MARCO ISLAND — At the Code Enforcement Board meeting on Tuesday afternoon, there was a message to those with cases in front of the body: Work with us.
The CEB has substantial power, with the ability to levy fines that can climb into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and impose liens on real estate to ensure those fines are – eventually – paid. In general, the board wields this power lightly, and is long-suffering to a fault.
The wheels of justice grind slowly, and there is typically a lag of years from when a property first becomes a subject of a code compliance complaint, to when it comes up for a hearing, and is eventually assessed a monetary penalty. More often not, the fines are “mitigated,” or substantially reduced or even waived.
Board members know this; it even led CEB member Tarik Ayasun to complain at a previous meeting that “I don’t think this $250 is scaring anyone any more,” and humorously suggest that aerial drone attacks might get more attention from malefactors. But cases at this month’s meeting of the board illustrated that the CEB’s patience has a limit, and after a point, the “enforcement” part of the body’s name comes into play.
Code compliance supervisor Liz Carr took the board through the lengthy series of notifications and attempted communications with Daniel Sweeney, owner of a house at 370 Worthington St. In addition to failure to connect to the city sewer system, the complaint that currently makes up the great bulk of code enforcement cases, the property was cited for overgrown landscaping, debris and abandoned property around the house, and two derelict, inoperable vehicles sitting in front of the house.
“This address has been an issue as long as I’ve been in code compliance,” said Carr, with the frustration apparent behind her always calm and polite demeanor. Over the years, there have been about 15 different complaints on the property, and no evidence of cooperation from the owner.
One of the neighbors, Lyle Rayner, who lives across the street, appeared before the committee, and spoke representing another neighbor, Bill Fredericks, who filed the current complaint.
“The vehicles are used as storage lockers, and covered with mold,” he told the committee. There are eight people living in the house, with a garden hose the only source of water, and a problem with rats.
While some of these issues are outside the jurisdiction of the CEB, as city attorney Burt Saunders pointed out, there are definitely code enforcement matters as well.
“I can’t believe this,” said board member Steve Stefanides. CEB chairman Lou Prigge noted that the board needed to be sure to follow all procedures to the letter, in what could be a difficult case, they essentially threw the book at Mr. Sweeney, in absentia.
Instead of the usual $250 per day fine, the CEB voted unanimously to fine the owner $500 per day, plus a $500 administrative fee, and to designate him as a repeat offender. After checking with Saunders, they also elected to notify the mortgage company to let them know they could have a problem on their hands.
In another case, the property of Joseph Daniel III at 498 Barfield Drive, Saunders mentioned the need for a fist inside the glove.
“I think there needs to be a little bit of a hammer to force the property owner to take action,” he said. “Or, quite frankly, if I was the property owner, I’d just let the city fix it.”
The Code Enforcement Board meets monthly at City Council chambers next to City Hall. The next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 10.