Whether you’re considering an addition to your home, remodeling a house, or designing signs for your business, you’ll need to be aware of the power of local code enforcement authorities. The code enforcement board can issue penalties if you’re not in compliance with local laws, and in some cases, they can even take you to court. Here’s more on Florida’s local government rules and code enforcement authorities, including how a local government attorney can help you if you are in a jam.
Florida Home Rule
Florida state law says that, unless a proposed local ordinance is in direct conflict with state laws, local governments can make whatever rules they want. This way of respecting local government’s rules on areas like property regulation and zoning is called “home rule.” It was added to the Florida Constitution by an amendment in 1968 and then made into state law called the Municipal Home Rules Power Act in 1973.
Local Code Enforcement
There are two parts to the Municipal Home Rules Power Act. Under one part, a city can have a hearing, called a “quasi-judicial proceeding,” at the code enforcement board, or a Special Magistrate, which means it can act like a court of law. While the code enforcement board or special magistrate can’t do everything that an actual court could, they can review evidence about the alleged violation, decide what’s true or not, and order you to pay fines or face other civil penalties.
The other part of the Municipal Home Rules Power Act lets you go to an actual court of law for a ruling. One big difference between the “quasi-judicial” hearings and actual court proceedings is that, in the code enforcement board hearings, there are no formal rules of evidence or procedure like the ones that lawyers and judges have to follow in court.
At those hearings, the only requirements are “fundamental fairness” and basic due process. In other words, while the board members don’t follow the formal rules of a real court, they do have procedures and rules to make sure they are consistent and predictable in how they arrive at decisions. They aim to help people explain their case and understand the reasons for the board’s decision.
The board’s rules cover things like giving notice of the hearing to everyone who has an interest in the case, accepting reasonable evidence at the hearing, and following the law in arriving at their conclusions. An experienced property law expert can be your best ally if you are facing a code enforcement hearing.
The members of the code enforcement board don’t have the power to bring a case. Instead, they rely on Code Inspectors, who go to the site of the alleged violation and inspect the situation.
Like police officers, Code Inspectors can’t simply go onto your property to inspect or review an alleged violation. Without the permission of the property owner, a warrant from the court, or limited emergency situations, they cannot enter onto private property, whether a business or residence, including the fenced yard area around the building.
When you’ve been found in violation of a code before, the reputation can stick with you. Florida law gives “repeat violators” fewer rights than first-time offenders. Repeat violators are not only those who own property that have previously been found in violation of code ordinances, but also property owners who have violated the same provision of the local code within five years of the current violation.
If you’re a repeat violator, the code compliance officer need only make “reasonable efforts” to contact you about the violation, and the officer doesn’t have to give them any time to remedy the violation. The officer can request an immediate hearing before the code enforcement board, present the case, and go directly to seeking compensation for enforcement efforts and the fees allowed by law.
Florida Local Government Lawyers
To gain more clarity on local code enforcement rules in Florida, you should consult with a local government attorney. Talking with this type of professional allows you to know what direction to take to handle your situation. At Koberlein Law Offices, our experienced local government lawyers know how to best serve the needs of landowners and developers, and others in navigating issues with local code enforcement authorities. We will work hard to help ensure that your rights are protected and that your goals are fulfilled. To get in touch with us at Koberlein Law Offices, call us toll-free at 877.556.2889 or contact us online.