British Columbia

B.C. homeowners must fix sinkhole damage in unlivable neighbourhood, district says

The District of Sechelt says it has put a developer and dozens of evacuated homeowners "on notice" about what it describes as a "contractual obligation" to repair and stabilize the terrain around their sinkhole-ridden, unlivable neighbourhood.

Sechelt calls on Seawatch residents to stabilize ground in response to complaints about inadequate fencing

Rod and Donna Goy in their Seawatch home with their dog, Zoey. The Goys moved into the house on April 1, 2013. They have not been able to live there since February 2019 after they were ordered to evacuate due to risk of a landslide. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The District of Sechelt says it has put a developer and dozens of evacuated homeowners "on notice" about what it describes as a "contractual obligation" to fix and stabilize the unsteady ground in their sinkhole-ridden, unlivable neighbourhood.

A statement released Thursday is the latest step in a complex legal battle over the Seawatch subdivision on the Sunshine Coast. The district said it is the homeowners' responsibility to repair the area, which has been ravaged by sinkholes for years.

"They're claiming that we somehow owe them money to repair their broken property," said Rod Goy, who owns one of the homes in the area overlooking West Porpoise Bay.

"It seems to me to be a knee-jerk low blow to people they've already victimized."

Residents have not been able to live in their homes since they were ordered to evacuate them in February 2019 due to the risk of a serious landslide. By that point, entire front lawns were dropping below sidewalk level and stairs have buckled because of shifting foundations.

A dozen homeowners sued the province, the district and the developer months later, claiming the district knew about the geotechnical hazards underneath the subdivision when the development was approved in 2006. 

The allegations have been denied.

Fencing complaints

The argument escalated Thursday, in part because residents have called for stronger fencing around the neighbourhood. They want to keep people out for safety reasons, but also stop vandals and squatters from getting into their unguarded empty homes. 

"One, two, three of the homes on the upper level have been broken into. And not just once," said Goy, who has been living in a rental home in Abbotsford, B.C., with his wife for months.

He said someone has tried to break into his home on two separate occasions.

The front steps on a home in the Seawatch neighbourhood broke apart in February 2019 due to sinkhole activity. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The district said it has already installed fencing. It added fencing wouldn't be an issue at all if the developer "and the Seawatch owners would carry out their legal responsibility to repair the subdivision and make it safe."

Further, the statement said Seawatch owners took responsibility "for the future repair of certain potential problems" when they bought their homes from the developer through a restrictive covenant registered on the legal title.

Goy also questioned the timing of the notice. He said it appears the district is asking homeowners, many of whom have moved out of town, to potentially return to Sechelt or finance repairs during the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has slowed the economy and led officials to discourage travel. 

"It is odd ... I guess in a litigation situation, all gloves are off," Goy said.

Sechelt Mayor Darnela Siegers said the district needed to take legal action to address the ongoing complaints.

"It is unfortunate that this situation is escalating at a time when we should all be focused on the current health crisis," Siegers wrote in the statement.

"However, the district must direct appropriate legal action to the parties who hold the legal responsibility to repair this subdivision: the developer and the other owners."

With files from Rafferty Baker

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