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Background

A couple sinkholes have appeared in a drainage area behind my house, which is surrounded by other houses in our neighborhood. The area is normally flat, dry, and grassy, so I used to play there with my young kids before these sinkholes appeared. I'm convinced that one is potentially deadly - it is about 2 feet wide and 11 feet deep. Apparently these are not uncommon and are colloquially called a "chimney sinkhole". It is certainly wide enough for children/small pets/maybe even me to fall into, and it could cause serious injury or death if that happened. Moreover, because it is so narrow and in a grassy area, it is nearly invisible.

The property management company that manages financial/legal matters for our HOA is legally responsible for fixing these. I've contacted the president of the property management company in an attempt to get him moving on it. The person in question was initially very responsive, I gave him as much info as I could, and he told me it would get taken care of. During later followup he initially said that he had contacted the county and they responded and opened a work order. When I later offered to followup with the county for him, he changed his story and said that an engineer from the neighborhood was working with him on it.

The Problem

I called the county to find out if he was just making stuff up to blow me off. He was. They insisted that they are not responsible and would not handle something like this for my HOA. I didn't find out whether or not he had actually attempted to contact the county (presumably he didn't), but either way his initial statements were definitely a lie. I also discovered that the water management district in our area takes sinkholes very seriously (because they create an easy way for pollution to get into the local water tables), and will bring pressure on the property management company to make sure that the situation is properly dealt with (presumably including real-world legal repercussions). Naturally I am following this up with phone calls to the water management district, and theoretically they will make sure this all gets fixed.

Next steps?

While the water management district may be able to resolve this themselves, I intend to follow up with him (via email). My goal of this followup will be to see if in the short term this sink hole can be marked, and also to get him to start actively moving towards fixing this situation (instead of waiting for the government to start pressuring him). I would also like to yell at him for lying to me, but I suspect that doing so would only hurt my first two goals. I'm not sure what actions on my part are most appropriate and would most likely spur this person to action: "informing" him of the potential for upcoming legal pressure, calling him out for lying, or just generally trying to impress upon him the seriousness of the situation (because the sinkhole could literally kill someone).

How do I convince this person to take immediate action on something that he is legally obligated to take action on, but which he has apparently been lying to me about so that he can avoid taking action?

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    Does the HOA have any kind of management board (separate from the property management company) that you could bring this up to? – DaveG Jun 5 at 20:18
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    @DaveG yes. I actually just missed an HOA meeting yesterday. I initially brought this up with them and was told that the County owned the area in question and was responsible for fixing this. However, it is possible that they initially contacted the same person I am talking to and, similarly, were incorrectly told that the county would fix it. – conman Jun 5 at 20:25
  • Is there somebody to talk to at the property management company who isn't the president, preferably someone who actually gets things done? The president certainly has the authority to get it handled, but clearly not the attitude. – Ed Grimm Jun 6 at 1:55
  • @EdGrimm Initially I simply contacted the property management company, but the people there directed me to the president. So he is likely the only one to do anything. As a property management company, they have an average review on google of 1/5 stars, and my own interactions with them (which have been few) were irritating and went poorly. That suggests that my chances of success are probably low regardless, actually... – conman Jun 6 at 10:00
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    @gnasher729 (per my answer). Since posting this I contacted the relevant regulatory body (our water management district) and it sounds like they have been very responsive. I think they will be very on top of things and will make sure this gets fixed. It took me being pushy, but he finally got the sinkhole fenced off. Once he finally decided to do it, he had a contractor out here the same day (he said he didn't realize it was unmarked, despite me mentioning it in three or four emails. shrug) – conman Jun 10 at 13:37
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I opted to go an in-between route - no outright accusations of lying, but not letting the matter die:

Me: I thought the County already created a work order? If they are taking care of it then why get a local engineer involved? The sink hole is very dangerous and nearly invisible. Is there anything that can be done in the short term to make sure that no one can accidentally fall down it? If that happens someone could be seriously injured or killed, and I wouldn't want the HOA to have to worry about liability in such a case.

I probably asked too many questions, because he only responded to the first part of my question:

Him: the county has always handled this in the past. they are pushing back some this time. the engineer is an [neighborhood] owner who is on the [HOA] board and is helping push the county. obviously if the county wont do it, we have to, but this could be an expensive fix for the association so exploring options. thanks

He didn't respond to the more immediate part about marking/securing the sink hole, so I replied again:

Me: Is there anything that can be done to mark it in the meantime? As an example, I saw a truck back there a few weeks ago and went to say something to the person. It was a contractor out fixing a fallen fence and his front wheel missed the hole by just a few feet - he had no idea it was there. If he had run it over it could have done some serious damage, and I doubt their truck would have gotten out without being pulled out. Regardless of who ends up fixing it in the end, we're going to be the ones responsible if something happens. That could certainly cost the HOA a lot of money, especially compared to the low cost of putting up a fence to make it obvious.

He responded

Him: my bad, i thought it was marked.

And later that day a contractor showed up at my house asking directions to the sinkhole so he could put a "fence" around it. (They also measured the sinkhole as being 15 feet deep, compared to the 11 I initially measured, so that's awesome!).

In short I did have to press, I didn't get confrontational, I emphasized the potential legal repercussions/costs, and the combination seemed to have succeeded in prompting him to take immediate action.

I don't know how serious he is about actually fixing this thing and whether or not he is proactively doing anything about that. However, I notified the relevant regulators and they have been very responsive and sound like they have both the methods and desire to make sure this gets fixed, so I'm going to leave the larger issue up to them.

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