There are two primary enforcement actions available to encourage and achieve compliance. In order to decide the appropriate process, consideration is given to the extent and nature of the violation(s), including any potential health or safety hazards. The primary actions are the Municipal Ordinance Violation (MOV) process and the Code Enforcement Board (CEB)/Special Magistrate (SM) process.
Both the MOV and the CEB/SM processes require the Department to notify the violator/owner that a violation exists, and to provide a reasonable amount of time to comply. The MOV process is a more formal, judicial process conducted in the County court with stricter rules of evidence and testimony than the CEB/SM process.
Also, while the MOV process allows for notice and prosecution of a responsible individual who does not necessarily have to be the property owner, CEB can only order penalties in the form of liens against the property owner. For both County court MOV and CEB legal actions, the codes investigator always brings the charges and testifies to photographs and inspections as an impartial official who has no ties to the neighborhood or the defendant other than the responsibility to enforce City code.
In addition, for cases of unsafe structures or overgrown vegetation where the property owner fails to respond to a violation notice within a specified time, the City may take actions, such as securing, condemnation, or lot clearing, to correct these violations and assess the property for the cost of the action.
The Code Enforcement Board (CEB)/Special Magistrate (SM) process was created and is operated pursuant to Florida Statutes Chapter 162 and local ordinance. During evidentiary hearings, the CEB is responsible to hear testimony from the City and property owners about code violations involving privately owned property.
The CEB evaluates evidence and testimony to determine whether violations exist, decides how much compliance time to allow, and also orders per diem fines which can result in liens against property for failure to comply by the ordered deadline. If the property owner fails to comply by the CEB's previously ordered compliance date, the SM hears the same case to consider lien certification. These lien certification hearings are an opportunity for property owners to appear again and request additional time without penalty to correct violations.
The SM has the authority to defer lien certification so that the property owner can correct violations without penalty, but also has the authority to certify liens against property for failure to correct violations. Further, both the CEB and the SM hear lien release requests. To request a hearing for lien reduction or release, intersted parties must submit a notorized application for consideration. Generally, the CEB and SM will not grant reduction or release of liens on properties with active code violations.
CEB meeting dates are generally the fourth Wednesday each month and the SM hearings are once each month on the Tuesday just prior to the regular monthly CEB meeting. (Due to holidays in November and December, meeting dates may be scheduled earlier in those months.) Meetings begin at 8:30 a.m. and (with rare exceptions) are conducted at City Hall Council Chambers at 175 5th Street North in St. Petersburg.
The MOV process is a formal judicial process which can result in payment of fines and court costs, ranging from $88 to $258 for the first offense. Fines can increase for successive MOVs to as high as $513 each. If the fine is not paid prior to the misdemeanor court trial, a judge then determines guilt and assesses fines/costs. The MOV process may be used instead of, or in addition to, the Code Enforcement Board (CEB) process.
The first time a violation is referred to the MOV process, the investigator must clearly identify the violator by name, address, age and description, must document that notification (warning) was sent (usually by mail), and must provide a reasonable opportunity to comply. Following the compliance time, the investigator must witness the violation again, take photographs, and draw up the Notice to Appear. The violator's physical whereabouts must then be determined in order to serve the Notice to Appear. Successive MOVs for the same violation may be served without any other additional notice to the violator.