Liens for unmowed lawns in Hendry County soon to get costlier

CLEWISTON — Even while accelerating their move toward establishing a special magistrate for code enforcement, the Hendry County Board still approved 10 new property liens against owners on Tuesday, June 18, because of unkempt lawns staff had to cut.

Noting that they intend to get out of the lawn mowing business — and serving notice that scofflaws soon will face daily fines if they continue to fail to keep up their property — the county commissioners directed staff to go ahead and record these liens. From now on, the notices are specifying that all liens will accrue interest at 12% per year if left unpaid, with court costs or attorneys’ fees due to enforcement actions to be added on later if necessary. The 10 that were recorded range in amount from $30 to $150, but they will swiftly inflate if the owners keep disregarding county codes, after the switch from county court to special magistrate enforcement. That will happen within 90 days, staff said.

The magistrate will still be able to order that upkeep work be performed if properties are neglected to the point where they become a health or safety hazard, in which case the county would do it or contract that work out, with additional costs to be assessed to the property owners.

Answering Commissioners Karson Turner’s and Michael Swindle’s questions, Planning and Community Development Director Margaret Emblidge said, “We are no longer going to be mowing lawns unless directed by the special magistrate.”

“So these may be the last batch of liens ever that we see of this nature?” asked Mr. Turner.

“Potentially,” replied Ms. Emblidge. She explained that staff had not yet advertised a Request for Proposals (RFP) “because we were working with our neighbors to see if they wanted to join. I just got final notice from Clewiston, they said no; so we now have the City of LaBelle, the City of Moore Haven and Hendry County will be part of that RFP.”

That made Commissioner Turner happy, but Commissioner Darrell Harris questioned what would happen regarding out-of-town property owners whom they used to just call “and eventually they would mow it. So how is that going to work?”

Ms. Emblidge answered that those property owners still would receive notices and go through the process, “it’s just at this point we will not be mowing (the properties) for them.”

“So does it just keep growing?” Mr. Harris asked, apparently referring to both the grass and the potential fines.

She answered that they would, and Commissioner Turner then described what would happen under the new approach, asking her to correct him if he was wrong.

“What may happen, Commissioner Harris, is either ‘A. When they get noticed, they will address it’; or ‘B. They don’t,’ and … it comes to a point where it goes before the special magistrate … so along with the offender incurring daily fines, the special magistrate may order that someone go out and mow it,” he said.

County Attorney Mark Lapp pointed out that the change cannot officially go into effect until they do a land development code rewrite to reflect the new system.

Ms. Emblidge clarified that they would continue to follow the present process, including taking the chronic offenders before the county court judge, but just would cease to do any mowing. “Nothing will change until we officially change the land development code and hire a special magistrate, which will take a few months. And it could be toward the end of August that all of this comes together,” she said.

“So when that happens, Mark, and there’s a no-show, can we start fining so much per, week, day or month for not mowing property?”

He answered that yes, the special magistrate would be able to order corrective action and specify the fine. “You can fine forever?” asked Mr. Harris?

Commissioner Turner, who serves as president of the Florida League of Counties for another week or so, said, “There are cases in this state where people accrue tens of thousands of dollars in mowing fines and ultimately either clear it up or they lose everything that they have.”

Mr. Harris noted that “it wouldn’t take long for these properties to build up the fines to more than the property is worth.”

“Hopefully, the word of mouth will start to engage,” Commissioner Turner said, “and that issue won’t arise as much as people will start to take care of their property.”

Mr. Lapp and Ms. Emblidge both declared that the switch is their top agenda item and will be done over the next few weeks. The commissioners will have to conduct a public hearing on the code changes and adopt them at a subsequent meeting.

The motion to file the liens and proceed with the switch to a special magistrate was approved unanimously.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment