TAMPA, Fla. — Florida state lawmakers are looking to stop neighbors from filing anonymous complaints to code enforcement unless there is a major safety concern. The aim is to stop "frivolous" code enforcement reports that unnecessarily harass families in community disputes.
Tampa's South Seminole Heights community was recently taken by surprise after someone filed two dozen anonymous complaints to Tampa's Neighborhood Enhancement Division.
Ellie Baggett, who serves as the South Seminole Heights Civic Association president, said they were all about other neighbors' driveways failing to meet code. She said the reason the person filed between 20 and 25 complaints is because their own driveway failed to gain approval from the city.
The report was so large, city code enforcement teams had to look into it, Baggett said.
"It's just not very neighborly," Baggett said. "In a neighborhood if you've lived here long enough, you may have grudges with people. And sometimes people take that opportunity to file complaint that maybe isn't justified.
That one anonymous person ended up costing neighbors thousands of dollars in total because they either had to rip the driveways out and bring them up to code or pay a permit fee to keep them in.
"This person had reported so many people they hadn't put their name on every application," Baggett said.
Florida House Bill 883 addresses the problems with anonymous code enforcement complaints.
"It is to deter citizens from filing frivolous or unfounded complaints or being a pawn in community disputes," said House Sponsor Toby Overdorf, R-Palm City.
Overdorf said this measure will stop Florida's code enforcement agencies from starting investigations without the person filing the complaint providing their name and address. However, code enforcement can continue to use the best judgment of their teams on when an investigation is needed.
"Nothing in the bill prohibits a code enforcement officer from initiating code enforcement proceedings based on his or her observation," Overdorf said.
But if the person reporting has a genuine safety concern, code enforcement agencies can assess whether that reporter's name can be left off of the official report.
In the meantime, community leaders like Baggett can see the upside and downside of the bill.
"I can understand that there is a way to use code enforcement correctly," Baggett said. "But at the end of the day, I hope neighbors are able to just speak to each other."
House Bill 883 is now in the State Affairs committee and has already been approved in the Florida Senate.