One common part of a municipal lien search that our teams see cause major issues before a closing is specific to code violations. There are not only many types of code violations that can occur, but tracking down the information just once isn’t always enough to protect homebuyers in the long run.
The nature of closing dates is that they are not steadfast. It’s commonplace when they get moved up or extended, depending on the demands or discoveries by the parties involved. If you’re an attentive closer, you’ll have your municipal lien search ready before the originally anticipated closing date – but what happens when that date gets pushed out?
Beyond ordering a municipal lien search and being aware of all the types of code violations out there, you can protect your clients by getting the municipal lien search information updated, especially code enforcement information.
The Most Common Code Violations
Code violations aren’t just an issue for current homeowners to worry about, but those looking to buy, especially in Florida, need to also be aware of how violations and fines from a previous owner could be passed to them.
Our analysts have done thousands of searches for hidden code violations on properties throughout the nation. After some time, commonalities have appeared for our teams.
Here are some of the most common code violations.
1. High Weeds
A well-manicured lawn is one of the first impressions people notice in a neighborhood. Most municipalities require owners to maintain grass length under 10 inches on a developed property and 12 inches on undeveloped property. Owners are also responsible for maintaining the grass on their portion of the city’s right-of-way or easement.
2. Trash/Junk/General Maintenance of the Property
Property Maintenance must comply with each city or county’s Code of Ordinances. This is to ensure the general safety, health, and property values of the area, so it’s important that all structures are in good condition and yards are maintained.
A front yard is not meant to be treated like a junkyard. It’s not always a case of willful neglect on the property owners’ part. When remodeling a home, owners must be aware that if the contractor leaves building material in an unkempt manner for too long or if their crew uses your lawn as a receptacle, you may be held liable by the municipality.
3. Inoperable Vehicles
Vehicles can not be abandoned on public or private property unless it is part of a business or completely enclosed in a building. Junk cars could pose a potential health risk due to leaking fluids and chemicals in addition to creating an eyesore for neighbors.
Some common regulations for cars are:
- The vehicle must have current license and tags
- The vehicle must be operational and roadworthy
- The vehicle must be parked on an improved surface like asphalt, concrete, or masonry
- Parking on grass, dirt, or gravel could result in a fine
Many cities impose a noise ordinance on property owners. Barking dogs, squawking birds or other loud animals could all result in a citation. In many municipalities, such as Miami-Dade County, this code ordinance is enforced by the police under Ordinance 21-28 (c).
A loud pet will cost the property owner a $100 fine even if the pet belongs to a tenant. Failure to pay the fine may result in a lien on the home. It is ultimately the responsibility of the homeowner to ensure their tenants abide by this ordinance.
5. Obstruction in the Sidewalk, Road, or Alleyway
Public streets and sidewalks must be accessible and clear at all times. Trash cans, recycling bins, signs, vehicles, plants, and any other kind of materials can not be in the right of way. It is the responsibility of the homeowner to clean up any spills that occur before trash pick up. If any public traffic control or road signs abut your property, you must ensure that no plants or structures obstruct their view.
Other common violations to be aware of in Florida include displaying signs and holding garage sales without proper permits as well as unkempt pools. This is by no means a comprehensive list of all possible code violations within a city or county. Some may not apply to your local municipality’s rules and regulations. Be sure to check with your city or county to make sure you know how to be a good neighbor.
If you are buying a home in Florida where you are unfamiliar with the regulations, be sure to conduct an unrecorded lien search. This will provide vital information regarding any current violations or liens that you may be held responsible for paying after closing, even if you obtained a traditional title search on the property.
Why You Should Be Getting Code Enforcement Updates
It’s crucial to keep the code enforcement up to date. Since you first obtained the information, the following things may have happened:
- New violations could have been cited
- Existing fee amounts will likely have increased
- A violation may have turned into a lien
- You may have had the time to negotiate smaller payoffs and clear those issues up
- Violations or permits may have been corrected
It’s definitely a speedbump to deal with turnaround times again when you’re so close to the closing, but the glaring truth is that having the most up-to-date information can save you from a potential claim. Real-life examples demonstrate the value of dealing with the process over again.
The Case With Orange County Code Enforcement
There are municipalities, such as Orange County, that do not have full control over their data. They work very hard to record the most recent and accurate information, but between their workload and lack of resources in various departments, it’s just not possible.
The way Orange County operates is that it has online databases for its code enforcement department, one that contains violations and one for lot cleaning liens.
Even though this information is easily accessible to the public, it is not updated as much as one would think, and we’ve seen it cause real headaches in our industry – many times.
When the Updated Information Isn’t Up-To-Date
Over the last couple of months we have found that Orange County only updates their violation information once a week, and lot cleaning liens every two weeks. They’ll release it on Monday and it will only have information that covers up to the end of the previous week (or prior two weeks for lot cleaning liens).
Within that 1-to-2-week gap any new code enforcement violations that are cited are not made available to the public. This means that even though you have a lien search that says there are no violations, the most recent information the county made available can be missing something.
What’s more frustrating is that the county will not guarantee their most recent results. Basically, you could never discover that violation or lot cleaning issue and the county will still hold the new owner liable for it.
Do What You Can to Close the Gap
Arming yourself with the knowledge around common code violations is only one part of the process in protecting your clients. As demand is increased on these municipal departments, gaps between the information are more common, and Orange County is not the only one.
The one thing you can do to close the gap is to order an update as close to your closing date as possible, so you have the most up-to-date info available. However, it still isn’t going to guarantee that you’ll discover all the new issues, but it is still the best way to arm yourself against surprises.