Texas homeowner may be forced to sue HOA over backyard subsidence

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

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Here’s another example that illustrates why it is foolish to allow developers to design storm water drainage systems, and then saddle homeowner-controlled HOA boards with the responsibility for operation, maintenance, and repair.

Volunteer homeowners are ill-suited for this duty. And homeowners can rarely afford the substantial expense of resolving serious deficiencies in their storm water systems.

Safe, effective management of surface water is a matter of public interest. Design, operation, and maintenance of storm water systems requires specialized knowledge and experience in engineering, hydrology, and construction. If corners are cut in the design and construction phase – as they often are by private developers, whose work quality is not closely monitored – the results are unsatisfactory at best, and can be catastrophic.

And if you happen to be one of the unfortunate homeowners in the path of rushing water, or along the banks of a poorly constructed pond, lake, or canal, you are likely to find yourself stuck in the midst of a game of finger-pointing and blame shifting between the HOA, the developer, and local water management agencies.

Cathy Hernandez, of Riverbend Estates in Fort Worth, Texas, is one of those unfortunate homeowners.

Sinking Yard: A Fort Worth Homeowner’s Fight With The HOA

February 6, 2017 10:00 PM By Cristin Severance, CBS Dallas Fort Worth
FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – “I’m constantly believing that my house is going any minute.”

It’s a fear homeowner Cathy Hernandez worries about these days. Her yard is teetering on a seemingly unstable slope that ends in the creek behind her home in Riverbend Estates in Fort Worth.

And, she said no one, not the HOA nor the city is helping her.

Standing under an umbrella in her yard, she fears every raindrop. “My heart sinks,” she said. “Is my house gonna go?”

Hernandez moved into her neighborhood seven years ago. “This was the third home I walked into and the fell in love with it the second I walked in,” she told Consumer Justice.

When she walked into the yard, she decided to make it her home.

“You couldn’t see any other homes, it was filled with vegetation, you couldn’t see the water but you knew it was there.”

But a year ago, her dream home turned into a case of a disappearing backyard. She came back from a business trip to find the yard gone.

“I didn’t see any bushes, I mean everything was gone,” she said.

Cathy Hernandez took these photos of her backyard before and after it started to slide to a creek below. (Photo Credit: Cathy Hernandez)
Cathy Hernandez took these photos of her backyard before and again after it started to slide to a creek below. (Photo Credit: Cathy Hernandez)
Channel experts told Hernandez that the problem was the water rushing through an underground culvert that drains the runoff into the channel.
The water pushes water into the soft soil on her embankment. Every time, after heavy rains, the water comes out with force. “It shoots out of here as fast as 100 firehouses,” she told us pointing to the culvert.

This image shows the culvert across the channel from
This image shows the culvert across the channel from Hernandez’s home.
Cathy said her yard has eroded almost 20 feet. “I am constantly believing that my house is going any minute,” she said.

She told CBS 11 News that at first, everyone seemed concerned. The City of Fort Worth sent engineers to inspect her backyard in April 2016. Members of the HOA visited her property. Hernandez even offered to fix the problem herself if only the HOA would let the contractors off the hook against future lawsuits. “I sent multiple emails saying ‘look just indemnify them and I will pay for it,’ ” she said.

But the HOA refused, telling her it was the government’s responsibility.

But Consumer Justice obtained a document from the city that shows the HOA bears responsibility. The agreement was signed between the HOA and the City of Fort Worth in 1989.

Read more (VIDEO):

Sinking Yard: A Fort Worth Homeowner’s Fight With The HOA

Riverbend Estates is a gated community, developed in the 1980s. According to the report, in 1989, the HOA signed an agreement with the City to provide ongoing maintenance of the stormwater channel that is currently eroding – literally falling into the channel every time it rains.

So that means the HOA has been in charge of maintenance and insuring against loss for some 20-30 years. The developer is long gone. But anyone watching the video can see that the system was designed so that rushing water from the culvert is aimed directly at the bank of the channel – right into Hernandez’s back yard.

When Hernandez purchased the home, lush vegetation along the rear property line would have obscured the view of the culvert. And, in any event, the typical home buyer cannot be expected to notice potential problems with the shoreline of a drainage channel or a stormwater culvert.

Dallas-Fort Worth, in the vicinity of Riverbend Estates, is no stranger to flooding and water management problems. In 2015, NBCDFW reported a sewer line collapse in Fort Worth, and back up of storm waters in Riverbend Estates.

Poor surface water management is directly related to the performance of sanitary sewer pumps. If either system breaks down or fails, it often causes a back up in the other. So poor storm water system maintenance is not just a flood risk, it’s a health and safety hazard, too.

For decades, local governments have been privatizing storm water control. And now, as systems and components have aged – most of them probably not well-maintained – it is inevitable that we are seeing more and more reports of system failure. And the housing consumer and taxpayer is on the losing end of deals made with land developers many years ago.

For Cathy Hernandez, that means she may be forced to sue her HOA and possibly even the City of Fort Worth.

 


2 thoughts on “Texas homeowner may be forced to sue HOA over backyard subsidence

  1. This issue seems to be unique to at least Texas and it is unfortunate, I feel for those who have to go through that kind of stress. In Florida, the regulatory framework for stormwater design, review and to some degree maintenance is not under the authority of the HOA fortunately for all of us. There is a better way. I would encourage others to look at our state’s water management district regs, or better yet contact a WMD reviewer for an overview and consider changing the rules in your jurisdiction. Good luck.

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    1. Doug, I can assure you, I am aware of similar issues in Florida, despite the Water Management Districts. Boards of WMDs are appointed by the Governor. Check out who is on those boards and note ties to developers, land owners, and influential politicians.

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