PA: to homeowner’s dismay, Township won’t help fix sinkhole, because it’s on private HOA property

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

I’d be willing to bet that at least nine out of ten homeowners are unaware that their HOA may own the storm water management infrastructure in their community.

It’s not as though developers and home builders have anything to gain by advertising the fact that future homeowners will be stuck with future maintenance costs for storm water pipes, culverts, drainage basins, and retention ponds.

That’s boring, utilitarian stuff. Ho hum. Who cares?

Home builders make a lot more money selling buyers on the “bling.” You know, stuff like solid surface kitchen counters, double vanity sinks in the master bathroom, and custom lighting packages.

But today’s feature article will be an eye opener for homeowners.

You may be financially responsible for repairing your community’s storm water management infrastructure. And you could also find yourself in a frustrating dispute with your HOA over damage to your private property.

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Township cannot fix hole in development

By Shawn Hardy
Posted Jul 12, 2018 at 10:15 AM
A hole in the ground in Shadow Creek Estates is a private property issue and Antrim Township has no authority to resolve it.

A letter with that information is being sent to the development’s homeowners association as a result of discussion by supervisors Tuesday night.

The president of the homeowners association for Shadow Creek Estates talked to supervisors about the hole at 1059 Jason Drive at their June 26 meeting. It appears to be from a broken storm water pipe in the development off Williamsport Pike.

Lou Chillemi described the hole as 2 to 3 feet wide and about 5 feet deep. He said it is being covered up by a plastic swimming pool.

“If I was a kid, I would look under it,” said Chillemi. “It’s an accident waiting to happen.”

He was looking for help in figuring who is responsible for fixing the hole. Supervisors determined the township cannot do anything after talking with Sylvia House, zoning and code enforcement officer, and solicitor John Lisko.

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So, here’s the problem: storm water pipes are expensive maintenance headaches, especially for private homeowners.

As Chillemi has learned, when a storm pipe wears out, it breaks, causing leaks that lead to sinkholes. Back in the old days (prior to the 1990s), the city or county was usually responsible for installing new drain pipe. But, sometime in the past 2 or 3 decades, most local governments have required land developers to build storm water management infrastructure for subdivisions and multifamily housing projects.

And if the original developer happened to cut corners on construction and materials used to build storm water infrastructure, homeowners should prepare to pay for the inevitable repair and rebuild when the system fails prematurely.

As Chillemi has learned, it’s common for local governments to insist that public tax dollars cannot be used to repair storm pipes on “private” property.

Doesn’t it seem quite unfair that homeowners paying both property taxes and HOA fees are expected to settle for a lower level of public service than the people who are lucky enough to not have to deal with a homeowners’ association?

After all, local governments not only required developers to build public infrastructure, they also approved (rubber stamped?) engineering designs submitted by those developers. Without local government approval based upon complicated zoning ordinances and building codes, developers and home builders cannot even break ground, let alone sell parcels and new homes. And it is also your local government that issues certificates of occupancy when construction is completed.


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As yourself: why would your municipality or county sign off on inappropriate development and construction?

In short, status quo local government policy creates a “hands-off” environment where developers call all the shots, with little to no oversight or accountability to the public, and an expectation that future homeowners will pay the price for construction and ongoing maintenance.

Since the local government assumes it has no legal obligation to fund maintenance and repairs of private infrastructure, there’s little motivation to ensure a high-quality job.

Of course, this short-sighted local government policy underestimated the political fallout. Now that many private communities are approaching 10-20-30 years old, and private roads and storm water infrastructure are failing, voters and taxpayers are complaining and demanding solutions to problems created by other stakeholders, without their knowledge.

To make matters worse, as this report on Shadow Creek Estates HOA illustrates, homeowners cannot expect their HOA to step up to the plate either — at least not without considerable delay, and perhaps an expensive and drawn out legal battle.

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