(WSVN) - Code enforcement told him he had to get a permit, or he could be fined. That happens all the time. Except in his case, he was also told he didn’t need a permit for his floating boatlift. That’s why he turned to Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

Thirty-seven years ago, Mal and his wife were looking for a house in Fort Lauderdale.

Mal Jones, homeowner: “And I wanted to be on the water, and everybody told me I was insane.”

Thirty-seven years later, it’s clear Mal wasn’t crazy to buy a house on the water. Although lately, that waterfront property has turned into a headache.

Mal Jones: “And then they started coming on me about the lift…”

This is the floating lift that Mal puts his boat on. It’s tied to his dock. It’s also illegal, according to code enforcement.

Mal Jones: “They are citing me for having a floating dock that is attached to the existing dock.”

Mal says the lift has been here for 15 years, but he was cited for boatlifts installed without the required permits.

Mal Jones: “Give me a suggestion on how to get a permit for this, and I will do it. And that’s when they said, ‘contact a general contractor or a marine contractor.'”

Mal called a marine contractor.

Mal Jones: “When I contacted him, he said, ‘You don’t need a permit for these things.'”

Mal knew a lift like this, with pilings to raise up a boat, needs a permit. But he is confused why his lift, no different than others on his canal, needs a permit.

*Patrick points out floating lift*

Mal Jones: “Yes.”

*Patrick points out a second floating lift*

Mal Jones: “Yes.”

*Patrick points out another floating lift*

Mal Jones: “Yes.”

*Patrick points to Jones’ floating lift*

Mal Jones: “Yes.”

Patrick Fraser: “Are they cited?”

Mal Jones: “No.”

In a letter, the city wrote Mal would face fines and a lien if he didn’t get that permit.

Mal Jones: “To obtain a permit is next to impossible.”

Now, permit Mal to vent.

Mal Jones: “It’s not fair, but they don’t have a clue what they are doing.”

Well, Howard, you have done your research. Does Mal need a permit in Fort Lauderdale for this floating lift?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News Legal Expert: “Absolutely not. State law says local governments cannot require a permit for a floating boatlift. If the city continues to ignore the state law, when you go before a magistrate or code enforcement board, show them the law, and they should dismiss the violation.”

We then went with Mal to face the code enforcement board. If his lift had turned into a nightmare, this was a dream for him. Before the meeting began, Mal was told his appearance before the board was not needed since code enforcement concluded his lift had come into compliance.

We asked city officials how Mal came into compliance if nothing changed. They did not give us an answer.

Mal Jones: “If it weren’t for you guys, I would be in pretty big trouble right now.”

Mal is happy he called us.

Not so happy with the city of Fort Lauderdale.

Mal Jones: “And they don’t have a clue what is the law and what is not the law, and if it weren’t for you guys, this law never would have showed up because they didn’t bother to look.”

And I wish I could tell you it’s easy to find a state statute to get you out of a tough spot like Mal was in, but they are sometimes hard to find, and even harder to understand.

First, do a little digging. Try to Google it. If that doesn’t work, you can hire a lawyer to do the research, or, much cheaper, call us. We’re free.

Fighting a problem and got a sinking feeling you can’t stay afloat? Need a lift? We can throw you a lifeline and then channel Howard’s legal knowledge.

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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