Homeowner stuck with $100K bill if HOA refuses to fix sinkholes

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities



“The original photo accompanying this story pictured pipes that are unrelated to incident at issue. Advanced Drainage Systems’ pipes were not used by Greenmont HOA.” IAC regrets the inadvertent error.




Every week I read several reports about poorly designed, constructed, or managed storm water systems in association-governed common interest communities. Today’s featured report from Maryland is particularly compelling.

Kudos to Debra Alfarone of WUSA9, and her camera crew, on this report.


Couple may have to pay for sinkholes

A Charles County couple woke up to find not one, but two sinkholes in their backyard.


Author: Debra Alfarone
Published: Augus 16, 2017

A Charles County couple woke up to find not one, but two sinkholes in their backyard.

Now they might be getting stuck with a $100,000 bill to fix the sinkholes, even though they formed after a drainpipe that serves their neighborhood busted.

Coral and Gary Showalter have lived in their house in Waldorf since 1998. They have a beautiful backyard, complete with in-ground swimming pool. But just feet away, two sinkholes formed within the last month. It’s all because a pipe that goes underneath their backyard busted. Coral says the drainage pipe serves their neighborhood and even nearby Route 228.

“We first saw the sinkhole on the morning of Saturday, July 29th. On the 11th, we had more rain that Friday night, it really came through here like a gully washer,” Carol said. “It is now eroding underneath the support for our pool. So, we’re at risk of losing the pool. The Showalters need to act quickly. Rain is predicted later this week. The problem is, it’s not a cheap or easy fix, says Coral, “Well, the lowest estimate we’ve received was $86,000, the highest estimate was $120,000. A little more money than we have in the bank.”

Read more (Video):



Sinkholes a result of storm drain malfunction

In Greenmont HOA, sinkholes in Showalters’ back yard is not caused by a geological event, but my manmade causes, specifically, broken storm drainpipe buried beneath the ground just a few feet away from the homeowners’ in-ground swimming pool.

It comes as no surprise to me that Charles County refuses to assist the homeowners in any way. You see, with very few exceptions, developers of every homeowners, condominium, or cooperative association constructed in the past 30-40 years have been required to construct a storm water management system to prevent flooding and erosion of properties within its own community, as well as adjacent neighborhoods. Additionally, Counties and municipalities also required the establishment of some sort of HOA to collect assessments necessary to pay for ongoing maintenance and repair of that infrastructure.

In other words, local governments have been passing the buck and delegating stormwater management to private developers and volunteer homeowners for the past several decades.

But what if a developer cuts corners on construction standards to keep costs low and to maximize profits from home sales? What if local government inspectors fail to identify problems with construction and simply neglect to  conduct regular maintenance inspections? What if homeowners fail to maintain the system, primarily because they have absolutely no professional administrative guidance to create or implement a long-term maintenance program?

What could possibly go wrong?

Ask Coral and Gary Showalter.

In Greenmont HOA, the board refuses to take responsibility for repairing damages, insisting that one adversely affected household must absorb the entire cost, estimated to be approximately $100,000.

WUSA9 asked the board Treasurer for a statement. Dave McDonell says that the county Storm Water Ordinance says nothing specifically about the association’s responsibility for pipes under the street and in backyards.

But McDonell is mistaken if he believes that the County Storm Water Ordinance spells out HOA obligations. McDonell needs to look to Greenmont Association’s governing documents – especially the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs) and plat maps – to determine the location of storm water infrastructure components owned by the HOA, as well as its contractual obligations to its members. Perhaps a consultation with a competent attorney is in order. Most likely, the leaky storm pipes are located in easement zones, and are the responsiblity of the Association, not individual property owners.

Homeowner members such as the Showalters should not be expected to bear the cost of hiring their own attorney simply to get their HOA to do what it is supposed to do. Unfortunately, way too many homeowners are faced with very similar HOA horror stories.

No disclosure of homeowner liabilities involving storm water management

Very few home buyers and homeowners are made aware of the fact that, if they live in any kind of common interest development, they are financially responsible for maintaining their community’s own storm water management. Homeowners are also on the hook for additional costs to ensure the association against potential loss due to property damage, personal injury, or even fatalities. (Every year there are dozens of reports of people accidentally drowning in retention ponds or being swept away by rushing water in a flash flood.)

Important note: even if your community has no fancy recreational amenities, it probably has at least one storm drain, swale, pipe, catch basin, or retention pond that is the sole responsibility of the HOA.  And, as illustrated by today’s example, the cost to maintain and repair storm water components can be significant. Those costs are often out of reach for HOAs, and certainly not affordable for individual property owners.

I am willing to bet these facts were not specifically disclosed to the Showalters back in 1998. In fact, I am not aware of any state law that requires specific disclosure of a homeowner’s share of responsibility for storm water management in their own private community. Instead, those dry details are spelled out in the fine print legalese of property survey descriptions and maps, and vaguely worded provisions buried somewhere in the CC&Rs.

Home builders see no advantage to revealing all the financial risks to buyers.

After all, no home buyer would knowingly and willingly sign up for the possibility of facing a future $100,000 risk to their personal equity.

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