Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sink Hole Swallows Man as he Sleeps

Did you see the TV coverage of a wrecking crew demolishing the Tampa home of a man who was killed when his bedroom was swallowed up by a sinkhole while he slept? What a way to go. One second you are asleep, the next the bedroom falls 30 feet into the ground and the sand slides down over you. The scene was so surreal that the officials decided not to even try to recover the body.

Usually you don't see sinkholes in the headlines, but the risk of sinkholes is common in Florida due to the state's porous geological bedrock. Usually a parking lot suddenly has a crater in it or the floor of a house or garage cracks--and that's it.  But in truth, many of the lakes in Florida are relic sinkholes which are classified as geologic hazards sometimes causing extensive damage to structures and roads and resulting in costly repairs. Sinkholes can also threaten water supplies by draining unfiltered water from streams, lakes and wetlands directly into the aquifer (underground water supply).

Florida's Association of Realtors offers a disclosure form for members to use (on line) that invites a seller to “disclose” any knowledge of sinkholes, including land movement or settling. And the form goes on to ask if a sinkhole did occur, was there any insurance paid to mitigate the problem—and if so, was the insurance money spent on that repair (I suspect they want to be sure the seller didn't take a trip to Hawaii with the proceeds). But if you suspect ground settling, you can ask your insurance provider, they have all the latest maps.

Sinkholes are an ongoing concern for Florida residents and lawmakers. Sen. Jack Latvala,R-Clearwater, identified sinkholes as one of the primary factors in property insurance costs in the state.
"In our area, we have a substantial problem with sinkholes," Latvala said of trying to get a grip on property insurance costs that have led to an increase in premiums.

From 2006 to 2010 the number of sinkhole claims in Florida tripled, costing insurers a total $1.4 billion over the period, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. In response to insurers’ assertions that many claims were fraudulent and burdensome to the industry, the Florida legislature passed a new law limiting sinkhole coverage in 2011. The change has made it hard for Florida homeowners to get meaningful sinkhole coverage.

Despite the reduction in coverage, sinkhole insurance premiums have increased—for example, the rate for sinkhole coverage this year rose almost 25% at Citizens Property Insurance, Florida’s largest property insurer. The number of sinkhole claims received by Citizens already had decreased by 30.4 percent in 2012.
Most sinkholes in Florida are found north and east of Tampa Bay, but sinkholes can and do pop up elsewhere in the state, including the Suncoast and Southeast Florida. Maps of sinkhole activity are easily found on the internet. These maps offer a clue as to why certain regions in the state -- like Hillsborough County -- are most susceptible to sinkholes. Most of Southern Florida is at low risk for sinkholes and those that form in the region are shallow and form gradually.

Sinkholes can range widely in size, but all are a result of the dissolving of the underlying limestone. As rainwater filters down into the ground, it dissolves the rock, causing erosion that can lead to underground caverns, which cause sinkholes when they collapse.. Too much or too little rainfall can contribute to sinkhole formation, as can human activities like pumping out water from the aquifer and building construction.

Dane Hahn is a real estate professional serving Sarasota and Charlotte counties. He can be reached at or by phone at 941-681-0312. See him on the web at

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