WSVN — If you own a house, you might have had to deal with code enforcement. They might give you a warning, and if you fail to correct the violation, they can fine you, but can they fine you without giving you time to fix the problem? That’s what one woman wants to know. It’s tonight’s Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

When a lot behind Erma’s house was put up for sale, she bought it. Not to make a profit, to protect herself.

Erma Dixon: "I didn’t want someone to buy it and build a house on it and have a lot of babies, kids jumping the fence in my yard, and etc."

Everything worked out well. Then, Erma was sick for two months and didn’t bring her yard guy in to maintain the lot. Finally, she got better.

Erma Dixon: "I sent a fella out back there to cut the lot. When he went out there to cut the lot, a ticket was on the fence. In fact, the man had just put the ticket there. It was all in the same day."

No warning giving Erma time to clean up the lot and not one ticket fining her. Three tickets from Miami Gardens.

Erma Dixon: "One was for the fence, one was for the Brazilian trees that grow naturally, and one was for the lot not being cut, so I got three tickets for $250 apiece."

A lot of money, so Erma called Miami Gardens with a question about the brush.

Erma Dixon: "I need to know because I want to stay in compliance. If I cut them down, can I make a pile here, right here in front of the lot. He said, ‘Sure you can, sure!’ And call 311 and 311 will pick it up."

Her yard man did the work.

Erma Dixon: "So I made the pile and cut all the bushes down. Then I get another ticket on the fence for having the pile there."

This ticket was from Miami-Dade County for putting the pile of brush on the swale in front of her property where Miami Gardens told her she could put it, so Erma called the county.

Erma Dixon: "Mr. Hamilton told me I could put it there. He said, ‘That is Miami Gardens, Miami Gardens can’t tell you what to do with the county. They don’t have no right in giving you no directive on what to do."

The trees and grass came down, but then the fines started growing.

Erma Dixon: "Right now, it’s $1,600, and everyday that is there, it’s going up $200 a day. I said to him, ‘Are you trying to give me a heart attack?’ ‘No, but you need a lawyer.’"

She got fined with no warning from the city. Then, she did what the city said was OK, and that got her fined from the county. Howard, talk about a mess. Legally, can the city and county do this?

Howard Finkelstein: "Legally, Miami Gardens cannot do what they did, and morally, the county should not have done what they did. Miami Gardens can’t fine Erma for these violations without first giving her up to 30 days to correct the problem, and while the county could cite Erma for doing what the city said was OK because the city told her it was all right to put brush there, the city is also responsible."

First, we contacted Miami-Dade County and explained what happened. They were great and quickly wiped out the violation and fine they had given Erma.

We then spoke to Miami Gardens officials. We even sent them their own code that they had violated. It took them awhile, but they finally wiped out the three fines. When we asked if they give residents time to correct a violation before fining them we were told, sometimes they do, which we conclude means like in Erma’s case, sometimes they don’t.

Howard Finkelstein: "If a city or county fines you, if their law says they have to first give you time to correct the violation and they do not, this could be part of a pattern… and result in a class action lawsuit, so check with your neighbors on that."

Erma Dixon: "I’m smiling."

Her fines are wiped out, and now Erma’s new year is off to a good start.

Erma Dixon: "I’m telling you. Help Me Howard is the way to go, people, if you have a problem, you need to get on the phone and call Help Me Howard."

That’s right, Erma, give us a call.

Now, a city can fine you without giving you notice if the violation is a serious threat to the public’s safety. Almost everything else they have to give you time to correct the violation. If they aren’t doing that, let us know. We may have a bigger story going on here in South Florida.

Feel violated, and it’s not fine with you? Need a lot of help? Contact us. We will brush up on the law and clear out things for you. 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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