WSVN — To properly do some work around your home in South Florida, the city or county requires that you pull a permit. But what happens if the work isn’t done in time and the permit expires? The fines start piling up, and it’s why one South Florida woman called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
If you sit in Jackie Reale’s house and start to feel relaxed, there is a reason for it.

Jackie Reale: "I have Asian roots. It’s very calming and peaceful, and each of the pieces tells its own story."

And Jackie needs a place to feel calm after a battle that began when her husband passed away years ago.

Jackie Reale: "Very creative, very gifted, and so he was handling this addition we were putting on."

When he died, he had pulled a master permit to add a large bedroom to their home.

Jackie Reale: "So when he passed away, there was an open permit."

Jackie wanted to finish her late husband’s project. And little by little as she got the money, the permit was extended and the work was done. But in 2010 a permit expired, and Jackie was fined by Miami-Dade County.

Jackie Reale: "I paid for an expired permit in 2010. I think it was $1,200."

Over the next five years, Jackie hit roadblock after roadblock as the codes changed and work had to be redone. Then in 2015 she finished, and the addition was approved by the county, but again there was a problem with the permit.

Jackie Reale: "’You have a $15,000 lien.’"

Remember in 2010 when Jackie paid the county $1,200 for the expired permit? At that time the permit was reopened, and now she was fined again for letting the same permit expire again.

Jackie Reale: "It’s very stressful, very stressful."

Jackie told Miami-Dade’s Building and Zoning she didn’t have the $15,000 to pay the fine. And while she tried to save the money, the fines kept growing.

Jackie Reale: "Pay $20,000, and I don’t think it’s justified."

To Jackie’s credit, she tried to do her construction legally with permits. Sadly for her, it took years, and look where it got her.

Jackie Reale: "You know, the most painful thing all along the way, I was just trying to do the right thing."

Well, Howard, if you are familiar with building codes and permits you could avoid these problems, but it’s tough for a widow trying to finish her husband’s project. Legally, can the county make it tougher?

Howard Finkelstein: "Emotionally, most people would say this is not right, but legally the county did not do anything wrong. And while the fines are outrageous, they are not illegal. But the good news, most cities and counties understand people can’t pay those big fines, and many have an amnesty program to help whittle the cost down."

We then got Jackie to apply to Miami-Dade’s Amnesty Program. She paid the $510 for the original violation. And we were told by the county the $20,000 fine will be reduced to around $1,500. A big break for Jackie.

Howard Finkelstein: "The Amnesty Program not only helps the homeowner afford the fines. It helps the city or county by encouraging the homeowner to finish the project or do the repairs so the home is up to code, making it safe for the owner and the neighborhood."

Jackie accomplished her goal of finishing her late husband’s project, and now recalls how true her first thought was about the job she took on.

Jackie Reale: "And really, truly I had no idea. I was like a lay person going into a jungle."

Weaving through a building project is not easy. Now, before the city or county can fine you, they have to provide you a notice of the violation and a chance to correct it. Jackie says she never got that notice, but the county showed us proof they sent it. It got lost somewhere along the way. And once the fines start piling up, legally, the city or county doesn’t have to let you know they are escalating. So, stay on top of those permits you pull.

Got a problem you want to dismantle? Need help constructing a solution? Permit us to help. Hopefully by the time we are through, it will all be approved. With this Help Me Howard, I’m Patrick Fraser, 7News.

Reporter: Patrick Fraser at
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN
On Twitter: @helpmehoward7

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