MELBOURNE, Fla. - It's a new home nightmare Action 9 never uncovered before.
A home was built on top of trees that were cut down to develop the property. The debris threatens serious structural damage to the home.
The city has already found the home unsafe, and its owner asked consumer investigator Todd Ulrich to dig for answers.
A 20-foot tree trunk had been buried under the home's foundation. A contractor building a pool discovered it.
“That's when I knew. Oh my God this is bad,” said homeowner Madeline Cales.
Crews found a second and even bigger tree under the slab. The ground collapsed into the hole it created.
Cales now fears the new home she bought in 2016 was built on buried trees cut down by developers.
“I was in disbelief. Just shocked. How does something like that happen? Who would do something like that?” Cales questioned.
She called the builder, Vintage Estate Homes, and the West Melbourne building department. A city inspector told her more buried trees and debris would decompose, and years later, cause serious structural damage.
“In his professional opinion, the house was unsafe to live in,” Cales said.
The city posted a sticker on the window, declaring the home unsafe.
Cales found a Google Earth image showing her cleared development with cut trees piled on her empty lot. She wonders if it was all buried.
“Debris you fear is underneath where we're sitting?” asked Ulrich.
“Yes, correct,” Cales replied.
Cales contacted Action 9 because she was concerned a home warranty claim only covers exposed structural damage, not what's hidden.
Ulrich contacted a state licensed home inspector who also has a degree in mechanical engineering.
“That tells me a foundation crack has occurred underneath there,” said Kerei Alexander.
Alexander found structural damage she blamed on debris already removed, like wall and flooring cracks.
She says it’s imperative to find out what's under the home.
“My only solution I'm seeing is for the builder to tear it down and rebuild it,” Kerei said.
“That's what it takes?” Ulrich asked.
“The only way to cure debris under the foundation,” Kerei said.
Vintage Estate Homes managers responded to Action 9. The managers blame the site developer, Parkside of Brevard, for not doing its job. That company is out of business and its owner has denied doing anything wrong.
“I hope they do the right thing,” Cales said.
Vintage Estate Homes will use ground-penetrating radar testing this week to find out if there's more buried debris as a first step and plans legal action against the developer.
West Melbourne officials called buried debris a serious code violation that's under review.
Vintage Estate Homes response:
The scenario with Ms. Cales’ home is unfortunate and unexpected. This is first and foremost an issue caused by the developer, not Vintage Estate Homes as the builder. We purchased these lots already cleared and padded by the developer. We reached out to Mike Cobb (the developer) and he has denied responsibility and has refused to help resolve the situation. Vintage Estate Homes is very concerned about the situation and is doing everything possible to help resolve the problem. We have already had two separate companies do inspections and tests at the home, and we also have a forensic engineer scheduled to do further testing tomorrow, 3/26/19. Once we get the forensic report, then we will know what repairs are needed to ensure the customer’s home is safe.
Vintage Estate Homes is doing whatever we can to help the customer resolve this situation caused by the developer. We will let our attorney and our insurance company file claims against the developer.
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