Homeowners rights with code enforcement

by Miguel
(North Miami dade county )

Visitor Question: I live in North Miami and I have this code officer harassing me because of a code violation report to them by a mysterious resident.

What are my rights as a homeowner here in Florida? Can I demand this inspector show me the complaint and who complained? Also can I demand they show me exactly what code I have supposedly violated so when they get in we focus on one thing as opposed to them just cherry picking issues?

Thank you.

Editors Respond: Indeed you no doubt have certain legal rights in Florida, and perhaps in your particular municipality. But we would like to suggest that you take a practical approach to the situation. Do you want to spend a lot of money and time on hiring a lawyer so you can enforce your rights? Do you want the harassing to continue while you do this? For most people, if they can calm down from some of the stress, the answer is no.

If you are calm and you decide you must have an attorney help you take advantage of every legal right, then you will need to start working to find good legal advice for your particular location.

If you take the practical approach, as most people that we talk with face to face decide to do, here are some things to know.

It's unlikely that you have a legal right to see the complaint and who filed it. In many places complaints are taken on the phone or online, sometimes anonymously. Some cities even guarantee anonymity so that citizens will feel free to speak about situations that are possible code violations.

However, once a code enforcement official goes out to see your property, he or she feels an obligation to find out if the complaint reflects something that is indeed a code violation.

It sounds as if you think the code inspector must enter your home to determine the validity of the complaint. In some places code enforcement activities are limited to items that can be seen from the exterior, so ask the inspector who is bothering you exactly what he or she needs to see. If you and the inspector are both angry now, you could call the inspector's supervisor and ask for this basic information. (If you do this, don't be hostile and do be businesslike. Another advantage of calling the supervisor could be asking questions to find out whether the treatment you are receiving is unusually severe.)

If the inspector and supervisor explain that access to the interior of your home is necessary for them to enforce the law in your city, our advice is to grant them the access. We say this without knowing anything about you, your neighborhood, or your situation, because after all, the codes are written for the health and safety of residents. For example, a resident may not think their peeling lead-based paint is a problem, but scientific evidence says that it is.

We do think it is perfectly appropriate for you to request that the inspector look only at the issue that sparked the complaint, but we are not too optimistic that this will be honored. Usually an inspector wants to find all the violations at once, but it can't hurt to ask nicely that they confine themselves to one room.

The other thing you can do about limiting the scope of the inspection it to figure out how to make it a little unpleasant to be in your home for a long time. Dogs, whining kids, bad odors, loud music, or cigar smoke might do the trick! But again, don't go overboard with this. Your goal is to remember that inspectors and their bosses are humans, so if you are mean and nasty, they might be tempted to retaliate.

We didn't really answer your question directly because we are not lawyers, but maybe these perspectives based on our experience at supervising code enforcement will be helpful.


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Section 8 tenants not complying with codes
by: Anonymous

Hello, I am a homeowner in a single family home, next door to a repeatedly non-compliant landlord who rents exclusively to section 8 and other low-income voucher recipients in a tri-plex.

In 7 years, I cannot tell you the hell I have endured, but most recently, overflowing, smelly, animal-attracting hot garbage, only 5 feet from my windows and front door keep me from getting even a breeze in 100º weather. I cannot even crack anything. I have pets. We need air. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

I have repeatedly called code enforcement, neighborhood inspections, etc. over 7 years, but with zero results. I usually don't even get a return phonemail. There is overcrowding--20 or more people live in this 2 bedroom unit, when the voucher only allows them to have 1 adult and 2 small children.

I need help when no one is being responsive. Unfortunately, my city council person is OK with this, as she is a member of the Communist and Socialist parties of Denver. She has asked me why I care if there are 20 people living there. It's awful.

Editors Reply: Since you have tried one logical step, talking to your city councilperson, you will need to try other avenues. Think about these three possibilities. First, talk directly and two-way with the landlord, since chances are that poor handling of garbage signals poor housekeeping and destruction of property indoors too. Second, go above your city councilperson to the mayor or city manager. Third and probably most important, complain to the housing authority that is handling the voucher. In addition to a phone call, document your complaints in a letter to that housing authority and send a copy to the regional office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Emphasize the over-occupancy issue more than the garbage issue when you complain to your housing authority.

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