Monday, February 13, 2012
Help Me Howard: Lost Lien
Have you ever had to pull a permit for approval to do work on your house or condo, and then got it approved? So what would you do if the city came back to you five years later and said, we don't have any proof you got our approval, so we can start fining you? One man says it happened to him, so he turned to Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser to find out if it's legal.
WSVN -- Today with so many homeowners in foreclosure or struggling to stay out of foreclosure, you forget owning a house is still many people's dream.
Clovis Thomas, Permit Problems: "My house is one of my prized possessions, besides my kids, and I put everything into it."
When Clovis and his wife bought their home nine years ago, they treated it like you would treat a treasure.
Clovis Thomas, Permit Problems: "Oh yeah, we did a whole lot of renovations from floor to roof, just about everything."
But anyone who has ever renovated a house knows, doing the work can be the easiest part. Doing it by following every city and county code can be the headache.
Clovis Thomas, Permit Problems: "And a window over here, we enlarged it, and we installed a French door. That was the mistake that I made, without a permit."
That was in 2006. The City of Tamarac cited him and slapped a lien on his property, then required him to pull a permit for the door and put up a light near the door.
Clovis says the city inspected it and approved it.
Clovis Thomas, Permit Problems: "And they told us everything was passed, and everything was OK, and then they went ahead and removed the lien, and all my headaches were over. I was happy the lien was off, finally put everything to rest."
Now move forward.
Clovis Thomas, Permit Problems: "And five years later, I receive a letter from the city that the permit was expired, and they outlined some consequences if I did not adhere to their rules."
Clovis went to the city and showed them the proof the city removed the lien. In his mind, the job had been approved and the permit closed.
Clovis Thomas, Permit Problems: "The lien, yeah I think the lien satisfaction shows that I complied with their demands."
He says at City Hall, his explanation was not met with applause.
Clovis Thomas, Permit Problems: "So they were speculating that someone maybe did me a favor and removed the lien from our property. That was very insulting to me."
The City of Tamarac had no record of the door being inspected and approved, so they asked Clovis for some proof.
Clovis Thomas, Permit Problems: "And then, they asked me for my files, and I told them after five years, I mean, who keeps paperwork after five years?"
When Clovis left the office, he was not a happy taxpayer.
Clovis Thomas, Permit Problems: "They were the ones that dropped the ball in the execution of their duty. Not only that, but in addition to that just to show their incompetence."
Clovis admitted that years ago, he made a mistake by not pulling a permit for the door and installing the light. He thought he straightened it out and can't believe he has to go back through this again.
Clovis Thomas, Permit Problems: "And I realize that it's very hard for me to fight the city, because the city, as an entity, they don't have anybody that regulates them."
Well Howard, Clovis says the permit was approved and the proof is, the lien was removed.
The city says, We have no proof of that. So Howard, legally, what can a homeowner like Clovis do?
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "The burden of proof falls on the property owner. Each city and county can be different. In Tamarac, the lien was placed because the work was done without a permit. Once you apply for a permit and pay the fee, the lien is removed. But Clovis has to prove after the lien was removed the work was approved and the permit closed. If he can't, he has to open a new permit."
When we talked to Tamarac's building director, he confirmed the lien had nothing to do with the permit being approved, that the lien was removed because Clovis pulled the permit to do the work.
That permit expired in 2007.
The city is now requiring Clovis to pay $100 to pull a new permit to get the door approved, but they are making him change the screws in the door before they will approve the permit.
Clovis and the city can then make each other happy and go their separate ways.
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "If you do any work, keep a copy of all the paperwork. The people who work at government agencies are just like you and me. They aren't perfect, and if the law requires the property owner to prove something was done, you are going to need that paperwork."
One question remains: Why did the City of Tamarac take four years to realize the permit had expired? Clovis thinks he has an answer.
Clovis Thomas, Permit Problems: "I think this is about the city not making enough revenue. I think they are pretty much going out there looking for irregularities in their files."
Patrick Fraser: "Give Tamarac credit. They did make it easier for Clovis to get this straightened out, and they disagree it's just to make money. They say they don't have the manpower to go through permits, so it takes time. But let's be blunt: Cities and counties are dying for dollars, and sometimes they can cash in when they go through those old files looking for old permits, or in the clerk's office, unpaid tickets. That's just reality."
Done work and wound up cited instead of excited? Your patience about to expire? Permit us to help. We promise when you lien on us, it won't cost you a dime.