By Hallandale Beach Mayor, Joy Cooper
October 19, 2023
It's Important To Preserve Our City and Neighborhoods
As the war in Israel continues our City remains vigilant here at home. I cannot express my overall gratitude to Vice Mayor Anabelle Lima-Taub, City Manager Dr. Earle, Chief Michel and our entire City Staff that have united to support Israel. Over the past weekend I signed an Emergency Declaration that follows our Governor's Emergency Order. The Emergency Declaration will help our PD in the event there is a need to request emergency aid and staffing to protect our community.
While there have been no credible threats received by our City or other surrounding neighbors our PD has beefed up community patrols. As it is said, better safe than sorry. Our community is safe, and our officers will remain vigilant. I must stress that each one of us needs to do our part. If you see something, say something.
While we are all focused-on world events our neighbors in the Palms Neighborhood have been watching an issue playout over the past year on a once vacant lot. Recently that owner delivered 7 cargo containers and stacked them on top of an illegal container. This has left residents in disbelief and anger as to how the City could allow this to happen. I support and share in their anger. The problem is our city has done what it can do from a legal standpoint. Now it is up to the courts.
Cities are granted Code Enforcement powers in State Statute Chapter 162. It provides municipalities with the authority to Enforce Codes to eliminate conditions that threaten life, health, safety and general welfare of residents. The process provides for the ability for officers to issue notices of violations. The property owner then has the responsibility to correct the violations.
Depending on the violation, which may be something easy like debris or lawn cutting, they can do the work and then the code will verify it was completed and addressed. If the work needs permitting, so long as the property owner starts the permitting process to correct the problem cited, code will allow the violation/s to stand and not seek fines. If there is no progress they will be sent to the special magistrate where the City will ask for a ruling.
If violations are not corrected the property owner will be given a notice to appear in front of a special magistrate. The magistrate is different from a judge. Magistrates have the authority to hear the cases and rule on the violations. Witnesses are sworn in just like court as the proceeding may become evidence. The city presents their case. The property owner then presents their case. The magistrate will then rule in a few ways. Often cases are given more time to comply. Typically, 60 days. For cases that have come back again, the ruling may have to have fines to commence. Fines can range up to $500/day per violation.
I need to note the Code Statute was written years ago. When it was created there was language provided for fines and limitations. Cities with over a 50,000 population can be fined up to $1,000 a day for violations. For environmental fines it can be $15,000 a day. In our city even though we have a population of 40,000 people we are limited to $500 and $5,000. I have been researching the history behind the rules but have yet to be given an answer why. We have asked that these rules be changed as fines are one of the few tools we have for compliance.
So, properties that have not addressed their violations the fines will accrue. This does not mean the properties will get fixed or cleaned up. Quite often properties will be sold, and the fines will then need to be paid off. The City does have a Lien Mitigation Program where fines may be reduced. This is a policy and procedure the City establishes. Ours provides more relief for homesteaded properties than commercially owned properties. Each case is evaluated individually. The application to request mitigation is submitted to the Code Official who makes recommendations. It then is approved or amended by the Director of the Department of Sustainable Development.
The next step is the City must decide if there is a strong case to file Foreclosure on the Lien on unpaid accumulated fines in court. In addition, the City can consider filing for the ability to access private property in extreme cases. The burden of course is on the City.
The rights laws are very strict. There is a good reason to protect owners’ rights but more importantly the Constitution provides for privacy rights and seizure protection. The only way police or the City can enter private property is with a warrant issued by the circuit courts. The police can only enter if they have cause to believe there is a legitimate threat to life.
The “container” property has been cited three times now. The first was for not registering the vacant land. This registration law provides that the City has direct contact with the owners. That violation accrued $18,000 dollars. They finally did register. They were then fined for parking a camper, container and fencing without a permit. Then they were cited for work without a permit after constructing an outdoor covered area. To date the fines are over $250,000 dollars and still running. The last case went to code two weeks ago for placing additional containers. These fines will run separately.
The city has a Foreclosure Ordinance. To date we have not aggressively used the ordinance. We do not want to take properties as our goal is to have them taken care of and kept up to code. Our City Attorney and Chief Code Official are working on an internal policy to set rules when we can file for Lien Foreclosures.
A case has been filed on the Outstanding Liens in circuit court. This process obviously is now up to the court system. We have little control over the time frame. The first step can take up to three months. Then there would need to be a hearing date set. There could be a glitch thrown into the process if the owner declares bankruptcy. In the event that the owner does continue to stall, and this blight remains, our attorney has filed a separate case to ask for permission to access and clean out the lot.
Code Enforcement is important to preserve our city and neighborhoods. We want to make sure we maintain a quality of life so everyone can enjoy their homes. We will continue to do what we can within the laws. Residents need to understand that in most cases there will be results. In this case, which is extreme, there will be a resolution. The issue is we cannot go onto the property, so we are at the mercy of the court system.
As always please feel free to contact me anytime with your questions, concerns, and ideas to make our City a better place! I am available at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or: email@example.com. At my office number: (954) 457-1318. Or on my Cell/Text at: (954) 632-5700. You can always visit my Facebook and follow me at Mayor Joy Cooper.