Hillsborough Co. wants code fix as fines top $1M on Valrico home - WRBL

Hillsborough Co. wants code fix as fines top $1M on Valrico home

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VALRICO, FL (WFLA) -

It's a mess again.

A problem property at 1602 Main St. in Valrico continues to amass fines day after day for code violations

The weeds are five feet high again.

In March, 8 On Your Side discovered that Hillsborough County had fined the property's owners Richard and Glenda Smith every day since 2003 for a variety of code violations.

Three months ago they owed $981,000 in fines. That amount has now grown to roughly $1,018,570.

Just what can the county do to collect it? Nothing.

What about making sure the property is mowed? Nothing.

How about ensuring that it is free of junk and debris, that storage containers are hauled away and that the Smith's stop living in an RV? Nothing.

Because 1602 Main St. is listed as the Smiths' primary residence, it is protected by Florida's homestead law. That law forbids the county from stepping on the property or foreclosing on it.

"You're absolutely right, code enforcement, the board of county commissioners did not have the authority to go to the next step," commissioner Al Higginbotham said.

However, the county plans to take that next step.

Following our reports about the county being handcuffed in dealing with chronic code violators, commissioners instructed the county attorney to put more teeth into the code enforcement ordinance.

This is aimed at the 2 percent of property owners who just won't come into compliance, the folks who the county gets the most complaints about, the people who run up the biggest fines. The kinds of neighbors you just don't want to live next to.

The county wants the power to bring chronic code violators before a circuit court judge.

"They have so much more that they can do as far as making inquiries maybe into a mental health issue, uh financial issues that the commission and the county just don't have the authority or really the right to do," Higginbotham said.

Higginbotham believes chronic code offenders may have deeper issues. A judge has the power to order assistance or compliance.

Following our reports in March, the Seminole Indians, who employ Richard Smith, used heavy equipment to clear the lot of dead trees, removed dumpster after dumpster of junk and mowed it all down to a code acceptable level.

Now that it's growing out of control again?

"We call code enforcement again," Higginbotham said.

Code enforcement manager Jim Blinck says he believes the Smiths are no longer residing on the property, but it is still their responsibility to bring it in to compliance.

If they do not live there anymore, then they can no longer claim the homestead exemption, opening the door for the county to take action.

Copyright 2014 WFLA. All rights reserved.

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