County cites rule for not allowing couple to fix sinking home

Reported on ABC Action News – Click here to view the segment.

TAMPA, FL – After waiting for nearly two years, a Tampa couple finally got their insurance provider to cover damages from a sinkhole, but now the county won’t give them the permits they need to make the repairs.

Simon Humphrey and his wife purchased the Town N’ Country home more than a decade ago.

“We intended for this to be the rest of our life house,” he said.

However, in 2012 he noticed a sinkhole open up beneath his pool and into the back of his home. They were able to get the pool removed and the surface covered, however the problems remain.

“You can actually see under the house, I’m going to guess probably about three feet there was no sand,” he said.

After two years of negotiating, their insurance provider finally agreed to pay for the more than $90,000 needed for repairs, however now Hillsborough Co. officials won’t give the permit to construct.

The neighborhood where the home was built is now considered a flood zone. Officials cite a new FEMA rule for homes in flood zones, stating that since the repairs cost more than 50 percent of the homes’ market value, they can’t reconstruct, but must tear down the home and rebuild according to the new guidelines.

“I don’t think it falls under this FEMA regulation,” said Aaron Kling, an attorney for the couple.

He says the fix doesn’t require structural repairs, but ground repairs, to fix the sink hole, not the home. He also adds that if the home did fall under the rule, there is an exception.

An engineer for the couple’s insurance provider even included the exception in a letter to the county- adding that the homes falls under the exception of fixing a home because of damages that pose a health or safety threat.

The county however, isn’t budging. In a statement to ABC Action News, – spokesperson for the Public Works adept. reiterated the following rule, not adding anything else to explain their decision.

“The Hillsborough County Property Appraiser market value for the property, including land, is $84,480. Therefore, the project value exceeds the threshold considered a substantial improvement and automatically triggers requirements for all work to meet current building code. The contractor has not been provided a permit to perform the work because the permit request does not meet current building code.”

Humphrey and his wife are extremely frustrated. An engineer tells them their home could cave at any moment and they don’t have the money to rebuild. Their insurance will only cover the repairs to the sinkhole, not to rebuild the home.

“I mean,  that’s it,” said Humphrey, “we have no other place to go.”

Aaron Kling
Aaron Kling
Mr. Kling graduated with Honors from the Stetson University College of Law in 2009, where he was an assistant editor of the Stetson Law Review and a member of the honors symposium. Mr. Kling has been practicing in the area of insurance litigation since 2010. He has litigated hundreds of First Party insurance cases, and has tried numerous insurance cases to verdict. Educational Background Stetson University College of Law (J.D. 2009) cum laude Lehigh University (B.A. 2003, B.S. 2004) Member of Lehigh University Varsity Wrestling Team. Student Bar Association Parliamentarian, Student Issues and Academic Affairs Committee Member. International study International Conflict Resolution, Granada, Spain. International Institute on Comparative Law, Germany and The Netherlands.