SUNRISE (CBS4) – Jozefa Sontag must cross a police crime scene tape to gain access to her Sunrise townhouse.
Tuesday, she and her husband visited their home for 16 years in Spring Tree Cove West to retrieve a few items. She broke into tears thinking that a canal collapse has put in jeopardy her ability to ever come home again.
“My heart is broken,” she told CBS 4’S Carey Codd. “I work 30 years in the United States so I can have home. I pay the mortgage and everything.”
She said she and her family recently redid the floors and bathrooms to make the home even more comfortable. But since December 16th, she and 6 other families have been unable to live in their homes. The canal behind their row of townhouses swallowed up large chunks of their backyards and the homes have been declared unsafe.
Tuesday night residents learned that the city of Sunrise developed a plan to rebuild their backyards and rebuild the canal wall behind their homes. City manager Bruce Moeller told residents he expects to put the finishing touches on the plan and bid the project over the next few weeks. They estimate the repairs will take another three weeks. If all goes to plan and the buildings have no significant structural damage, residents could return by mid-February.
Residents are cautiously optimistic.
“I think it’s real good,” said longtime resident Louis Sasso. “I think it’s gonna get us in there as soon as possible.”
“I’m hopeful that if his words come true next week than I’ll be hopeful I’ll be in my house in February,” said Lester Diaz, who recently bought his home with his wife and two children. “I’ll be happy that we can keep the house we fought so hard to get.”
Moeller said the city believes either Broward County or the homeowner’s association are responsible for the land. However, he said the city will pay the several hundred thousand dollars for repairs because it’s the right thing to do.
“In these situations it’s classes,” Moeller said. “Everybody looks at everybody else trying to figure out the blame or the cost to somebody else. That’s not going to help our residents. The finger pointing, the figuring out who has to pay the cost that we can work on once we get the work proceeding.”
Moeller said the city has discovered information that the homeowner’s association was warned of problems with the canal in 1993. He also said the county took over the property that fell into the canal several years ago after the HOA failed to pay its’ taxes.
However, the HOA was supposed to make repairs, Moeller said.
“The homeowners association actually submitted the application in 2003 to do the work but the work was never actually performed,” Moeller explained. “What we’re gonna try to understand is why that work wasn’t done and whether that failure to build the canal banks properly contributed to this event.”
Diaz returned to his home on Tuesday to pick up tools and some leftover Christmas presents for his two daughters.
He is angry that no one — the city, Broward County, or the homeowners’ insurance companies — have stepped up to take responsibility.
“It’s a little bit like mental torture because nobody’s given us any information about who’s at fault and what they’re gonna do to fix it,” he said.
Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan told CBS 4 News’ Carey Codd that engineers have come up with a plan to stabilize the ground near the canal and rebuild the canal wall. He said determining who is responsible will come later.
“It’s a complicated process and not an easy fix,” Ryan said.
Diaz said he and his family are staying in a relative’s rental home but just for a few days. After that, he’s not sure where they will go. He and other residents said they are not in a financial position to pay the mortgage on their homes while also paying rent for another home.
Diaz works the phones from morning until night trying to get answers. He said a group of engineers gave him some bad news.
“From the 3 engineers we spoke to yesterday they said if you don’t act now you’re going to be looking at worse damage,” he said.
Residents, including Diaz’s wife, Angela Boisvert, attended a meeting Tuesday night, December 21, with city leaders to try and get answers.
“I just want to make sure someone is looking at my house and it’s not gonna fall into the canal,” Boisvert told Mayor Mike Ryan.
She also said the ordeal left her oldest daughter frightened.
“My daughter doesn’t want to live there anymore,” she said. “My 7-year-old has said she doesn’t ever want to move back in. It was her room right above the water.”
Ryan called this “a community problem” and said the city is doing what it can to help.
“We don’t think it’s city land but that doesn’t change our view of what we need to do,” Ryan told CBS 4 News, at the December 21 meeting. “It’s not good for our city for these buildings to be lost. It’s not good for these families and it’s just the right thing to do. So we’re gonna try to figure out what it takes to stabilize them. If no one else is gonna step then we’re gonna have to move forward and try to fill that gap.”
For now, the problem affects 7 town homes that are blocked off with a Sunrise Police Officer sitting guard outside.
Residents said they are only allowed in for a maximum of 30 minutes at a time to retrieve items.
Louis Sasso has had to go back to his home to gather medications for his heart condition and diabetes. He said there was a problem about a year and a half ago with erosion but nothing like this. He said he and others cannot afford to pay a mortgage on a house they can’t live in and rent on an apartment they don’t need.
“I really can’t take much more of this,” Sasso said. “I want my house fixed in the back and I want to get back on with my life.”
All the affected residents said they have contacted their insurance companies and have been told this issue is not covered by their policy. The question at hand is who is responsible for the land — the city, the county, the homeowner or the homeowner’s association. An association employee told the Sunrise City Manager they do not believe the land is their responsibility.
Louis Gomez has lived in his town home for 6 years. He cares for two daughters and a grandchild. He said they do not have permanent housing and want answers.
“(City officials) they don’t even know. So imagine me knowing who’s responsible? Nobody wants to say who’s responsible. So the only ones that suffer are the homeowners,” he said.