By Lenore T. Brakefield, Florida Local Government Law Attorney
Do you like your neighbors? Hopefully, you do, but if not, have you ever considered filing an anonymous code enforcement complaint against them? Maybe you have a legitimate complaint, or perhaps you want to file an anonymous complaint for other reasons such as spite or revenge. Changes to Florida law in 2021 have put the kibosh on what I will refer to as “spite complaints” (i.e., frivolous complaints without merit).
Can I Make an Antonymous Code Complaint in Florida?
Historically in the State of Florida, absent local regulations, code enforcement complaints could be made anonymously by anyone, for any reason (i.e., a legitimate concern, revenge, spite, or just because). Florida residents were able to file code enforcement complaints anonymously, so in the event your neighbors made a public records request to find out who reported them, you were in the clear. The beauty and appeal of an anonymous complaint is that no one knows who submitted the complaint. You could anonymously report your neighbors Monday, give a friendly wave Tuesday, and your neighbors would be none the wiser. Statewide, this all changed on July 1, 2021. Now, individuals making a code enforcement complaint are required to provide their name and address for the alleged complaint to be investigated. If you have a question about code enforcement in Florida, contact a Naples-Marco Island attorney at Woodward, Pires & Lombardo, P.A. to assist you.
Anonymous Code Violation Complaints are Not Allowed in Florida
The 2021 changes to the Florida Statutes provide,
“[a] code enforcement officer may not initiate an investigation of a potential violation of a duly enacted code or ordinance by way of an anonymous complaint. A person who reports a potential violation of a code or ordinance must provide their name address to the respective local government before an investigation may occur.”(1)
This change in the law and practice does not apply if a code enforcement officer has reason to believe that the violation presents an imminent threat to public health, safety, or welfare or imminent destruction of habitat or sensitive resources.(2)
To Report or Not to Report, that is the Question
This change in the law is intended to reduce the overwhelming number of baseless complaints. Many code enforcement officers report, and in our law practice we see, many complaints result from feuding neighbors. Some of these complaints are legitimate and made for a good purpose; unfortunately, this is not always the case. The practical effect is the high volume of spite complaints prevents code enforcement agencies from doing their job, enforcing codes and ordinances enacted by the county or municipality. Some would go so far as to say spite complaints are an abuse of the system and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
While local governments may experience a cost increase in updating codes and ordinance enforcement mechanisms to comply with this change, the hope is that local code enforcement agencies will utilize less resources going forward.(3) On the other side of the spectrum, local and state officials and some neighborhood organizations are concerned this requirement may have an adverse impact as it may discourage people from reporting issues that warrant an investigation. For example, you may live next to someone who refuses to comply with the local code, and while you probably should make a report, you might be deterred by the thought of your neighbor knowing it was you who complained.
Act Quickly to a Notice of Violation from Code Enforcement
On the other hand, should you be reported to your local code enforcement agency in Florida by your neighbor or anyone for that matter, it is critical to act quickly. Whether you believe the complaint is legitimate or a spite complaint, failure to respond timely could leave you dealing with imposed compliance deadlines and fines. Contact a Naples local government attorney at Woodward, Pires & Lombardo today for assistance in Collier and Lee County with code violation issues.
1) §162.21(b), emphasis added.
3) Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Statement for CS/SB 60.
About the Author
Lenore T. Brakefield, Partner, is a Naples native and graduated cum laude from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. She focuses her law practice in civil and commercial litigation, including construction litigation matters. Lenore also handles local government law, code enforcement violations, community association law, real estate law, and contract and transactional matters.
Lenore is a Certified Financial Litigator (CFL™) by the American Academy for Certified Financial Litigators. She has been voted Top Lawyer in Commercial Litigation & Business Litigation by Naples Illustrated and as Florida Legal Elite® in Commercial Litigation by Florida Trend.
See this article in SWFL Health & Wellness Magazine.
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