Another Seffner Sinkhole? Property owner saddled with burden - and expense - of proof

5:58 PM, Mar 27, 2013   |    comments
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Two Seffner families were forced out of their homes after a possible sinkhole caused cracks in the exterior walls and a buckled interior floor.
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Seffner, FL -- Could it be the fourth Seffner sinkhole in as many weeks?

County officials aren't taking any chances, because this time the soft spot in the ground was right under what had been an occupied duplex on Peach Avenue.

The two families that were occupying the duplex were told that it's unsafe for them and were moved out Tuesday night.

Bright orange stickers -- now familiar in Seffner -- were then slapped on the doors and windows by Hillsborough County officials, indicating the property has been vacated.

On Wednesday, code enforcement officers were trying to explain to the property's owner, Thomas Joseph, that it's now his responsibility to get an engineering firm out here and prove to them that the property is safe enough for tenants to move back in.

"They don't know. Right now they say they don't know," said Joseph, frustrated by the decision.

Joseph says he's had the property on Peach Avenue for about eight years now and has no insurance. He had already reached out to one engineering firm.

"They told me [it would cost] somewhere between $7,000 and $15,000," said Joseph. 

And that's just for the testing, not for any repairs which may be needed.

The code enforcement officer, Fire Rescue officials and the county's Chief Home Inspector all agreed to err on the side of caution. They saw cracks on the outside and buckled tiles inside. Tenants told them about creaking walls and floors that felt soft under their feet.

"And that was enough cause of concern," said Hillsborough County Spokesman Willie Puz, "for what actions they needed to take."

The property is located just two blocks from another duplex on Lemon Avenue that cracked and fell into a 30 foot sinkhole back in the year 2000.

But Joseph isn't so sure that's the problem here. His neighbors remember a big water leak on his property several years ago. Bricks on the structure are still discolored where the repairs were made. Workers, they say, had to dig an estimated 15-foot tunnel under the home.

"And when they were putting the dirt back into the hole," recalls neighbor Bill Bettison, "they weren't compacting that dirt."

Until they figure it out, tenant Keith Simpson, who says he never had the sinking feeling his neighbors reported, will have to stay out. All of his belongings, however, remain locked inside for who knows how long.

"I need my clothes, because I have to go to work," said Simpson, "And I have all of my documents, all my family pictures in there."

It's still unclear how long it may take to get the engineering report done. But it must be completed before the families that were living in the duplex can move back in.

In the meantime, the Red Cross is assisting, but that's only for the next three days.

More sinkhole stories:

Seffner Sinkhole: Man tells tale of rushing to save brother from sinkhole

SINKHOLE DATABASE: Look up your county

Karst Map: What it looks like underground in Florida

Sinkhole Map: Florida Sinkhole map provided by the Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Geological Survey (PDF)

More Pictures: Demolition begins of sinkhole-home

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