Million $$ Fine from Key Biscayne

(WSVN) - He bought his mother a condo, a nice small one, but he didn’t bargain on some fines that were way more than he expected — a nearly $1 million fine on the condo. Can a government agency do that to a property owner? It’s why he called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

Everybody loves their mother, of course — and Nicolas Camino also appreciates what Lina has done for his family.

Nicolas Camino, fighting fines: “Tough one, smart, demanding. Always push us to do the best we can.”

In 2011, Nicolas got a chance to repay Lina by buying her a small, 500-square-foot condo in Key Biscayne.

Nicolas Camino: “I consider it safe and good for my mom.”

The owner was going into foreclosure, so Nicolas worked out a deal to take over his $120,000 mortgage … knowing the developer of the property had some permit problems with Key Biscayne.

Nicolas Camino: “I approached the city. I requested to know how to fix it. We passed all the inspections.”

That was in 2012. Then Nicolas headed over to the Village to pay the fines that had been issued for the developer’s permit problems. Nicolas said Key Biscayne officials told him it was several hundred thousand dollars, but they would settle for $30,000.

Nicolas Camino: “How am I going to pay you $30,000 or 20 or 10? I mean, this is unreasonable.”

Nicolas didn’t have the money to pay that fine then, and this year he went back again to try to settle with Key Biscayne. He found out the fines had grown a little.

Nicolas Camino: “You owe us over a million dollars. This is the government telling me I owe a million dollars over, like, nothing?”

To be exact, $924,000. When Lina heard that, she didn’t know what to say.

Lina Camino, son gave her condo (through a translator): “I thought, how ridiculous. It’s absurd. If I had a million dollars, I would live in a high-rise on the water.”

And this time, Nicolas says, Key Biscayne did not offer to lower the fines.

Nicolas Camino: “‘We already gave you a break. You already had your chance.’ Chance of what? $25 or $30,000? How am I going to pay that?”

Well, Howard, can a government impose a nearly $1 million penalty on a $120,000 condo?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “Yes, they can, but just because you have the right to do something doesn’t make it right to do it. Government agencies have the authority to fine you to get your attention to fix a property. That’s the goal, not to bring in a cash windfall for the government. That’s why most agencies will work out a reasonable fee after the violations are corrected, which Nicolas did back in 2012.”

We contacted Key Biscayne and talked to the city attorney.

When we told him Nicolas thought a nearly million-dollar lien for a small condo was crazy, he told us they could do it per Florida statue. When we asked if they would lower the fine, we were told, due to “pending litigation related to this matter, the Village does not have any further comments.”

Howard Finkelstein: “The problem with a government agency refusing to offer a reasonable settlement, the next person will say, ‘Why correct the violations if you will also have to pay an enormous fine?’ And instead will not bring the property into compliance, which, after all, was the whole purpose to begin with.”

Nicolas is not happy with Key Biscayne, and says he is going to keep fighting what he calls an unfair fine.

Nicolas Camino: “This is one clear show of abuse of power by a few. They are just unreasonable.”

If you don’t pay a fine, can the government take your property? If you have a homestead exemption, no. If you don’t, yes, they can, and Nicolas does not have a homestead exemption on his mother’s property, so in theory, Key Biscayne could try to take it away. We’ll keep an eye on this to see if Nicolas and Key Biscayne can work out this nearly $1 million lien before the attorney’s fees on both sides pile up.

Hit with a violation you are not fine with? Need someone to lean on? Permit us to step in. We have a million reasons to want to help … and no fees at all, ’cause we are free.

Reporter: Patrick Fraser at
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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