(WSVN) - She got a code violation that she wasn’t aware of, and 11 years later, found out she has a lien on her property from the city for $541,000 that the Miami City Commission refuses to lower. Is there anything she can do? It’s why she called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

It’s a small duplex that was part of Maria’s big plan.

Maria Garnica: “The investment in my retirement. I, I didn’t have a good retirement plan, so they said it is good to invest.”

In 2003, Maria bought the duplex to rent out. Today, instead of funding her retirement, it’s going to leave her broke.

Maria Garnica: “And that’s pretty sad because, you know, this is your life, you know?”

Let’s go back to 2006.

The property got cited for a code violation. The city says this is the picture of the notice for a missing door and illegal unit.

Maria says she never got it, a tenant must have taken it, and didn’t find out about the violations until 2011.

Maria Garnica: “So as soon as I find out, I went to the city and they told me I had to get a permit to open the door and make it legal, so I went ahead and did that.”

Maria has proof she pulled a permit, but the city has no record of it being closed, so in 2011, they slapped a lien on the property and started fining Maria $150 a day.

Guess how much Maria owes Miami for the violation today?

Maria Garnica: “The lien is $541,000.”

Patrick Fraser: “Say that again.”

Maria Garnica: “Yes, for the lien on the property.”

Maria says she quickly got everything inspected and approved.

But she can’t get the lien lowered because, this year, the Miami City commission voted to force a property owner with violations over nine months old to pay the full fine unless it’s a house with a homestead exemption. Even though, Maria argues, she corrected the problem back in 2012 and there shouldn’t be a lien.

Maria Garnica: “It’s just confusing. Very, very confusing.”

We asked the city for all their records on the property, which they quickly gave to us, dating back to 1947, nearly a hundred pages of documents.

Permits, plans, completed work, but nothing to help Maria prove the lien should not be on her property, so she turned to the Miami City commissioners who have the power to lower the lien.

Maria Garnica: “But they haven’t answer me any calls or they haven’t talked to me.”

She is now left owing the city $541,000.

Maria Garnica: “The property’s probably not even worth $541,000.”

But if Maria doesn’t pay it in full, the City of Miami can take her property away from her.

Maria Garnica: “It makes you want to sit down crying.”

Well, Howard, legally what can a property owner like Maria do about a lien on her property?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “In every city they allow you to mitigate the fine because the purpose is to gain compliance, not revenue for the city. Miami is the only municipality we know of that won’t allow you to mitigate, and in this case, it won’t work because who has half a million dollars for a fine? If Miami doesn’t get rid of their new ordinance, there is no reason for property owners to clear up code violations after a certain point.”

Together, Maria and I spoke with Robert Alborna Santos with the City of Miami.

He tried to help us resolve Maria’s problems, but the bottom line in all these records, there is no record of Maria notifying the city that she came into compliance.

Robert’s advice: if you get a violation notice, quickly get it resolved.

Howard: “Maria has some options, move into the duplex and claim a homestead exemption, which will give her the right to mitigate the fine. Secondly, hope the city doesn’t foreclose, because after 20 years, the lien disappears.”

Maria is crushed. This was going to be her retirement income and now it could all disappear.

Maria Garnica: “The American dream. They want to take my American dream decision.”

Of course, the Miami City Commission can lower that fine if they want to or change the law back to the way it was, like every other city in South Florida.

We will see.

Can’t enforce a solution to your problem? Want things to be fine? Don’t accept the violation, ’cause our code is simple.

With this Help me Howard, I’m Patrick Fraser, 7News.

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
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