Water well underneath South Bay home leads to sink hole, legal dispute

A Santa Clara retiree is foregoing thousands of dollars a month in rental income due to a problem six-feet below his townhome.

Doug Ridley spent decades working to pay off his three-bedroom, two bath townhome in Santa Clara. The plan was that he and his wife would rent the unit, using that income to supplement their golden years.

“We’d looked forward shall we say to a more comfortable retirement than we are currently enjoying,” said Ridley.

The problem that’s sinking the Ridley’s is directly below their family room. A six-foot deep hole, which the couple’s attorney says is a water well that’s created a sink hole.

“If it grows under the foundation, it will crack foundation and create all kinds of problems,” said Daniel Feoketistov, a consultant with Engineered Research Group.

Renters made the discovery in 2018, when they spotted water beneath the laundry room, and tracked it to the growing sink hole. But the Home Owners Association was reluctant to see it the same way. In an email last week, attorney John Hill wrote, “We don’t know it’s an uncapped well. It may be a hand-dug well. It may be an old cistern.”

Whatever it is, the Ridley’s say the association did nothing for at least eight months, laying the problem at the couple’s feet.

“It’s been extremely disappointing to find the home owner’s association which is in some respects supposed to defend us and help us has chosen obstruction and confrontation,” said Ridley.

Last week, the association did installed a sub-pump in an attempt to drain the source. More than 17,000 gallons of water sucked out each day for the past eight days, but still no acceptance of responsibility. That’s led the Ridley’s to sue for repairs and damages. Unearthed city plans from the 1930s show the existence of a well on the current complex sight, not far from a still-standing water tower.

“The well that’s directly beneath our client’s house, is in the common-area crawl space, which is belonging to the HOA,” said attorney Craig Kisylia, the Ridley’s co-counsel.

When asked for comment, HOA attorney Hill sent an email reading, “it’s not our policy to make public comments about matters currently in litigation.”

Until the court decides which side has jurisdiction over the well and water bubbling from below, Doug Ridley and his wife are losing thousands of dollars each month on rental income from a unit that’s unlivable. It’s a full time headache, for a man hoping for a quiet life in retirement.