no inspection was requested or performed prior to the start of work,” says the L&I letter.

When the three-story structure collapsed, it spilled onto the street, damaging the property next door and at least one car parked on the street. Because the house was in the middle of being constructed, no one was living inside it at the time. There were no fatalities or injuries.

Mullen declined to comment for this article.

Clarification: A previous version of this article said that Platinum illegally violated a stop-work order issued after a failed March 18 inspection, which was confirmed by L&I. After the story was published, L&I spokesperson Karen Guss reached out to the Review to inform us that the confirmation was a mistake. In reality, no stop-work order was issued. Rather, the developers were “not authorized to proceed with the construction until remedying the failure and passing a re-inspection,” Guss said. “This is functionally the equivalent of a Stop Work Order in this case, but it is not technically a Stop Work Order.”