AUSTIN -- A civil trial began Monday for a man who lost his home after it was seized by the City of Austin. The man built tunnels beneath his house in East Austin, and the city believed them to be dangerous.
For years, Joe Del Rio had been digging a series of rooms and tunnels underneath his home on Canterbury Drive. After numerous complaints from neighbors, the City of Austin seized his property in May 2010, arguing it was in imminent danger of collapse.
The former state employee dug three layers of tunnels under his house, some going as far down as 35 feet. Many tunnels were large enough for an adult to stand upright inside.
Del Rio said he was expanding a pre-existing fallout shelter.
Investigators said they found more than a dozen guns, ammunition, chemicals and batteries in the tunnels.
In June 2010, city contractors filled the tunnels beneath the home with more than 264 tons of concrete.
Del Rio was given a bill for more than $90,000. He has been staying with relatives since his home was seized.
On Monday, his attorney said the tunnels were not in danger of collapse.
Del Rio's lawsuit alleges the city seized the home without proper notice and took out meters, utility pipes and other items, making the house unlivable. In the lawsuit, Del Rio asks the city to pay for the cost of making the home livable again. If that can't be done, the lawsuit asks that Del Rio be compensated for the cost.
The City of Austin released a statement regarding the case. It says in part:
"The City is in trial this week on a case where the property owner created conditions on his property that posed a public safety risk to himself, adjacent property owners and members of the public. We look forward to defending the city's response in the upcoming trial.”
Jury selection in the civil suit began Monday. The case is being heard in the 345th district court, with judge Stephen Yelenosky presiding.
The trial is expected to last through the week.