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News Story
Updated: 03/17/2017 08:30:02AM

Code violation fines wrack up on some properties

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JAY MEISEL/STAFF
The owner of this house is facing more than $92,000 in fines because the Cty contends work was done on the structure without the City's approval.

By JAY MEISEL

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SEBRING — For some property owners, city code and ordinance violations can become a costly matter.

In one case, a property on Rose Avenue in Sebring has been accruing fines of $100 per day since Sept. 10, 2014, and the total reached $92,600 as of March 14.

And the Sebring Police Department said the 10 largest fines range from about $500,000 to $1 million.

The fines become liens, which would be the responsibility of someone who bought the structure.

Sebring City Attorney Bob Swaine said that ultimately the City can essentially foreclose on a property and sell it under auction because of unpaid code violations. But, he said, he only remembers one case where the City actually did that.

Swaine said a property owner may have trouble refinancing a structure with high liens or in selling it, as prospective buyers may not want to pay the lien in addition to the purchase price.

Over the years, Swaine said, other properties have wracked up fines comparable to those placed on the Rose Street property.

In the case involving the property on Rose Street, the property owner is also dealing with the City on another issue regarding a large sign placed in the front of the property. That sign protests a Highlands County family court decision, blasting the judge and attorneys in the case.

The owner is expected to appear before the City’s Code Enforcement Board on March 28 to deal with the complaint that the sign is illegal.

Swaine said that the main purpose of the fines isn’t for the City to gain a lot of money, but to get the property owner to fix the code violations.

“We’re more concerned with the property owner’s compliance rather than the fines or dollars,” he said.

Code enforcement officers, he said, do not immediately issue fines. They try to work with the property owner, Swaine said.

Property owners who want to fix the problem may end up paying as little as 10 percent of the original fine, Swaine said.

The property owner can obtain what the City refers to as an estoppel letter that indicates how little the City is willing to accept of the original fine amount to release the liens.

For the City to consider a reduction the structure must be in total compliance, the City’s code states.


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