Monday, August 24, 2009
Help Me Howard: Tree Trouble
Let me ask you a simple question? If the city plants a tree on your swale, and it falls over, can the city fine you? You may think you know the answer, but the City of Miami may not agree, which is why one woman called Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Shortly after Alina Diaz moved into her new home, the City of Miami surprised her with gifts that grow on you.
Alina Diaz: "I just drove in and noticed the trees. There were no trees there when I left in the morning, and when I got here in the afternoon there were three trees there."
Three young Cassia trees planted in the swale in front of her home, but Alina didn't get to enjoy them for long.
Alina Diaz: "The next day, on my way to work, all three trees were down. I figured they weren't properly staked or anchored, so the wind knocked them down."
That day, public works came and staked two of the trees the way it should have been done the first day, but the third tree had died.
Alina Diaz: "When I looked at it, wondering why wasn't it brought back up, I noticed it had been broken at the base."
Alina forget about it, till she got a visit from a Miami Code Enforcement officer who cited her for destroying the tree.
Alina Diaz: "I am still appalled that, without any basis whatsoever. I am apparently being fined $500 for something I did not do."
Alina is appalled because the City of Miami planted the trees. The City of Miami didn't stake the trees, so when the trees fell over, the City of Miami blamed Alina and fined her $500.
Alina Diaz: "I'm laughing because it's so absurd."
Absurd to Alina because the most likely culprit: another city crew that was installing a sidewalk in front of her house.
Alina Diaz: "There was also a sidewalk that you can see that was replaced there, so at the same time as the trees were planted there was a sidewalk being broken up and replaced."
Alina complained to the city that it was probably the city crew that knocked the trees down. Heck, it would have been easy for the wind to knock all three over because they weren't staked, but either way, the city had no proof she had toppled them.
Alina Diaz: "I spoke to the supervisor, and he told me that because the trees were in front of my property, the homeowner was responsible for whatever happened to these trees."
The city's belief that the trees they planted are her problem leads Alina to conclude the city is coming after taxpayers to cover their budget problems.
Alina Diaz: "Also, it's very likely that with all the taxes, property taxes, going down, that this is the way for the City of Miami to get some income."
First of all, Alina, welcome to Miami. Second of all, Howard, if a government agency plants a tree and it falls over, can they fine you?
Howard Finkelstein: "The very basis of our legal system is if you say someone did something, you have to prove it. You cannot fine them, if you can't prove they did it, and especially where the city may be responsible itself."
But the city doesn't see it that way. In this email we obtained, an official wrote it appears that this tree was hacked down by the homeowner, as there is no sidewalk replaced in this area. But a capital improvement document shows that the sidewalk was replaced the day the trees were planted.
The confusion doesn't end there. The city claims it disposed of the dead tree. Alina says she took it and dumped it.
Finally, one city official got tired of our questions, writing, "They are starting to worry that due process is getting confused with press process." A city official then told us Alina can appeal her citation to an impartial special master. She will, but Howard says, she should not have to.
Howard Finkelstein: "Alina should not have to take time from work to appeal this. Someone in the city should grab the bull by the horns and do the right thing: Tear up the violation, drop the $500 fine."
Alina has learned a few lessons from this. The most obvious, she doesn't want the city to plant anymore trees on her street. She can't afford it.
Alina Diaz: "That's the first offense. The second offense is $1000. Of course, I hope, I hope they don't plant any more trees that fall over because next time, it'll be $1000 and so on and so forth."
Patrick Fraser: "Not to continue to question, a government agency's decisions, but Cassia trees grow anywhere from 25 to 40 feet. Alina's are planted right under the power lines. You can see what could happen here, and, by the way, we will follow Alina when she appeals to see how this turns out."
Problems taken root in your life? Don't let them break you. Stake your claim with us. We will try to find a solution that will grow on you.