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Monday, March 04, 2024

Court cases raise questions about telling buyers about Superfund site

Two ongoing court cases involving Gainesville residents highlight potential issues about how much information realtors should tell buyers about the Cabot/Koppers Superfund site.

A lawsuit filed by Carla Melgarejo in April 2011 accuses her realtors, Robert and Robin Evans, and Bosshardt Realty Services, of concealing knowledge about the Superfund site when she purchased the house. The case will go to trial in the fall.

The second case, a foreclosure on property owned by Gainesville resident Clara Bea Horton, will not go to trial by jury.

The Cabot/Koppers Superfund site is an environmentally toxic site in Northeast Gainesville. Two companies, Cabot Inc. and Koppers Inc., used improper methods to dispose of hazardous chemicals. Now, the soil and water at and around the site are contaminated.

Licensed real estate agents are required by state law to disclose “all known facts that materially affect the value of residential real property and are not readily observable to the buyer.”

However, Superfund sites are not specifically addressed in the statute, Sandi Copes Poreda, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, wrote in an email.

A representative from Bosshardt Realty Services said the organization cannot comment on an ongoing court case.

Melgarejo’s lawsuit states she did not know her home, at 444 NW 30th Ave., was less than 100 feet from the western boundary of the Cabot/Koppers Superfund site when she signed in 2004. She learned about the site in 2009 when the Florida Department of Health sent letters to neighbors to tell them about the site and the health hazards associated with the contaminants.

The lawsuit states the realtors knew about the Superfund site but did not disclose that information to the buyer.

While Melgarejo was looking at the house, the sellers gave her a property disclosure form that identified toxic substances in or around the property. Asbestos siding was the only item noted.

Melgarejo is suing to get out of her contract and to get compensated for damage.

Bosshardt Realty Services and the noted realtors responded in court documents, saying they deny all allegations.

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Documents state the damage noted by Melgarejo was caused by third parties over which the defendants “have no responsibility, duty, domain or control.”

In the second case, Horton asked the court to set aside the sale of her house because the nearby Superfund site made it essentially worthless.

“The dispute is based on the fact that … the property is within the area of contamination from the Koppers Superfund site. Accordingly, the property is at best valueless and may represent a virtually unlimited CERCLA liability,” court documents state.

Horton said she was not told about the site before she bought her home in 2005. She learned about it in about 2008.

Had she been told about the site, she said she would have never bought that house.

The U.S. Department of Environmental Protection officially declared the Cabot/Koppers site a Superfund site in 1984.

After that point, Horton said, there was an exodus of people from the neighborhood, and the people who are now filling those homes aren’t always told about the nearby site.

“None of these people have ever been disclosed to, and there’s nothing that can be done about it,” she said.

Contact Meredith Rutland at mrutland@alligator.org.

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