Wednesday, January 17, 2018
News Roundup

Demolition included in Belleair Beach's code enforcement proposal

BELLEAIR BEACH — Unmowed lawns and poorly maintained buildings could result in property owners being fined hundreds of dollars or even being threatened with demolition of their homes or buildings.

The latter step would address those intransigent owners whose properties egregiously violate city building codes and fail to respond to other city enforcement attempts.

The demolition provision is a key part of a revised ordinance governing building regulations that will be considered by the City Council on Monday.

"The ordinance has a lot of teeth in it and we are going a step further for structures that warrant condemnation," said City Attorney Paul Marino.

To be condemned, Florida law requires a structure to be "damaged, deteriorated or defective" to the point that repairs would exceed 50 percent of the building's value.

The order of condemnation must be jointly signed by chief of code enforcement, the building inspector and the fire marshal.

The pending ordinance also redefines when a structure becomes a "nuisance" as, in part, being "detrimental to the health or safety of children" in or outside a building or when in a vacant lot.

Stricter definitions of unsafe structures and building code standards are also covered by the new ordinance, as well as stronger enforcement for repeated violations, including seeking a warrant to grant entry for the code enforcement officer into buildings.

The city also will continue to refer some cases to a special master who has the ability to set higher fines, recommend city liens and require specific code compliance from property owners.

Meanwhile, the council has authorized its code enforcement officer, Jack Ouimette, to hand out criminal citations or even, in the worst cases, to move to demolish properties.

It began several months ago when residents began complaining about derelict and abandoned properties in the city.

Some homes discussed before the council are foreclosed and now being maintained by banks. Another is the subject of court action because of a fraudulent quit claim deed against the international property owner.

This month, Ouimette told the council that a subsequent inspection of the specific homes mentioned by residents failed to find any major violations.

He did tell the panel he was hampered by a previous council's instruction not to cite property owners for violations because "it might embarrass them."

Such technically criminal citations are reviewed by a county judge who imposes graduated fines starting at about $180 and escalating if the violations are repeated.

Marino stressed that if a property owner contests the violation, he would have to charge the city for prosecuting the case.

In most instances, however, Ouimette said people just pay the fine. He said he could represent the city in many cases, if needed.

"If I can issue a notice to appear, you would have violation only once per property in most cases," he said. "It is very embarrassing for someone to go and the next time the fine would double."

For more difficult issues, Ouimette said, he refers cases to the city's special magistrate. Two cases are in such a review.

But the bottom line, according to Ouimette, is the city does not have a serious enough code violation problem to warrant the severest action.

"In my honest opinion, there aren't any homes that need to be condemned in this city. None falling down or rat infested," he said.

Similar code enforcement issues exist in nearby Belleair Shore where the commission is also responding to resident complaints.

One home on the west side of Gulf Boulevard has been rented weekly to tourists. The town's codes bar rentals for less than 30 days and for no more than three consecutive months, and for not more than three times a year.

Residents also complained about overgrown weeds, high grass and untrimmed trees and shrubs blocking the sidewalk in front of another Gulf Boulevard property.

Other complaints from gulffront Belleair Shore residents involve dogs and bicyclers entering their private section of beach, mostly from neighboring Indian Rocks Beach.

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