Just hours after Hurricane Irma made its path of destruction through Florida, bureaucrats in Miami-Dade County were on the hunt for scofflaws.
Not looters or ne’er-do-wells, but residents whose property had been damaged by the powerful storm.
Cadres of county code enforcement officers swarmed the area, handing out “building code violations” for their damaged properties.
Celso Perez was one of the residents who got slapped with a warning. With Irma passed last Monday, he set out at 9 a.m. to begin the cleanup process.
We had a lot of trees down in the street and the streets were blocked. We were out here, us and our neighbors, cutting the branches down and trying to open up the streets,” he told WSVN.com.
That afternoon, as Perez was dragging tree branches off his property, a vehicle pulled up from Miami-Dade County. “We thought he was here to help us … or offer some type of assistance with the trees,” Perez remembered. “Maybe he was going to bring us ice or something.”
But the man did something quite different.
“He said he would have to cite me for having my fence down.”
So the county official wrote the citation and slapped it on the portion of the man’s fence that was still standing.
“I laughed. I thought he was kidding.,” Perez said. “You are kidding right? We just had a hurricane six hours ago.’ ‘No, I’m not kidding. I have to cite you for this.’ I just laughed. OK, whatever; knock yourself out!”
He said he got the citation because the downed fence means there’s easy access to his pool – an “attractive nuisance” and he needed to get it fixed.
Which – of course – he couldn’t do at that time. Why?
“All the stores were closed,” he said. “It’s not like I can go up to Home Depot and find some temporary barrier.”
The code enforcement officer didn’t care. He said he would write up a report and come back to check on it.
“And if my fence had not been put back up when he came back, he would have to write me a fine or fine me for that,” he said.
Now he was pissed.
“At the time this officer was out here, we didn’t have power, we didn’t have food, we didn’t have ice. He is crazy, ridiculous. The mayor said that the county would help us recover from the storm and were there to help us. Before the county picks up the debris, the code enforcement guy will beat them to it and some for having my fence down, write me a ticket or something. I’m mad, very upset about this.”
Perez is not alone. Believe it or not, after Hurricane Irma, the county handed out 680 “pool barrier safety” notices and 177 “electrical hazard safety” notices who were damaged by Irma.
And the county stands by this idiotic practice. A building official wrote to the station:
“The safety notice is neither a notice of violation warning nor a citation. It is important that we reach residents in the immediate aftermath of the storm, because that is when conditions are most dangerous, and taking steps to protect life is a critical part of the recovery process.”
Perez doesn’t see it that way: “Shame on Miami-Dade County for harassing the residents and not coming out here and helping us with the trees and do without power. Should have brought us ice, not a citation for having a down fence.”
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