MARCO ISLAND — Scrapping between the buyer and seller of a short sale property over a refund of $84,000 in code fines paid to the city was an unusual sight for the Marco Island Code Enforcement Board on Tuesday.
“I’m uncomfortable when people are so close,” said Code Board Chairman Tarik Ayasun from the dais as the two men’s faces turned red in debate at the podium.
Code board members struggled to decipher who had actually paid the fine and eventually decided the city should just keep the cash.
“It’s between the buyer and the seller not between the owner and the city,” Code Board member Carol Glassman said. “I don’t feel it should be up for discussion here.”
Initially, the code fines appeared to be paid by the buyer of the short sale property, Mark Williamson, who asked for a partial refund in March. The code board at that time decided to return about $2,000 to Williamson, which accrued while waiting for the permit to replace the seawall.
He wanted $43,000 back to pay for replacement because that fixed everyone’s problem with 809 Amazon Ct. property, Williamson said.
“This was a strenuous purchase on my part,” he said.
The seller, Jim Hanson, of Cape May, N.J., also had grievances. He said the $84,000 came off the sale price and that unlike most short sales, he wasn’t relieved of the money owed to the bank. He wasn’t able to make the first meeting in March due to improper notice of the meeting by the city.
Hanson bought the property in 2004. After demolishing the existing home, he contracted Kimball Homes to build a new house. The developer left the Island without finishing his project, he said. That left him with a $1 million loan he still has to pay off.
“I mean, we lost everything... We’ll never get out from under that,” said Hanson, owner of MI Development, LLC, the holding company for the property.
However, money from the sale would have gone back to the lender, not to Hanson, argued Williamson.
“I didn’t want to spend $42,000 to fix the seawall and have somebody else benefit from that,” Williamson said.
“We’re happy at least the seawall is done,” said Ayasun.
The buyer and seller made a deal they were happy with and selected a sale price knowing fines need to be paid and repairs made, said Code Board member Joe Granda
“I think we’re free and clear,” Glassman agreed.
Who was entitled to the refund was a civil matter outside of the code board’s purview, advised Code board attorney, Jon Shamres, of the Ft. Lauderdale-based law firm Weiss-Serota, which represents the city.
Although code board members have said they frequently reduce fines after a property owner fixes a long-term problem, that wasn’t their decision in either request for mitigation.
Williamson and his Realtor, Wright Taylor, with Prudential Florida Realty, said they felt Chief of Code Enforcement Eric Wardle gave them false hope that the code board would lower fines once the 160-foot-long seawall was repaired.
Fines of $200 per day accrued in 2009 and through January 2010, following the first notice of violation in August 2008.
The seller wasn’t aware of the problem, which wouldn’t be obvious to a layman, argued Hanson and his attorney, Fred Kramer, of The Kramer Law Firm in Marco.
“Our position is if a person doesn’t know about the situation, it’s a mitigating factor,” Kramer
It couldn’t be proven whether Hanson knew about it or not, Wardle said, but all correspondence was sent to the same address in Cape May.
Hanson said he hadn’t received the information from the city until November 2009, more than a year after the first notice of violation was sent.
The Island property was also posted and the notices would be taken down every couple weeks, Wardle said.
Code board members said they had compassion for both parties’ situations, but Granda said he hoped the seller would learn to have someone keep an eye on his property if he’s out of the area.
“We take seawalls seriously. It’s a hazard should anyone walk on your property, not that they should be there,” said Code Board member Lou Prigge.
Failed seawalls also put neighbors’ yards and seawalls at risk, he added.
The seawall’s failing condition wasn’t anything a layman would realize is a problem and it did not cause damage to neighboring lots, Kramer replied.
“We’re happy you sold the property and all, but the fact is we needed someone to take care of the property,” Prigge said.
The code board unanimously (6-0) decided not to mitigate any fines to the disappointment of all the parties in the short sale.
“The issue is compliance, not income for the city,” said Kramer.