By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Imagine buying your retirement dream home, facing the nightmare of a huge sinkhole that could swallow it whole. What if you could be sued for that sinkhole?
For Frank and Jan Neumann, that nightmare is real.
According to reports in Villages-News, on February 15, 2018, a sinkhole suddenly opened up in their front yard, dangerously close to their home in The Village of Calumet Grove.
Marion County officials deemed the home – and that of their former neighbor, Doris Morrill – uninhabitable.
The Neumanns were forced to move out of their home, and begin a long, drawn-out battle with their insurance company. The couple has retained an attorney who is helping them to obtain a favorable settlement for their insurance claim, so they can afford to repair the sinkhole and their damaged home.
But supervisors of CDD 4, a Community Development District governing the neighborhood including the Neumann’s McLawren Terrace home, are preparing to sue the Neumanns. Why?
The CDD wants to force the homeowners to repair the sinkhole on their property before they settle their dispute with their insurance company.
Fortunately for the homeowners, Marion County code enforcement agreed to give them until the end of this March to reach some sort of resolution with their insurance company.
According to reports, Morrill has since sold her home to a new owner, who also intends to rehab the property.
The role of the CDD
CDD 4 is one of many units of local government — special tax districts — originally established by developers of The Villages, with cooperation from Marion County, and subject to state law. (Florida Statute 190)
That makes CDDs public-private partnerships, or P3s, because they begin life as private, developer-controlled local governments for the first 7 to 10 years.
When a sufficient number of people buy homes and move into the planned community, the developer’s appointed supervisors may be replaced, as citizens vote in general elections for their CDD board supervisors.
One can think of The Villages CDD 4 as a special purpose city government within Marion County.
Each CDD imposes tax assessments upon homeowners, in order to fund initial construction and ongoing maintenance of neighborhood infrastructure, as well as to provide other community services.
CDD assessments are added to a homeowner’s property tax bill, entirely separate from HOA or POA fees.
Among the CDD’s primary duties: to maintain and repair the storm water system and roads in the Village — both of which sustained damage due to several sinkholes that suddenly opened up last year.
More sinkhole articles:
The Villages CDD 4 at odds with Marion County
The interesting thing about this situation is that Marion County opposes CDD 4 on the issue of a building code extension. That’s ironic when you consider that a CDD is an extra layer of local government created with the approval of County.
CDD 4 board members say that the open sinkhole poses a safety hazard on McLawren Terrace, and that the need for repair is urgent. But the CDD board fails to recognize that the Neumanns don’t have the CDD’s advantage of being able to tax homeowners to pay for immediate repairs.
According to several reports, CDD4 Supervisors voted earlier this year to raise maintenance fees by 20% to cover the cost of sinkhole repairs on community property, as well as clean up services that followed Hurricane Irma.
Homeowners don’t have the luxury of taxing their neighbors to pay for repairs on their private property. They are at the mercy of their insurance company and their limited household budget.
And, of course, the cost of repairs to their private McLawren Terrace property is measured in tens of thousands of dollars, not pennies a day.
With owners of more than 5,400 homes in CDD 4 to share the cost, a 20% increase in maintenance fees is much easier to swallow.
Specifically, according to another report in Villages-News, the annual CDD 4 assessment increase will range from $47 to $167 per home, depending on its value.
What’s the rush to repair the sinkhole on private property?
It’s a safe bet that some on the CDD board are more worried about a decrease in their property values than the safety threat of an open sinkhole on private property that is clearly marked.
Yes, it’s certainly not easy to sell your home when there’s a gaping sinkhole down the street. But most of today’s home buyers are savvy enough to research a community such as The Villages for potential challenges and pitfalls.
Trust me. Buyers will find out about sinkholes at The Villages.
And it’s hard to believe that any home seller in the vicinity could get away with not disclosing the history of sinkholes, even after they are repaired.
Let’s face it. The last thing the Neumanns need right now is an expensive legal battle with their CDD, on top of their fight with their insurance company.
And, since the sinkhole on their property was likely caused by broken storm water pipes that CDD 4 is supposed to maintain, it’s more than a little unfair to expect a pair of retired homeowners to come up with a small fortune to appease the CDD supervisors.
After all, if the storm water drain had been well-constructed and properly maintained, perhaps it wouldn’t have collapsed and caused numerous sinkholes in the first place.
Let’s hope common sense and human decency prevail, and that the Neumanns can put this nightmare behind them sooner rather than later.
CDD 4 preps for potential lawsuit against owners of sinkhole-damaged homes
By Meta Minton – December 14, 2018
Community Development District 4 supervisors have voted to lay the groundwork to potentially file a lawsuit against the owners of sinkhole-damaged homes in the Village of Calumet Grove.
This week, District officials and legal counsel were incredulous when they were not even allowed to speak before a Marion County code enforcement board which granted Frank and Jan Neumann an extension on their uninhabitable home on McLawren Terrace. The extension allows the couple and their attorney more time to do battle with their insurance company. The extension will get them until the end of March, more than a year after the first sinkholes forced them from their home.
The board voted to spend up to $7,500 in additional legal fees in the exploration of the possible lawsuit. This comes on top of a current legal tab of nearly $7,000 already rung up in this case. The lawsuit could target both the Neumanns and the owner of the home previously resided in by Doris Morrill.
The goal of the lawsuit would be to spur the homeowners into action to stabilize the properties, make a decision about what is to be done and move on.
CDD 4 has $900,000 in pipe and intersection repairs on the horizon, with $200,000 already spent on grout, Community Watch personnel and other sinkhole-related expenses. Earlier this year, CDD 4 supervisors made the painful decision to raise by 20 percent the maintenance assessment rates paid by residents.
Notes: homeowners are fighting with their insurance company to help pay for repairs, but CDD is putting pressure on them to fix the sinkholes now.