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72-Year-Old Suing City of Austin for Seizing His Home and Condemning It for Building Fallout Shelter


"I think they want the property. Condemning it is a cheap way to get it."

Del Rio's bunker being filled with concrete. (Photo: Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman)

Joe Del Rio's story starts off two years ago. The 72-year-old man from East Austin, Texas, was woken up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday in May 2010 by a local SWAT team and fire department at his door. Why? To investigate a multilevel bunker under his home.

In the years following, Austin's American-Statesman reports, Del Rio's home has been condemned by the city as uninhabitable; he's been served a $90,000 bill from the city to make the street on which he lives "safe" again (his bunker apparently made the street's structure unsafe); and more recently set out to sue the city for unconstitutional seizure of his property without compensation.

Here are more details on the case from the American-Statesman:

"The ordeal they put me through was unnecessary," Del Rio, now 72, said the afternoon before the second anniversary of his forced eviction. "I've gotten the runaround. I think they want the property. Condemning it is a cheap way to get it."

The city released this statement in response to the suit: "The City of Austin has yet to be served with a lawsuit from Mr. Del Rio; however, actions taken by the City at 2006 Canterbury St. were done due to a public safety risk caused by the structure located on the property."

Del Rio said the space in question started out as a Cold War-era fallout shelter — by no means uncommon at the time — which he later expanded into what he described as a work space when he took possession of the family home.

The American-Statesman goes on to note several instances where complaints had been issued by neighbors over the years due to holes in the land as well as construction of a retaining wall. It also points out that war memorabilia and firearms were found in Del Rio's bunker and home when it was searched. Armed with these findings and complaints during the military veteran's morning wake-up call in 2010, Del Rio said the police treated him like he was the "Unibomber" over his disheveled appearance -- uncombed hair and shirtless nature -- which he attributed to just waking up. He says he was interrogated for 10 hours.

Watch Del Rio describe the situation:

The American-Statesman goes on to report local structural engineer Jeffrey Tucker, who constructed the retaining wall, as saying he inspected the house in 2009 and at the time it seemed "structurally safe" with no signs to indicate it would fall in.

Off the Grid Survival reports some of the $90,000 bill Del Rio received from the city was for filling in his bunker with 264 tons of concrete.

Del Rio is seeking compensation for the land that was taken from him, which the American-Statesman reports in 2010 was valued at $172,000.

See more photos of Del Rio's bunker and surrounding property here.

This story has been updated to change pounds of concrete to tons. 

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