Lack of sinkhole disclosure requirements puts Florida renters in potential danger

Lawmaker will push for law to protect tenants

WEEKI WACHEE, Fla. - Renters might not know what is going on under their feet.

In Florida, landlords don't have to tell renters about sinkholes on the property, which could put your family in danger.

But the ABC Action News I-Team is taking action to try to help change that.

“It matched everything we ever wanted in our dream home,” Brandy Mickey said, describing her Hernando County rental home.

She and her boyfriend Brandon Powell didn't know there had been a sinkhole at their rental home until things started changing after Hurricane Irma in September.

“This is a separation. The slabs are shifting and separating and raising apart from each other,” Powell said.

“Things just started falling apart… literally,” said Mickey. “And now it's just a nightmare.”

They suddenly had new cracks in their driveway, along floors and on ceilings and walls.

“We started walking the home and there are staircase cracks all along the home,” Powell said.

Neighbors then told them the house was underpinned years earlier because of a sinkhole.

So they asked their landlord. 

“He was like the home has been pinned in 2010. The home is safe. You have nothing to be worried about,” Powell said.

By then, they were three months into a $2,200 a month rent-to-purchase agreement.

“It should be disclosed, absolutely, knowing that we're putting all this money in towards the purchase of the home,” Mickey said.

In Florida, you are required by law to disclose sinkholes when you sell a home, but landlords don't have to tell renters about them.

A tenant was renting an underpinned sinkhole home in Land O' Lakes when it collapsed in July.

“I was unaware until you brought this to my attention the gaps that were in the disclosure requirements,” said Florida Rep.Sean Shaw (D-Hillsborough County).

Shaw says those gaps are unacceptable. 

“Wouldn't you want your family to know? I'd ask the landlord that... wouldn't you want your family to know if they were renting a home where sinkhole activity was taking place? Yes. you can't answer with a straight face anything other than yes,” Shaw said.

But thousands of Floridians who currently live in sinkholes rental homes may not have been given that information.

We showed Joe Woolsey a sinkhole engineering report from 2007, that recommended grouting to repair his Pasco County rental home.

But records show the house was never fixed.

“That's a shock to me. Didn't know nothing about that,” said Woolsey, who was also planning to rent-to-purchase that home.

Some renters in the Manhattan Palms Condominium complex didn't know they lived over sinkholes until repairs started.

 “If they would have told me, I wouldn't have moved in,” said Jare Acevedo. “No way. Not risk my family. Not risk myself.”

Renters at Windtree Apartments in Port Richey, which county records show has three buildings with previous sinkhole activity, say they weren’t told either.  

“Mostly you find the majority of people here are disabled,” said Corine Clay, who lives in the complex. “We've only got one way in and one way out.”

The property manager didn't return our calls.

Neither did the administrator at the Golden Sunset Assisted living facility in New Port Richey where records show sinkhole activity as "stabilized".

Meanwhile Brandon and Brandy moved out at the advice of an engineer, who inspected the home

“We don't feel safe in the home,” said Powell.  

They now face eviction.

“I fully intend to file this as legislation,” said Shaw.

While landlords aren't breaking the law by withholding the information, Rep. Shaw hopes to change that by sponsoring a bill to protect future renters.

“When you're signing the lease, somewhere in the lease, if I get my wish, there's gonna be a disclosure if there was a sinkhole there,” he said.

If you’ve had issues with sinkhole disclosure or repairs or have a story you think the I-Team should investigate, contact us at adam@abcactionnews.com

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