Hillsborough County Keeping Better Track of Sinkholes

In Residential Blog Posts by John Topa


In the past, I’ve written about the Florida Sinkhole Map, which allows you to get a glimpse of the parts of Florida most affected by sinkhole activity. Recently, Hillsborough County has decided to add a new dimension to the knowledge-base of sinkhole activity-related information. While the Florida Sinkhole Map is helpful, there is so much more both sinkhole specialists and the public must know about sinkholes, besides where they are most likely to form.

For over a decade Hillsborough Country has trailed behind Pasco and Hernando counties, both of whom have a comprehensive sinkhole-tracking database that provides sinkhole specialists and the public with vital information about sinkhole investigations, testing, and repairs. Hillsborough County’s sinkhole tracking database will be an inception-to-end tracking system that begins when a geologist or geotechnical engineer applies for a permit before doing a sinkhole investigation.

To learn more, I talked to Jay Silver, President of Helicon. In a recent interview on Channel 10 News, Jay Silver stated that the new sinkhole-tracking database protects consumers as well as the county.

Protection for Consumers

Suppose you are planning to buy a house in Hillsborough County. You want to know if the house has been investigated or tested sinkhole activity. If the house was tested, you want to know the results. Did testing confirm sinkhole activity? Did a sinkhole remediation company repair sinkhole damage according to the exact specifications recommended by the engineer? Until now, you would not be able to get to this critical information because the county has never tracked sinkhole investigations, tests, or their outcomes.

The new sinkhole tracking database allows sinkhole-related information to be shared between the Hillsborough County Building Department and the Hillsborough Property Appraiser’s Office. In early Spring 2014, you will be able to go to the Property Appraiser’s Website and search for the address of the house you’re interested in; you can quickly find out if the house has undergone a sinkhole investigation and determine what was the outcome of that investigation. If the house required sinkhole repair, you will be able to find out if the repairs were adequate — in other words, were the repairs completed based on the recommendations in the engineering report? There are homeowners who cut corners on sinkhole repairs to save money.

Think about the advantages you will have with that kind of knowledge. Based on your findings, you can withdraw your offer or negotiate better terms.

Protection Against Fraud for the Consumer

The lack of records associated with sinkhole investigations, testing, and repairs has encouraged fraudulent behavior by some home investors. For example, consider the following scenario… Suppose a homeowner has a confirmed sinkhole on his property. Let’s say the homeowner decides not to have the sinkhole damage repaired and sells the home as is, for cash, to a fraudulent home investor. The investor, knowing full well that the house has sinkhole damage, does not repair the damage. Instead, the investor hides the damage with inexpensive cosmetic repairs and then resells the home to an unsuspecting buyer. Without records — that buyer could be you.

Protection for the County

Without a sinkhole tracking database, Hillsborough County has not been able to accurately track how many sinkholes went unrepaired. No one wants to witness another event like the Seffner sinkhole. In the past, when a sinkhole was confirmed through investigation and testing, a homeowner who decided not to have the home repaired could ask the county property appraiser to lower the tax value of the house. Suppose the homeowner eventually changed his or her mind and had the house repaired. The sinkhole remediation contractor would have had to pull a permit at the start of the repairs and then file a permit at the end; however, it would be the homeowner’s responsibility to contact the county and have the home value readjusted up, once the repairs were completed.

The county appraiser’s office is well aware that most homeowners would not contact them to have their taxes raised as a result of the sinkhole repair. Currently, many of the homes that have been repaired have never had their value readjusted to current market value. As a result, the county has been losing revenue. With the new database, the county property appraiser will have the records that indicate when the value of a house is ready for reappraisal, saving the county millions of dollars in tax revenue.

Stay Informed! Refer to the Helicon Blog for many more interesting articles.

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