As reprinted from the Palm Beach Post:
Got code violation fines or liens? Palm Beach County offers some property owners fresh start
Palm Beach Post October 4, 2021
Jupiter broker associate Jerry Coone walked into Palm Beach County’s Planning, Zoning and Building Department last month with a check.
His client, who wanted to clear the title of the property she inherited, was prepared to pay off a hefty fine that had accrued as a result of a 811-day code violation over an expired fence permit.
The amount? $51,941.
But before he handed over the check, the department’s executive director, Ramsay Bulkeley, overheard and informed Coone of an upcoming program that would offer property owners a fresh start.
“She was tickled to death,” Coone said of his client.
From now until the end of November, the owners of as many as 1,079 properties in unincorporated Palm Beach County can apply to have all of their code-related fines and liens forgiven as part of the county’s lien amnesty program.
All a property owner must do is make sure their property is fully compliant with the county’s codes and laws, fill out an application and pay a $250 non-refundable administrative fee by Nov. 30.
According to the county, 79% of these properties were already in compliance, just needing a final sign-off from the county.
“With code enforcement, we don’t want your money. We just want your compliance,” Bulkeley said.
The program could be a major relief for businesses and residents that have suffered economically through the COVID-19 pandemic, Bulkeley said.
“The county wanted a way in which to give people that wanted to come into compliance, give them a little hope,” he said.
Palm Beach County is following the footsteps of several Florida counties and municipalities that too have waived code enforcement fines and liens from properties. The city of Riviera Beach had a similar program in 2010.
Code enforcement violations can vary, and often start with a complaint from an unhappy neighbor, said Steve Rubin, a Boca Raton-based lawyer who used to serve as a code enforcement special magistrate.
“Typically, you would have owners who wouldn’t keep their property clean, owners who didn’t mow the lawn, owners who have electrical violations, owners who fail to close out permits, owners who park too many cars on their property,” Rubin said. “You name it: if there’s a code, there’s been a violation and citation for it.”
If a violation is alleged, the violation is heard before a special magistrate and the property owner still does nothing about it, daily fines could start to accrue.
“It snowballs very quickly,” Rubin said.
Property owners are given ample time and opportunity to comply, unless it’s a life-safety issue, and are able to go before the special magistrate to potentially reduce or eliminate the fines altogether.
“Sometimes you get people who thumb their nose at government and don’t care, but sometimes there’s a really, really good reason why they can’t comply,” such as a lack of means, said Alan Ciklin, a West Palm Beach-based land use attorney.
One of Ciklin’s clients could benefit from this program, he said. The client accrued thousands of dollars in fines when the county was retooling its rules about landscape maintenance companies co-locating with nurseries in western Palm Beach County.
“I applaud this effort. This is a good thing,” Ciklin said. “It’s almost silly to say code enforcement is about code enforcement, but that’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s not supposed to be punitive or a funding mechanism for the county.”