NASHVILLE, Tenn. — From all outward appearances, David Burkhalter’s Brentwood home appears to be on solid ground. But deep in his crawlspace is a 2-foot sinkhole only recently discovered by a plumber
And geologists now confirm Burkhalter’s home stands on a 2-acre sinkhole, something not disclosed to him when he purchased the house.
“I would never, in a million years, thought we would have a sinkhole problem,” Burkhalter said. “But here we are, in Brentwood, Tenn., I have a sinkhole under my house that is basically making it worthless.”
A Channel 4 I-Team investigation found homeowners and lawsuits claiming their builders either intentionally never disclosed or failed to find out that a sinkhole existed underneath the property.
Foundation companies also tell the I-Team they are seeing record number of cases of sinkholes in middle Tennessee, with homeowners panicking about how to afford the substantial costs.
Burkhalter said he has no choice but to sue his insurance company, which he said will not pay for the costs associated with the sinkholes. He said he’d like to sue the owner of his 30-year-old home, but the county clerk’s records don’t date back that far to determine who built the house.
“I’ve never sued anyone in my life. I’m not out to make money on this; I’m out to save my house,” Burkhalter said.
The damage is already apparent under Burkhalter’s home. Concrete piers have begun to sink into the ground near the sinkhole.
“Sleepless nights, constantly wondering about it, constantly looking at walls, waiting for cracks to appear,” Burkhalter said.
And Burkhalter isn’t alone. Kenny Williams, who operates the foundation repair company USS, used to handle three sinkhole cases a year. Last year, he said he worked on 12 different homes with sinkholes that suddenly appeared.
Williams provided photographs to the I-Team that show Tennessee homes teetering on the edge of sinkholes. Williams said the homeowners had no idea the sinkholes existed under their property when they purchased the homes.
In Robertson County, a lawsuit claims the developers of a home intentionally concealed the existence of a sinkhole.
The lawsuit states the developers “intentionally concealed existing sinkholes prior to construction.” The lawsuit also states the home sits on a documented network of caves.
The homeowner only found out when he walked out of his new property one morning to find a hole on the side of his property.
“The house was actually sinking into the cave,” said attorney Carlton Drumwright, who is suing the developers. “The parties who developed the properties and responsible for building the house knew the houses were there.”
The I-Team went to the developer’s business, but a woman who answered the door said their attorney advised them not to talk because of the pending lawsuit.
The developer had denied any wrongdoing in court filings.
State law also does not require developers or builders to determine if a sinkhole exists under a property before they build it.
Many cities and counties require builders to determine if a sinkhole exists on a property, if the builders intend to build a subdivision. If they are going to build a single house, it’s not required.
The home in Robertson County mentioned in the lawsuit was not in a subdivision, therefore the builder was not required to investigate if a cave existed beneath it.
The I-Team found it was relatively easy to determine if a sinkhole exists. It only took the I-Team one hour to find, on topographic maps, the sinkhole under Burkhalter’s house and the sinkhole under the house in Robertson County where the homeowner is suing his developer.
Geologists believe seasons of drought and then a wet winter and spring may have made the ground in middle Tennessee more unstable.
Burkhalter doesn’t know what made the hole under his house finally reveal itself, but he said he knows a home should have never been built upon it.
“I want people to be aware, this is a potential (problem) that could absolutely ruin your life,” Burkhalter said.
Read more about this Sinkhole Damage.