Q&A – Florida's Laws On Local Government Fines And Foreclosure

Today’s entry - You talked about local governments that banned gardens but did you hear about the guy who lost his house in central Florida because he didn’t cut his grass? Crazy!

Bottom Line: Alright, sure enough, we do have a local government that’s literally foreclosing on a home due to grass not being cut. Here’s what happened. Last year retiree Jim Ficken left his home in Dunedin, just north of St. Pete, for about two months after his mother passed away in South Carolina. He had hired someone to cut grass and keep the property up but as luck would have it, he passed away as well while Jim was in South Carolina. During this time, Dunedin imposed daily fines of $500 for his grass being too tall. Once the fines reached $30,000, they moved to foreclose the home. Jim is suing to attempt to prevent the foreclosure and has stated that he can’t afford to pay off the fines imposed. So, this raises the question about potential activist local governments with a new wrinkle. 

We’ve discussed local governments that would increasingly become activists on issues like sunscreen, straws, and gardens but what about something like this situation in Dunedin? Here’s what Florida law currently states on code violations:

A code enforcement board or a special magistrate must hold a formal hearing on the alleged code violation, which includes presentation of testimony, evidence, and arguments prior to any action imposing fines or affecting individual rights. The respondent must receive a notice and an opportunity to be heard before the imposition of any fines. Upon finding a code violation, the code enforcement board or the special magistrate is to provide the respondent with a reasonable amount of time to correct the violation. 

If the violation is not corrected within a stated time period, the code enforcement board or special magistrate may enter an order of violation against the respondent and may impose daily fines of up to $500 per violation until the violation is corrected. Upon the proper recording of the order of violation, these fines become a lien against the real property on which the violation occurred, as well as on any other real or personal property owned by the violator/respondent.

In the Dunedin case, it appears that they acted within the current Florida law, albeit as aggressively as possible. In Jim Ficken’s case it appears that had it not been for freak circumstances, the death of both his mom and landscaper, this never would have happened, but the fact remains that he’s set to lose his home unless the courts rule in his favor citing the special circumstances. So, what do you think? Are $500 per day fines for too much for code violations? Should Florida’s laws governing the ability for local governments to fine and foreclose be reworked? Do you have neighbors who don’t care for their properties? There’s a lot to consider with this topic. We all want good neighbors and maintained properties in our neighborhood. Local governments can help ensure that happens but there’s also a fine line before they can go too far. I’m inclined to think that’s what happened in Dunedin. I’m inclined to err on the side of personal property over activist local governments. 

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Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images



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