Due to the growing use by local governments of certain quasi-judicial code enforcement proceedings to obtain compliance with their local land use and zoning regulations, it is important for Florida property owners and business operators to have a thorough understanding of administrative enforcement proceedings.

Local Government Enforcement Authority

Florida’s statutory scheme governing local code enforcement procedures is divided into two separate parts under Chapter 162 of Florida Statutes. There is no statutory provision prohibiting local governments from enforcing their land use development and zoning regulations by other means. Section 162.13 provides that the provisions of Chapter 162 are supplemental procedures for local governments to achieve code compliance and are therefore intended “to provide an additional or supplemental means of obtaining compliance with local [government] codes.”

Penalties and Fines

Local governments frequently utilize such quasi-judicial code enforcement proceedings under Chapter 162 to prosecute alleged violators and assess civil penalties or per diem fines for code enforcement violations. In the event that a per diem fine is inadequate in light of the various facts or circumstances, other means of code enforcement may be initiated to adequately correct or abate various unsafe and/or unsanitary conditions on real property, or violations that endanger of the public health, safety or welfare. See Fla. Stat. 162.21.

“Supplemental” Methods of Enforcement

In addition, other common “supplemental” methods of enforcement utilized by local governments include requests for temporary or permanent injunctive relief, quasi-judicial proceedings arising from unsafe or unsanitary buildings, ordered demolition of such unsafe structures or public nuisances, along with a variety of other alternative civil causes of action available for local governments under applicable state and local laws. City of Jacksonville v. Blue Stone Constr., Inc., 48 So. 3d 941, 942 (Fla. 1st Dist. App. 2010) (injunctive relief appropriate for structure that violated a provision of the City of Jacksonville’s code because it was unsafe and endangered “‘the public health, welfare, or safety of the community”’).

Code Enforcement Notices & Other Procedural Requirements

Unlike a circuit court civil action for declaratory judgment, there is no right to discovery in an administrative quasi-judicial code enforcement proceeding, whether appearing before a special magistrate or local government’s code enforcement board. City of Key West, Tree Comm’n v. Havlicek, 57 So. 3d 900, 902 (Fla. 3d Dist. App. 2011). Unless and until a local government elects to initiate a civil action by filing a separate complaint in circuit court, neither the formal rules of evidence nor the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure generally apply.

While these code enforcement proceedings generally differ from a typical criminal or civil proceeding, administrative local governmental proceedings must satisfy fundamental fairness and due process concerns by providing alleged violators with reasonable notice of a violation, a hearing date, and an opportunity to be heard before a neutral arbitrator. Keys Citizens for Responsible Gov’t, Inc. v. Fla. Keys Aqueduct Auth., 795 So. 2d 940, 948 (Fla. 2001). Accordingly, Section 162.12 requires that all notices be sent to an alleged violator by certified mail to the address listed in the tax collector’s office for tax notices, the address listed in the property appraiser’s database, or to “any other address it may find for the property owner.” Id.

Other Limitations on Local Government Code Enforcement

Local government’s code enforcement officials are not permitted to enter onto any private commercial or residential real property to secure and assure compliance with code enforcement regulations without consent of the owner, operator, or occupant of the premises absent a duly issued search warrant or an administrative inspection warrant.

So What’s The Legal Scoop?

As illustrated by the various legal issues that may arise during a local government’s administrative code enforcement proceeding, alleged violators and businesses in Florida should always consult with a local Land Use & Zoning attorney to obtain a comprehensive analysis of their property rights and code compliance well-before any hearing before a local government’s quasi-judicial code enforcement board or special magistrate.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding local code enforcement proceedings, code compliance under applicable state and local regulations, or guidance on land use and zoning law, please feel free to contact me at austin.turner@henlaw.com or by phone at 239.344.1178.