The "it was that way when I bought it" argument is probably the most used argument at Code Enforcement Board and BOA. The question was, can we make sure the buyer "knows" before it gets this far down the road. It is a notice issue; it is a transparency issue; and it often is a safety issue.
When I looked at the BOA agenda, a review of the plans and the request for variance made me wonder why the gross and flagrant code/building violation was not caught during the re-occupancy inspection. When I inquired, I was told the City does not make any comments on anything but single-family dwellings that have been divided into multi-unit dwellings. I was surprised that even something that flagrant was not revealed to the new owner.
However, upon further review of the code and the relevant state rules and regulations, there is no one who would have been obligated to tell her that the building was improper. If the house is sold "as-is" the seller is not going to tell the buyer; the real estate agent does not seem obligated to tell a buyer of a code violation if it is not within the scope of the agent's knowledge; and the City does not reveal those types of violations even though a code enforcement officer walks through the property to check for multi-family dwellings. Jan Seiden, our City Attorney, was right. It is a "hole" that exists in the code.
A few days later, however, Mr. Seiden called me back and said he had been thinking about the issue and thought that there was something the City could do. As a result, a discussion item was put on the August 8 Council agenda. The item was tabled after 11 pm because of the time.
It was put on the next agenda and a lengthy discussion ensued. Questions were asked, the issue was discussed at length, the Council asked for it to be put on the next agenda.
It was put on the September 12, 2011 agenda and Council had another long discussion. Council asked the City Attorney to bring an ordinance to the next meeting.
On September 26, 2011, there was a first reading of the proposed ordinance. The ordinance passed on the first reading. Thereafter, the Miami Herald published a story about the code change. Unfortunately, the Herald article did not have the benefit of having the background discussion and information. I knew upon reading the article that residents were going to be confused, and they are.
After the vote, a real estate agent emailed me and said that he was unhappy with the proposed ordinance because it could affect the sale of a home for an elderly person who does not necessarily know about code violations but is faced with a buyer who either backs out or negotiates a lower price based on something found in this inspection. My response was as follows:
And I will only add to my response above, which summarizes how I feel about this code change, that it is really the neighbors that are hurt by the gross code violations. Imagine if your next door neighbor built right up to the property line -- it would be kind of tight and it would impact the value of your home.
There have been arguments that this is for the minority, not the majority. Pshaw. This is for all the residents of Miami Springs. The kind of gross and flagrant violations that are covered by this provision are bad for the neighborhood, bad for the City, and bad for the prospective buyer. We can't catch everything, and we won't, but when there is an obvious violation, Code Enforcement should not have their hands tied with regard to revealing the violation to the buyer.
All of the discussion is linked to this post. It is long, and it is kind of boring, but if you are interested, please take the time to review it so you can understand how the Council came to its decision before you rush to judgment. You might not agree, but reviewing all the discussion and the actually documents from the agenda should give you a good idea about what is really going on with regard to these code inspections.