Understanding Building And Code Enforcement
By Hallandale Beach Mayor, Joy Cooper
March 9, 2023
One of the two most complicated processes in Florida cities is Permitting and Code Enforcement. Any contractor or owner stresses out when submitting a Permit. Sadly, many are tempted to do work without Permits. This is a huge mistake. If you are caught, Code Enforcement will cite you and you may be fined and at a minimum and/or charged double Permit Fees. Fines will accumulate until you file for a Permit.
Over the past years, we have addressed many of the deficiencies in Permitting. We have upgraded systems, fully staffed our Department and have contracted with both Broward County and CAP to provide additional Review and Inspection Services. Obviously, we still get complaints but often it is due to incomplete responses.
All Permits must be submitted online. Documents must be uploaded by the applicant. Reviews are then done by all specialties that are impacted. Only after all reviews are done in the cycle the applicants can resubmit corrections. The Permit then has to go through the cycle again.
Applicants sometimes think it just goes to the specialty that failed. This is not the process. The Permit must be checked off again as changes to one may have an impact on the others. This process can take 10 working days or more. Our City’s working hours are Monday through Friday, so the ten-day goal makes it about three weeks. I encourage applicants to go online and make corrections. Staff are available in City Hall but to meet with an Inspector you must request it online.
Obviously our City and others are extremely busy with regular construction and 40-Year Inspection Projects. Even with the staffing Permits can take a long time due to errors or insufficient documentation. Expired Contractor Licenses, no insurance, no proper electronic signature on the plans or no product certifications and many other items can be omitted that add to the length of time that the Permit takes.
This is where applicants and owners get frustrated. All of the rules are actually State Building Rules and they are the same in every City. Our Building Officials and Staff are required by law to ensure that all work is done with a Permit and meets all of the Codes. Owners also get caught up with doing demolitions without a Permit. A rule of thumb is that everything you do needs a Permit. I always tell people to check first. A good example is fencing. Even if you are simply replacing an existing fence. You need to file a Permit to ensure the fence meets all of the Codes.
The Permit Plan is approved and then priced. The applicant pays the invoice and it can be downloaded and posted at the site. Construction can begin and Inspections are requested online. There is also a way to file for an early start Permit. This is done at the risk of the applicant. If something does not meet the Codes, it will have to be torn down. Inspections move pretty quickly. Finally, Inspection of the permitted work is performed then the Permit must be closed. Sometimes this close out is not done which also causes issues down the line as Permits expire.
What about work without a Permit? This may be tempting but when it comes to Permits, it's far easier to get them rather than waiting to ask for forgiveness. This is where Code Enforcement comes in. Code Enforcement can receive a complaint regarding construction. It used to be individuals could do this anonymously. The state now does not allow anonymous complaints. Code Inspectors can also simply just be out surveying their assigned quadrants and notice construction taking place.
Code Inspectors also provides notices of Violations for all types of Property Infractions. Code Officials cannot simply enter premises without a Warrant. That is a Violation of our Constitutional Right to privacy under the 4th Amendment. Code Enforcement Officials are able to observe the front of private properties. They cannot enter a back yard unless invited. They can observe back yards from an adjacent property. Other Inspections can be required by law. Fire, Business Licenses and Certificate Of Use and all items where an Inspector is permitted.
Most Inspectors are focused on building safety, windows, roofing and other maintenance issues like crumbling walls and paint are critical. Electricity and plumbing are also vital life safety issues. We often get these types of complaints from tenants who can let officials in. Then you have basic fencing, pool safety and maintenance, parking, illegally stored vehicles, trash and overgrown grass.
Code Enforcement Officers used to always give warnings first. Either the officer would speak directly to the Owner/Manager and let them know they were in violation by leaving a notice. They were issued a warning and had 10 days to correct it. We are not required by law to do this, but Code Enforcement truly is not set up to be punitive but to get compliance. We still provide leeway but in cases of trash there are no warnings now. All trash and bulk can only be put at the curb the night before pick up. We have made this a policy to address illegal dumping and to keep our roadways clean free of debris.
I have received a Notice of Violation. What happens next? I will go further into the process for Code in next week’s article.
As always, I am available for your questions, concerns, and ideas to help make our city a better place. Please feel free to reach out at my office: (954) 457-1318. on my Cell/Text at: (954) 632-5700. Or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.