LAND O' LAKES, Fla. - It's one of homeowners' biggest fears in central Florida... a catastrophic sinkhole that can take your life or nearly everything you own in a matter of seconds.
After a sinkhole that the county said was stabilized collapsed in Land O’ Lakes, our I-Team started digging, and we found safeguards intended to protect the public are falling through the cracks.
“It's literally eating the house. Completely,” said the 9-1-1 caller in July.
By that time, it was too late to save two homes in the Lake Padgett neighborhood.
But professional engineer Darrell Hanecki says it didn't have to happen that way.
“We've been covering up the problem and just ignoring it and ignoring it's not making it better. It's making it worse,” said Hanecki.
The problem is how sinkhole-damaged homes are repaired and the misleading information you may be getting when you buy.
Five years before the homes collapsed in Land O’ Lakes, an engineer recommended the house where it started to be grouted, a process that fills underground holes with cement.
But the homeowner underpinned it instead, which is a much cheaper method.
He then sold it as a "repaired sinkhole home" and the Pasco County Property Appraiser listed it as "stabilized" on their website.
“You're basically creating a false impression of a repaired home, when the underpinning is not really doing anything as far as the sinkhole is concerned,” Hanecki said.
He says thousands of underpinned homes in Tampa Bay could be at risk.
“As that soil continues to move into the sinkhole, so goes your floor slab, so go your interior walls of your house and everything inside of that house,” he said.
The Lake Padgett sinkhole led to seven homes being condemned.
“For two or three weeks, I got many, many phone calls and many, many emails,” said Pasco County Property Appraiser Gary Joiner, who lives in an underpinned home himself.
Joiner says how sinkhole homes are repaired doesn't affect how he classifies them.
“If an engineer wants to sign off on it and say it's been repaired and filed those papers in the clerk's office as a legal document, we're gonna follow that legal document,” Joiner said.
But legal documents from engineers filed with the county often say the underpinning they recommend doesn't repair sinkholes themselves
“The county actually holds in their possession a report from a licensed engineer that says this is not a sinkhole repair and yet, that's still how it's being transacted,” said Hanecki.
Some local neighborhoods are filled with underpinned homes.
Records show nearly 30 percent of Land O' Lakes homes listed as "stabilized" were underpinned when the original engineer recommended grouting.
“People rely on what the county records at least imply,” said Hanecki.
Helicon Foundation installed the pins at the Lake Padgett home.
After the collapse, the company's owner Jay Silver issued a statement saying underpinning "is not a sinkhole repair" and the property appraiser website listing it as stabilized is very misleading as well.
But when silver sold an investment home he bought and his company underpinned in Hudson it was also listed as “stabilized”.
Hanecki conducted the original investigation on that Hudson home.
“Underpinning wouldn't begin to do justice to what would begin to be required to repair that home,” said Hanecki, who said he wouldn’t put his own family in that home.
Silver declined an interview, but said he did nothing wrong, since he followed a second engineer's plans.
That engineer was oliver turzak, who later lost his engineering license for violating professional standards on another sinkhole repair job.
Property Appraiser Gary Joiner admits classifying repairs can be a little confusing.
“That's why we'd like to clear our's up a little bit,” he said.
Joiner says he'd like the state to step in and adopt uniform standards for classifying sinkhole repairs and making information available to the public.
We spoke to several legislators, who agree there's a problem, but won't yet commit to a legislative solution.
“The solution is not a good one. But these homes need to be listed, for the purposes of safety at least, as unrepaired sinkholes,” said Hanecki.