County offers amnesty for code enforcement liens

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County Board of County Commissioners is pleased to announce its Code Enforcement Lien Amnesty Program (“Amnesty Program”). The Amnesty Program is a program by which persons whose property is subject to an Okeechobee County Code Enforcement Lien may obtain a reduction of the fine and a release of the lien, if the property is found to be in compliance with all Okeechobee County codes and ordinances.

The Amnesty Program benefits a landowner whose property was the subject of a code enforcement action, by providing a method by which the fine can be substantially reduced and the lien can be released. The Amnesty Program also benefits the citizens and businesses of Okeechobee County by encouraging property owners to correct violations, thereby maintaining the appearance of the County and protecting property values.

For the limited time period from Sept. 1, through Jan. 31, 2019, affected property owners will have the opportunity to apply for a reduction of outstanding fines and a release of liens on their real property in unincorporated Okeechobee County.

Availability of the amnesty program:

The Amnesty Program is available to all property owners with existing code enforcement liens who are in compliance with all County codes and ordinances on all properties owned in unincorporated Okeechobee County, or who come into compliance by Feb. 28, 2019. The Amnesty Program is available to all properties within the unincorporated area of Okeechobee County.

Application and review process:

Completed applications, together with the application fee, can be mailed or hand delivered to the Okeechobee County Code Enforcement Department, 1700 N.W. Ninth Ave., Suite A, Okeechobee, FL 34972. The deadline for submitting the application is Jan. 31, 2019. The deadline for bringing properties into compliance is Feb. 28, 2019.

There is a non-refundable application fee of $75, to cover the inspection of each property which was the subject of the action taken by the Okeechobee County Code Enforcement Board or Okeechobee County Code Enforcement Special Magistrate (the “Subject Property”). For each additional parcel owned by the same property owner in unincorporated Okeechobee County, the applicant must pay an additional application fee of $50. Other properties are involved because Florida law provides that a recorded code enforcement order constitutes a lien against the land on which the violation was found, as well as on any other real or personal property owned by the violator within the county where the order was recorded.

At the time of the application, all property taxes must be paid and current (not delinquent), and the property owner must give consent for an Okeechobee County Code Officer to enter upon the property for such inspections as are necessary to determine compliance.
Reduction and release:

The Board of County Commissioners has approved the following reduction schedule: for all liens under $500, a 50 percent reduction; for all liens of $500 or more:

• a flat fee of $1,000; or
• 25 percent of the amount of the unpaid lien as of the date of the application; or
• 15 percent of the value of the property upon which the Code Enforcement action was based (“Value” will be defined as the Just Value set in the records of the Okeechobee County Property Appraiser as of the date of the application); whichever is less.

For full details about the Amnesty Program, contact the Okeechobee County Code Enforcement Department by telephone at 863-763-5548, or in person at 1700 N.W. Ninth Ave., Suite A, Okeechobee, FL 34972, or see the Okeechobee County website at www.co.okeechobee.fl.us.

FAQ

Okeechobee county code enforcement department; Lien amnesty program frequently asked questions

Q: What is the Amnesty Program?
A: The Amnesty Program is a program by which persons whose property is subject to an Okeechobee County Code Enforcement Lien may obtain a reduction of the fine and a release of the lien, if the property is found to be in compliance with all Okeechobee County codes and ordinances.

Q: What are the benefits of the Amnesty Program?
A: The Amnesty Program benefits a landowner whose property was the subject of a code enforcement action, by providing a method by which the fine can be substantially reduced and the lien can be released. The Amnesty Program also benefits the citizens and businesses of Okeechobee County by encouraging property owners to correct violations, thereby maintaining the appearance of the county and protecting property values.

Q: When can I apply for the Amnesty Program?
A: Applications will be accepted during the five-month period from Sept. 1, through Jan. 31, 2019. Applications received after Jan. 31, 2019 will not be considered.

Q: How do I apply to participate in the Amnesty Program?
A: Simply complete the Amnesty Application Form in its entirety, and mail or hand deliver it, together with your Application Fee, to the Okeechobee County Code Enforcement Department, 1700 N.W. Ninth Ave., Suite A, Okeechobee, FL 34972.

Q: What is the amount of the Application Fee?
A: There is a non-refundable Application Fee of $75, to cover the inspection of the property which was the subject of the action taken by the Okeechobee County Code Enforcement Board or Okeechobee County Code Enforcement Special Magistrate. For each additional parcel owned by the same property owner in unincorporated Okeechobee County, there is an additional fee of $50 per property.

Q: Is the Amnesty Application Form required to be notarized?
A: Yes. Notaries are available at the Okeechobee County Code Enforcement Department.

Q: Why are my other properties involved?
A: Florida law provides that a recorded code enforcement order constitutes a lien against the land on which the violation was found, as well as on any other real or personal property owned by the violator within the county where the order was recorded.

Q: Are both residential and commercial properties eligible for the Amnesty Program?
A: Yes. All properties within unincorporated Okeechobee County are eligible.

Q: Are there any other conditions I must satisfy to be eligible for the Amnesty Program?
A: Yes. Your property taxes must be paid in full (not delinquent), and you must give consent for an Okeechobee County Code Officer to enter upon your property for such inspections as are necessary to determine compliance.

Q: Will I have to attend a hearing to participate in the Amnesty Program?
A: No. Okeechobee County Code Officers will make an inspection of your property, and if no violations are found, you will be notified of the reduced amount. If any property is found to be violation of any County codes or ordinances, you will be advised as to the corrective action necessary to bring such property into compliance.

Q: What is the deadline for me to bring my property into compliance?
A: Any real property you own within unincorporated Okeechobee County must be in compliance by Feb. 28, 2019 in order for you to receive the Amnesty reduction.

Q: Do all code violations have to be corrected before I can apply to participate in Amnesty Program?
A: No, but they must be corrected by Feb. 28, 2019.

Q: Do I have to correct all code violations before my Amnesty Application request is granted?
A: Yes. You must correct all code violations cited in all orders entered by the Okeechobee County Code Enforcement Board or Okeechobee County Code Enforcement Special Magistrate, as appropriate. Additionally, all code violations identified at the time of the Amnesty inspection must be corrected to be eligible for Amnesty, as well as all code violations on all property owned by the violator in unincorporated Okeechobee County.

Q: How much of a reduction will I receive under the Amnesty Program?
A: The Board of County Commissioners has approved the following reduction schedule: for all liens under $500, a 50 percent reduction; for all liens of $500 or more:
• a flat fee of $1,000; or
• 25 percent of the amount of the unpaid lien as of the date of the Application; or
• 15 percent of the value of the property upon which the Code Enforcement action was based (“Value” will be defined as the Just Value set in the records of the Okeechobee County Property Appraiser as of the date of the Application); o whichever is less  Plus $25 for the preparation and recording of a Release of Lien after payment in full is received by the County.

Q: When will the reduced fine amount have to be paid?
A: The reduced amount, plus the $25 for the Release of Lien, must be paid in full no later than thirty (30) days after you are notified that your property is in compliance and you have qualified for the Amnesty Program reduction.

Q: May I pay the reduced amount in installments?
A: No.

Q: Where and to whom do I pay my fine? What form of payment will you accept?
A: Personal checks, cashier checks, or money orders, made payable to Okeechobee County, may be mailed or hand delivered to Okeechobee County Code Enforcement Department at 1700 N.W. Ninth Ave., Suite A, Okeechobee, FL 34972. Cash payments may also be made in person at the same address. DO NOT MAIL CASH.

Q: What happens after I pay in full?
A: A Release of Lien will be recorded in the public records of Okeechobee County, Florida.

Q: What if I bring my property into compliance but do not pay the reduced fine?
A: The lien and original fine amount will remain against your property and you would forfeit your opportunity to participate in the Amnesty Program. Further, your property may become subject to additional legal proceedings initiated by the County.

Q: Will all the fines be removed against my properties under this program?
A: The original fine levied by the Code Enforcement Board or Code Enforcement Special Magistrate for non-compliance with County Code on each of your properties will be reduced; however, if any demolition, clean-up costs, or nuisance abatements costs were involved, those cannot be waived. Those costs must be paid along with the reduced fine amount.

Q: What will happen if I do not take advantage of the Amnesty Program?
A: The County may proceed with bringing about compliance and/or collecting accrued fines, by using all legal means available, including an action for nuisance abatement and an action for foreclosure of the lien on the property, where appropriate.

Q: Can my fine be reduced by the Code Enforcement Special Magistrate?
A: At any time, property owners can petition the Code Enforcement Special Magistrate to recommend a reduction of outstanding fines. The Special Magistrate’s recommendation is then reviewed by the Board of County Commissioners. However, applications heard using that process require a personal appearance before the Special Magistrate, are subject to the considerations in the Okeechobee County Code, and are within the discretion of the Special Magistrate and the Board. Therefore, the results from an application to the Special Magistrate may not be as favorable.

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