Sunday, December 10, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Don't leave home buyers in the dark on mineral rights

No home buyer should get a surprise at the closing table. Nor should surprises be standard practice for a reputable home builder. But here in Tampa Bay, as elsewhere, it's apparently the modus operandi for the nation's largest home builder, D.R. Horton. For years, the company has been quietly excluding mineral rights from Tampa Bay home sales, keeping them for an affiliated energy company and alerting homeowners only through small-print disclosures. That's unacceptable, and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi should follow the lead of North Carolina and pressure the company to stop. Then the Legislature should make clear that such surreptitious practices aren't allowed in Florida.

As the Tampa Bay Times' Drew Harwell reported Monday, more than 2,500 Tampa Bay homes have fallen victim to D.R. Horton's scheme in the past six years, some of them unknowingly. Others learned at the closing table after spending weeks lining up a mortgage, paying for appraisals and inspections, and hiring movers. Zach Sinclair, a homeowner in Brandon's Whispering Oaks, said he found out at the last minute when the builder's agent handed him the mineral rights disclosure and warned that without his signature the deal would be off. "I had a waiting kid and a pregnant wife who wanted to kill me. I just had to do what I had to do and assume nothing bad was going to happen," Sinclair said.

Florida law apparently doesn't require home builders to inform home buyers that they own mineral rights. County property deeds separating the above and below ground assets could alert title companies and Realtors involved in a home's sale — but Harwell's reporting suggests that in most cases in Tampa Bay, homeowners learned at the closing about the mineral rights, if they found out at all.

D.R. Horton has signed the Florida mineral rights over to its subsidiary, DRH Energy of Texas. Exactly what the company hopes to gain from the rights is unclear. But the documents grant the right to everything underground, from groundwater to natural gas to gemstones. And new technology, including hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling, has given rise to options never before considered and fresh concerns about what they could mean to Florida's unique geology.

At least one state has fought back. Last year, after it came to light that D.R. Horton had pulled the same maneuver on 850 home buyers in North Carolina, state Attorney General Roy Cooper and the North Carolina Real Estate Commission launched investigations into whether the information had been properly disclosed to home buyers. That eventually led the company to stop the practice on future sales and eventually to return all the mineral rights back to owners. The issue erupted as the North Carolina General Assembly debated allowing fracking in the state, narrowly approving the controversial practice.

Bondi should consider launching her own investigation. Legislators should also respond and make it clear that sellers must disclose information about mineral rights up front, not at the last minute. It's a piece of consumer protection Florida is clearly lacking.

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Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over stateís rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week wonít make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, itís obvious that Jeff Vinikís plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trumpís risky move

President Donald Trumpís decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israelís capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough Countyís Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Voters in Temple Terrace, Plant City and Thonotosassa have an easy choice in the Dec. 19 special election to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons. Republican Lawrence McClure is the only credible candidate.McClure, 30, ow...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

It has been 1,979 days since all heck broke loose in the flood insurance industry. Apparently, that just wasnít enough time for Washington to react. So with the National Flood Insurance Program set to expire on Friday, itís looking increasingly likel...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17

Editorial: St. Petersburg should raise rates for reclaimed water

Raising rates on reclaimed water in St. Petersburg is an equitable way to spread the pain of paying for millions in fixes to the cityís dilapidated sewer system. The city has no choice but to start charging utility customers more as the sewer bills c...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17