Monday, November 19, 2012

Cash-Poor City Approves Amnesty For Unpaid Code Enforcement Fines; Will Take Conditional $.15 On Dollar To Let Property Owners Off Hook

In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports:

  • Fort Lauderdale property owners who have run afoul of the city's code enforcement inspectors and owe money in unpaid liens may get some relief – at least for a while. A month ago, city staffers proposed a Code Enforcement Lien Amnesty Program, and last week the City Commission approved the measure unanimously.

    The program allows homeowners with unpaid liens to pay only 15 percent of the total under certain conditions. Owe $100,000? You pay only $15,000. A whopping $85,000 is forgiven.

    Conditions include a provision that homeowners must pay for any repairs and renovations that caused the liens, as well as any costs incurred by the city.

    The Code Enforcement Lien Amnesty Program expires June 28.

    The program "will provide the city with a mechanism to clear many old and cumbersome liens from the books," City Manager Lee Feldman wrote in the original proposal. It will "stimulate the sale of many abandoned properties" and "allow homeowners suffering foreclosure to obtain clear title and renegotiate their mortgage."(1)

    The program could also be a way for the city to raise money when it's having cash problems, said Tim Smith, a former commissioner in Fort Lauderdale. "We did it in 2004 to avoid laying off public safety aides. And it makes people come into code compliance. It's saying, 'Here's the carrot. Clean up your house.'"
For more, see City revives lien amnesty initiative.

(1) With regard to a Florida property owner who was living in the subject home at the time the code enforcement fines were imposed, and has continuously made the premises their primary residence/homestead since then, the state homestead exemption from forced sales (under Article X, Section 4 of the state constitution) prevents the attachment of a lien against said home so long as the property remains the owner's homestead. The homeowner still may owe the fines, but that debt is not collectible through the enforcement of a lien, since no lien exists in these cases.

Hopefully, the City of Fort Lauderdale will inform their homestead-protected citizens that the unpaid code enforcement fines relating to their homes don't constitute liens on said homes (fat chance).

For examples where the City of Fort Lauderdale and two other Florida cities disregarded the state homestead law against forced sales and tried to screw their citizens anyway by attempting foreclosure on their homes over unpaid code enforcement fines (and - in the cases of the other two Florida cities - almost got away with it; they conned two of Broward County's snoozing trial court judges into believing the homeowner was not entitled to homestead protection, only to suffer reversal by a state appeals court), see:

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