MARCO ISLAND — In just a few months, eyesores along Marco Island streets will be handed with a tighter fist. That was good news for neighbors living next to neglected properties and members of Marco Island’s Code Enforcement Board.
Officers have been working with too many gray areas, and code just isn’t written to give them enough teeth, Daphne Bercher of Gray-Robinson Law Offices told the board Tuesday. New codification is expected to come before city council in the next few months.
Her point was evident in two cases before the board. The first concerned a condemned house at 923 N. Barfield Drive.
“That address has been a sore thumb on Marco Island for some time,” Bercher said. “The property has a buyer now, but code violations have not been cured.”
The city was ready to demolish the home at a cost of $10,000-$15,000 dollars, staff told the board, but ran into a “Catch 22.” There is no ordinance that allows the city to proceed. The city has never demolished a property, even when a building was considered unsafe.
“We don’t have an ordinance for demolition. Nothing maps out the due process,” said Bercher.
The Barfield Drive home is in foreclosure, so technically the bank owns it. Accrued city fines are more that $315,000, higher than the existing home is worth.
According to Florida Statute, the mortgage is the superior lien with all others being junior liens. These lesser liens are gone on foreclosure. If the city were to demolish the property, all costs would fall on its shoulders.
But even such blight can be treasure for someone willing to take on its problems. Marco Islander Kevin LaVallee wants to purchase the Barfield Drive home.
“It is totally unfixable and the seawall needs to be redone. I don’t know what the bank’s going to do, but I will knock the structure down in the first 10 days. I already have people lined up,” LaVallee said.
Ken Mitchell, whose seawall abuts the Barfield Drive property, said he has been pushing for 15 years to see something done while the house and seawall fell into ruins.
“One realtor told me this property has had 60 offers,” Mitchell said. “I’m concerned that we are going down this road again. This has been before code enforcement before. I’ve tried to buy it myself several times.”
LaVallee told city staff he could demolish the house for around $7,000, and then replace the seawall. He also explained that he was making progress with the bank and would be willing to cover all hard costs paid by the city and complete the sewer connection.
The board voted to forgive the $315,000 fine if LaVallee closed with the bank within 60 days and demolished the house in two weeks after the close date. At the end of 60 days, if there is no owner for the property, the city will demolish it and all fines will be reinstated.
A second case involved 424 Tarpon Court, a rental property with recurring violations.
Paul Kampmeyer of the board said property’s owners totally neglected all police calls, code visits and certified letters concerning their renter’s violations. He was dismayed that neither owners nor renters ever appeared at board hearings concerning their violations.
“This has been going on for 5 years,” Kampmeyer said. “We should take penalties to the fullest.”
Bercher explained current city code does not require property owners to be responsible for renters’ actions. Because it cannot force action by applying a lien to the property, the city has no power of enforcement.
The board pulled the Tarpon Court property off the agenda after realizing it had little power over renters and could not hold property’s owners accountable.
“This shows that if we don’t put some bite into it (the code) sooner than later, folks will figure out they can do just about anything with their rental units,” said board member Bob Brown.
If City Council passes new ordinance as suggest by Bercher, the definition of a violator will includes property owners.