by TODD SWAIN
Visitor Question: Is code enforcement required to provide translation of violations? Code enforcement took $470 from my friend who does not speak English even close to well. They had a court proceeding with no translator. CAN THEY DO THIS?
Editors Reply: This is indeed unfortunate. On this website, written in part by experienced code administrators, we always try to emphasize that the goal of code enforcement is to obtain compliance, not to punish people. If the violator does not understand what the violation is, and what code the city is relying on, they are likely to be repeat offenders.
Now to your main question about whether translation services are required. The answer is no, unless your state or municipal law says so. We make it a practice not to research state laws, in part because they may change from year to year, and we don't want any outdated information on our site. That being said, we are pretty sure there is no such law in Florida.
As a friend, you probably should prod your friend to learn exactly what code was being broken so that they are not fined again. Make sure that the friend either has an excellent speaker of English on a phone conversation with your city hall, or that a native speaker accompanies your friend if they choose to go to city hall in person. Another tactic could be to ask by email for an explanation, with a copy being sent to you or someone else your friend trusts who is a native speaker of English.
Sometimes code violations can be tricky to understand even without the language issue, so encourage your friend to persist until it is clear what laws pertain to them.
Yes, the city is very likely to have the ability to conduct its code enforcement without any translation. On the other hand, at the moment that a code inspector, supervisor, or municipal judge figures out that someone they are dealing with does not understand English well, the best municipal practice would be for that employee (or contractor, in the case of the municipal judge) to stop and explain the situation slowly in elementary language and/or find a trustworthy person to translate. However, compassionate and reasonable treatment does not excuse the person who does not speak English well from the responsibility to comply with the law.
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