|Landfill site troubling Pasco homeowners|
Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times
By Shannon Behnken
Published May 28, 2012
LAND O' LAKES -- A home buyer was turned down for homeowner's insurance in Suncoast Meadows because the house is near a former landfill.
Now, other home buyers there are worried about what will happen when they try to sell their homes or renew insurance policies.
"To the best of my knowledge, I don't have any carriers that would write that," said Marge Engleman, senior manager for AAA Insurance in the Tampa area.
Insurance is just the latest concern in Suncoast Meadows, a Pasco County neighborhood where residents are learning that their developer dug up and moved a landfill to make room for houses.
Miami-based Lennar Homes built about 50 of the neighborhood's 480 houses on top of that land. Before building, Lennar dug up the junk and buried it under a neighborhood soccer field.
Now, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection says monitoring wells show elevated levels of ammonia and methane are seeping out of the ground.
Homeowners association President Gil Livingstone says the insurance denial has residents more worried that they're stuck with their homes.
"This is just another indication of how ripped off we all were," Livingston said.
Lennar said the house in question is not actually atop the area of the former landfill, so the homebuyer didn't even need to make the disclosure to the insurance company.
Lennar also said in a statement: "Lennar has shared the location of the former debris field with homeowners and state authorities. If and when homeowners have insurance issues related to the debris cleanup, we will work with them and their insurance carrier to provide the facts."
Lennar says it didn't need to disclose the old landfill to buyers because the company cleared the debris and packed the site with clean dirt. Lennar says it shared its plans with state officials.
Now, homeowners know about the former landfill and, according to Florida law, they must tell a potential buyer when they go to sell.
Real estate agents say they're unsure where the landfill starts and stops. Often, they represent sellers — including banks in the foreclosure process — who don't know about the landfill.
Agents say they want to be cautious and disclose the landfill issue. That's where the insurance problem comes in.
Most companies use a questionnaire to be filled out on a house before agents shop around for insurance. That's what happened in the recent case in Suncoast Meadows.
The questionnaire asks whether the property has ever been used as a landfill.
"The property is usually not insurable, with the carriers we have," Engleman of AAA Insurance said. "You'd have to find insurance elsewhere, from a surplus line or somewhere else."
In the case of this house, state-run Citizens — Florida's insurance of last resort — denied coverage. The insurance agent says he followed up with a phone call and explained the situation, but was still told no.
Citizens spokeswoman Christine Ashburn said that is the company's policy. After learning the details of Suncoast Meadow's situation, she said the company would be willing to review what Lennar did to remediate the landfill.
"I'm not saying that will change our decision to cover homes in that neighborhood, but we'll take a look because we realize the likelihood is that we'll be the only option for a lot of people."
Attorney Eric Seidel, who is representing several Suncoast Meadows homeowners, says Citizens' initial reaction raises even more questions for residents.
"Whether they'll even be able to continue to get insurance," he said, "all of this goes to the damages that these homeowners may have, the financial damages involved in their homes."