Buried trash, sinking land and no help for homeowners

ATLANTA — A Channel 2 Action News investigation found there’s little protecting Georgia homeowners who encounter a dangerous and costly hidden defect.

Channel 2’s Kerry Kavanaugh spoke to homeowners who said no one is looking out for them when a sinkhole opens up on their property due to buried trash.

“You think that when you go to move into a new house that everything is going to be perfect,” homeowner Greg Day said.

“It just happens all of a sudden,” homeowner Scott Pressman said. “Boom. You’ve got this huge hole in your yard.”

Contractor Michael Staley said sinkholes plague neighborhoods across north Georgia. The issue causes a huge headache for homeowners, and Georgia law leaves them little recourse.

Channel 2 Action News visited homeowners across metro Atlanta who are now coping with the sudden hidden defect – a pit of debris buried in their yards. They’re the result of builders and contractors cutting corners by burying debris to save money.

Staley said he has had conversations about the sinkholes thousands of times, and he expects thousands more as people continue to discover the trash piles below.

“It’s deception. Nothing more,” Staley said.’

Day has watched his yard sink for years. Cost has kept him from digging up the trash.

“I think the stuff keeps decomposing and the stuff keeps sinking,” Day said. “We’re just trying to keep it from spreading right now.”

Homeowner Michelle Ralston had to deal with her sinkhole because it opened up below her home.

“We noticed all this starting to fall, you can see holes in the dirt,” Ralston said.

The cost to fix the issue for Ralston’s home could be  tens of thousands of dollars, but no one knows until the crew gets there, begins digging and figures out exactly how deep the debris pit is.

It has been illegal in Georgia to bury trash and building debris since the 1990s, but industry experts say it still happens.

Construction attorney Kevin Veler said the law places the burden on the consumer. The homeowner has to track down the contractor and then have proof.

“You’ve got buried trash below your house and it takes you 10 years for an air pocket and water to form and you have sinkage,” Veler said. “You really have no ability to go after anybody.”

Industry experts believe the problem isn’t nearly as rampant as it was two decades ago, but it’s still happening.

“They’re going to continue to bury stuff because it saves them money and if no one is paying attention, they get away with it and they’re still getting away with it,” Staley said.

“You don’t know that something like this happened for 10, 15 years, you know. What are you supposed to do?” Pressman said.