Couple split over sinkhole risk

The wife wants to trade sinkhole insurance for a lower premium - as does Citizens.

Published December 19, 2006

BAYONET POINT - If Tom and Lois Beaudrie still lived in Michigan, fixing the 31/2-inch depression near his orange tree would be easy.

Fill it in with dirt and move on.

But this is Pasco County, and they had to fix it with at least $60,000 in repairs because of sinkhole activity cited by engineers this year.

Fortunately for the Beaudries, their Citizens Property Insurance Corp. policy covers the costs for repairs at their Beacon Woods home.

But a proposal by Citizens would eliminate sinkhole coverage in base policies starting in March. Citizens officials were to argue for the change during a 5 p.m. hearing Monday in New Port Richey.

Customers would have to pay more for sinkhole coverage, or accept that only a catastrophic collapse of at least 5 feet within seven days would be covered.

Less serious sinkhole damage, like the kind the Beaudries have, would be covered only if homeowners paid for the additional insurance.

And that risk leaves the Beaudries divided.

Lois Beaudrie, 62, said she favors dropping coverage as long as the house is repaired right.

After all, their $2,000 annual premium could be halved next year if their home qualifies. But her husband questioned going without coverage.

"Under those guidelines, no, I would not drop it, even if it would save 50 percent," said Tom Beaudrie, 65. "I'm a gambler, but I'm not that big of a gambler."

For Pasco, the state capital of sinkhole claims, the change could save money: a 56 percent lower bill for most homeowners.

Hernando County, which also has many claims, could see a 43 percent drop. Other areas of the Tampa Bay region and the state would see smaller savings.

Pasco officials have embraced the proposal, saying it's much-needed rate relief.

State Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, wants to change state law to allow private insurers to follow Citizens' lead.

Reform advocates with Homeowners Against Citizens say it merely shifts the risk to homeowners, benefiting the insurers.

"If they make sure that people understand they're not going to have the coverage, it's okay," Tom Beaudrie said. "But some of the older people, they're going to see the lower rates and take it."

Five years ago, the Beaudries moved from Michigan to be close to Tom's brother and to seek sunshine and salve for Tom's ill health. After a bad experience in a rental house, they said, they bought their home for $71,000 in December 2001 from Rent to Own Pasco Inc.

The company had acquired the home five months earlier, according to property records.

A home inspector gave them no reason to worry, they said. And even if other signs were there?

"We were so green, we didn't even know what a sinkhole was five years ago," Lois Beaudrie said.

But in February, they found the depression.

In June, Rimkus Consulting Group - hired by Citizens - inspected the home. Engineers bored into the soil. They used ground penetrating radar.

According to the Rimkus report, filed with the county property appraiser as required by law, many of the cracks in the walls and around the windows were because of age.

Some structural damage and settlement were attributed to a foundation that wasn't deep enough. But the boring showed that sinkhole activity underground was a "contributing cause."

The report recommended at least 24 injections totaling 200 cubic yards of grouting under the house, costing about $52,000.

Contractors ended up injecting 270 cubic yards in October, Tom Beaudrie said, costing as much as $88,000.

An additional $11,000 worth of interior and exterior repairs are needed, too, he said. And the couple said they have no guarantee against future sinkholes.

But by and large, the Beaudries said, they are happy with the 10-month process.

And with how their sinkhole coverage works today.

David DeCamp can be reached at 727 869-6232 or ddecamp@sptimes.com.