British Columbia

12 homeowners in sinkhole-ridden B.C. neighbourhood sue over 'worthless' dream homes

Frustrated homeowners from a sinkhole-ridden neighbourhood in Sechelt, B.C., are suing the district and the province, saying officials knew the ground beneath their houses was hazardous when they approved the development years ago.

'It's been the worst experience my wife and I have ever endured,' says one homeowner, 64

Rod and Donna Goy stand in their nearly empty Seawatch home with their dog Zoey. The Goys say they haven't been allowed back into their Sechelt, B.C., home in six months over the risk of landslides. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Rod Goy says he and his wife, Donna, wanted their new home to be a gathering place as they settled into retirement and watched their family grow.

The couple has five children and three grandchildren, with a fourth grandchild on the way. Rod and Donna envisioned their expanding family meeting two or three times a year at the oceanfront house they bought with their life savings in Sechelt, B.C.

It would have been a chaotic squeeze, but the best kind.

Instead, the Goys found themselves dealing with a different kind of chaos. 

"It's been the worst experience my wife and I have ever endured," Rod Goy said Thursday.

The couple's dream home and the entire Seawatch neighbourhood, sitting on the hill above the west side of Sechelt Inlet on the Sunshine Coast, have been plagued by sinkholes. Entire front lawns have dropped below sidewalk level and stairs have buckled because of shifting foundations.

Residents were ordered to evacuate on Feb. 15 due to the risk of landslide. They have not been allowed back home. 

Fourteen homes are affected by the evacuation order in the Seawatch neighbourhood in Sechelt, pictured on Feb. 15. Homeowners say they haven't been allowed back into their homes since. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The Goys are among a dozen homeowners now suing the district and the province, saying officials knew the ground beneath the development was hazardous when they approved the development. They're claiming damages for essentially worthless homes and compensation for mental anguish.

"My wife and I are having difficulty sleeping," said Rod, 64, speaking by phone from a rental house.

"It's tiring, it's stressful, it's created a lot of anxiety and depression — not just among us, but the entire group of people," he added, speaking about his neighbours. "There is no end in sight. None whatsoever."

The front steps on a home in the Seawatch neighbourhood break apart, due to sinkhole activity, on Feb. 15. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

In eight lawsuits filed last week, the Goys and other homeowners allege the geotechnical hazards underneath the subdivision were no mystery to the district when the development was approved in 2006. Court documents claim the district was negligent in approving their homes, and continually negligent by ignoring problems as they cropped up during construction.

Four lawsuits from other homeowners with similar claims have been filed in past months. No statements of defence have been filed.

Houses 'rendered useless and worthless'

Six months in, warning signs still stand around the deserted neighbourhood. Concrete medians block roads in and out of the area and two-metre-high construction fences circle empty houses. Goy said there's been reports of vandalism.

For the first five weeks after leaving home, the Goys house-sat, lucky to have friends who were on vacation. The couple has been renting in Sechelt since, and are still making payments — and paying taxes — on the house they can't live in.

"[The houses] have been rendered useless and worthless by a series of mistakes made with many different levels of governments over the years," Rod said.

An evacuation of the Seawatch neighbourhood in Sechelt has been ordered by the district. Sinkholes have appeared, leading to an engineering report warning of risk to public safety. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

All of the homeowners' lawsuits also name the province of B.C. and developer as defendants, alongside the district. Residents say the province has extended the state of emergency keeping them from their homes on a weekly basis since February and claim the order extensions are an "abuse of power."

Various real estate agents are also named in several of the lawsuits.

The neighbours have leaned on each other for comfort and communication, texting each other for updates. Rod said residents are not personally notified every time the order is extended — they have to drive to the neighbourhood to check if a new notice has been physically posted on-site, or search online once a week.

They all know it could take years for their legal cases to wind through court, but Goy said the residents didn't know how else to move forward.

"I don't think anybody was looking to be adversarial in our neighborhood ... We were just looking for help."

With files from Rafferty Baker

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