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CODE COMPLAINTS: WILL ENDING ANONYMOUS COMPLAINTS PREVENT TIME-WASTING TIT-FOR-TAT FIGHTS?

Anonymous complaints to a local code compliance department from one neighbor to another, tit for tat, almost seem like an unavoidable American way of life. Kind of like apple pie and baseball. One resident doesn’t like where a neighbor put his fence, while that neighbor will retaliate by complaining about garbage cans hanging on the street corner too long.

But … no more! 

Due to the passage of Senate Bill 60 by the Florida Legislature, code compliance departments within the state can no longer investigate anonymous code compliance violation reports. 

Per a Monroe County press release, “The bill changed existing state law to prohibit the investigation of anonymous reports of potential violations of municipal property codes, effective July 1, 2021. The person reporting the issue is now required to supply their full name and address, and this information will become part of the public record. This applies to submissions made by phone, email, online, or in person to the Code Compliance Department.”

Since this law was effective as of July 1, code compliance departments that still accept anonymous complaints within the Florida Keys have not had enough time yet to determine how this will affect their work. The Monroe County Code Compliance department still took anonymous complaints before July 1, as did Key West’s. 

“Our complaints as a whole are generally anonymous,” said Cynthia McPherson, senior director of code compliance for Monroe County. 

She told Keys Weekly some typical examples of anonymous complaints: abandoned vehicles, including boats and trailers, parked in the right of way; work without a permit, such as someone putting up a fence, a new door or a window; or a structure that has hurricane damage and has not been repaired yet.

“We don’t know yet how the law is going to affect our department,” she said. “But I’ll tell you that if it does anything in cutting down the numbers coming into us, it may be the tit-for-tat neighbor complaints that are difficult to process for us.”

McPherson said investigating anonymous complaints can be time-consuming for the staff.

“Oftentimes anonymous complaints are incomplete,” she explained. “It’ll give you only a mile marker, with no way to ascertain where the property is. With all the complaints we investigate, we can sometimes find the location, but not always. With a name and an address, and somehow to verify and get information, it may eliminate that work we had done with no benefit. But I don’t know if that’ll happen.”

Key West code compliance director Jim Young agreed that anonymous complaints can take valuable time and energy for his staff that can be used more efficiently.

“These calls would take time,” he noted. “We would respond and verify the complaint. A lot of times it was valid, a lot of times it was not valid. The good ones were a tenant calling on a landlord and wanting to be anonymous. Good luck with that one.”

Young and his staff are getting complainers used to the idea that they have to leave their name and contact information. But when some callers are informed that anonymous complaints are outlawed, they get frustrated. 

“This is not something we created,” he said. “We have to abide by it. It’s effective throughout the entire state of Florida. Some people said we were trying to not do our job just prior to them hanging up.”

McPherson and Young made clear that they want to be of service to the community, and citizens should always feel free to call in a complaint. Young is also looking forward to having more time to devote to issues that are important to Key West residents. 

“We can be proactive on some issues that have been brought to our attention, and the city commission wants us to work on cleanliness in the city, one of six priorities in the strategic plan. In a survey, 3,700 citizens responded with six top priorities, and cleanliness was one of them,” said Young.

Unlike Monroe County and Key West, the City of Marathon has not accepted anonymous complaints for many years, according to Mark Senmartin, Marathon vice mayor and longtime council member.

“We haven’t had that for a long time,” he said. “If it bothers you enough that something needs to be said, you need to own it. You get into situations where neighbors don’t like each other, and they call back and waste city staff time.”

Senmartin pointed out that sometimes a complainer who was reluctant to give his or her name would have a legitimate concern; it’s just that the homeowner didn’t want to be the bad guy and confront the neighbor.

“If there is a safety issue you’re concerned about, you definitely need to report it,” he said. “We get unlicensed operators in the area, so safety issues are at stake. Don’t be afraid to say something when something is really wrong.”

Key West’s Young has one final bit of advice: “If you want to report your landlord anonymously, he might be able to figure it out.”

The post CODE COMPLAINTS: WILL ENDING ANONYMOUS COMPLAINTS PREVENT TIME-WASTING TIT-FOR-TAT FIGHTS? appeared first on Florida Keys Weekly Newspapers.

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