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Family says landlord ignored their concerns about potential sinkholes in their backyard

Engineer begins investigation after I-Team calls
Posted at 7:05 PM, Jul 06, 2018

MULBERRY, Fla. — A Polk County family says they're worried that sinkholes may be forming in their backyard, but they say their landlord didn't take their concerns seriously for weeks. 

The first hole appeared near a back corner of the home May 29.

It has since been filled with dirt and covered with sod by a landscaper.

Soon, another hole formed nearby, then three more small holes appeared on the other side of the yard in the weeks that followed.

"We sit there and watch the backyard constantly as the holes get a little deeper," said Brian Taylor, whose family rented the Mulberry home in April.

The first hole that appeared was nearly four feet deep.

"A dog would disappear down inside it before they filled it, for sure," said Taylor's stepson Austin.

He discovered three new holes while mowing.

"When I got down to it, I about fell in," he said. 

"These are large holes. They're soft. Which tells me this is not just one little thing under the ground. There's something going on in the backyard," said Taylor.

The family's landlord, Invitation Homes, rents about 4,000 homes in the Tampa Bay market.

They initially sent a geologist, but he didn't conduct a full investigation, believing it was probably a septic tank problem.

Invitation Homes then sent out a septic tank repair company, who said that wasn't the problem.

As the family made new requests, Invitation send out landscapers, rather than an engineer. Taylor said one landscaper refused to fill the holes, suspecting they might be sinkholes.

He says a second landscaper only had enough dirt to fill one of the large holes. As the holes grew, Taylor says so did fear among his family members.

"We see these horror stories about houses falling into sinkholes," Taylor said.

A rental home collapsed into a sinkhole in Land O' Lakes last July, leading to the condemnation of six homes. In 2016, a giant sinkhole formed at the Mosaic fertilizer plant just a few miles away from the Taylors' rental home. 

"It just seems like they don't care," Taylor said of his landlord.

The I-Team has exposed ongoing maintenance issues involving Invitation Homes, formerly known as Waypoint Homes, for the past three years. 

Issues renters have encountered included code violations, mold, and even insect infestations.

"My family's safety is at stake. I would like them to send somebody out here to figure out what's going on," Taylor said. 

After we contacted Invitation Homes, they took action immediately.

A geological engineer came to the site to begin a site assessment late Friday afternoon.

Invitation Homes says they believe the holes were likely caused by a plumbing issue.

The engineer told the homeowner he plans to return Tuesday to use ground-penetrating sonar to determine exactly what's going on under his backyard. 

Invitation Homes said in a statement:

"Invitation Homes is committed to providing quality homes and excellent service to our residents. We have worked aggressively to resolve the issues at this resident's home. We regret any inconvenience they have experienced and will continue to work with them until the issues are fully addressed."

The company's spokesperson says in the last week, they determined the issue needed to be reassigned to be led by the geological engineer. She said that work was approved yesterday and the resident should have been contacted this morning.

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