February 7, 2018 by Ted Corless

No San Francisco treat here. A sinkhole may be lurking at the Millennium Tower, an expensive, posh fifty-eight-story apartment building in San Francisco, California. The excitement, buzz, and property values since it’s opening in 2009 are sinking along with the building’s foundation. Engineers have estimated the building will continue to sink at a rate of about one-inch per year. It’s an extreme case of land disappearing that could be caused by a sinkhole.

Sinkholes usually form gradually, although there are indeed cases of sudden, gaping craters. If you live in Florida, where most of the peninsula is perched over porous, carbonate rock, the foundation can fall out from under you. Sometimes in these sinkhole-prone areas, you can monitor the chemical compounds of the land below and use satellites to scope out at-risk zones that can help predict future sinkage.

For sinkholes to form, the soil must be enriched with carbonate minerals like limestone or sandstone. Then, add in enough flowing groundwater to the mix, and those minerals start to dissolve. Soften enough and they collapse, swallowing whatever was above them into the earth.  Sinkholes and subsidence caused by liquefaction may cause widespread damage. Areas that subside in earthquake-prone regions experience more seasonal flooding.

The leaning tower of San Francisco: the Millennium Tower at 301 Mission Street was the tallest residential building west of the Mississippi when it opened nearly a decade ago. Though priced in the millions, the inventory of luxurious apartments moved quickly. Yet for all its grandeur and curb appeal, the building has a fundamental problem: it’s sinking into mud and tilting toward its neighbors.

Millennium Tower has 645 feet of reinforced concrete wrapped in glass. Inside the $550 million construction, as advertised, lavish condominiums flush with amenities, attract professional athletes, tech billionaires, and venture capitalists.

The problems persist, though, and its not just about having that sinking feeling: the outer facade of the building is separating from the structure, creating gaps through which a small fire in one unit could quickly spread to other units. Though the building is safe to occupy, an investigation found that gaps in the walls might present risks in the event of a fire. Moreover, while the inspection by the city found its safe to occupy, the situation caused several lawsuits to be filed and has resulted in a departure from the building by several residents.

San Francisco city building inspectors have issued a violation notice against Millennium Tower. The December 2017 notice cites “a breach in the fire and smoke barrier” and other evidence that suggests, “the issue may be more widespread.” This fire hazard was only issued upon inspection of one unit in the building, but the issue clearly affects other units — and could even affect the entire building.

Save Me, San Francisco.  If you have questions about property management, property damage caused by fire and sinkhole activity, or general insurance matters, call Corless Barfield Trial Group today at 877-517-5595.

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