8th Amendment

Stossel: Mow Your Lawn or Lose Your House!

Florida man may lose home because he didn’t cut his grass.


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Jim Ficken left his home to take care of his recently deceased mother's estate. While away, the man he paid to cut his lawn died. The grass in Ficken's yard grew more than 10 inches long.

The City of Dunedin has an ordinance against long grass. The Florida city fined Ficken $500 a day. Over time the fines added up to almost $30,000.

"I was shocked," Ficken tells John Stossel, "It was just amazing that they would fine me that much."

Ficken doesn't have $30,000, and now the city wants to foreclose on his home.

Ficken's lawyer, Ari Bargil of the Institute for Justice, points out that the city could have "hire[d] a lawn service to come out and mow the grass, and send Jim a bill for 150 bucks, but they didn't do that."

The reason, says Bargil, is that the city "wants the money. Code enforcement is a major cash cow for the city."

Dunedin collected $34,000 in fines in 2007. Last year, the fines ballooned to $1.3 million. "That's an almost 4,000 percent increase," Bargil tells Stossel, adding the city attorney "has called their code enforcement body a 'well-oiled machine.'"

City officials released a statement saying they "have come under recent unfair criticism." They argue that Ficken is a "repeat offender" and has a "chronic history" of not maintaining his property.

Ficken admits he is a "bit of a slob" but adds, "I got everything taken care of when they notified me."

Bargil argues Dunedin's big fines violate the 8th Amendment. That protects us not only from cruel and unusual punishment but from "excessive fines."

Stossel agrees. What's more excessive than politicians taking your home because you didn't cut your grass?

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The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.

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  1. The City of Dunedin has an ordinance against long grass

    The City would have to define what “long grass is” for this to be a valid case of city ordinances, IMO.

    With that being said, if the City takes his home, under the 5th Amendment the owner is entitled to just compensation. The City should still have to get their fines from the owner after he is fully paid his just compensation. Otherwise, local jurisdictions can just make arbitrary ordinances, fine owners into oblivion, seize property, and effectively steal property in violation of the 5A.

    I am okay with eminent domain with just compensation being paid, as long as the property is actually used for public use, like roads and military installations.

    I am not okay with fine/tax levies resulting in property being taken for that purpose and not public use. The government can put a lien on the property like regular Americans who have court judgments and any sale of the property results in the lien(s) being paid off.

    1. RE: Defining “long grass” is:

      I believe this covered in the “Fuck You That’s Why” section of the city code.

    2. Haven’t there been too many cases of eminent domain property seizures that have resulted poorly for us to consider it a reasonable policy? Maybe in an idealistic world it’s rational but I wouldn’t trust many governments with that power.

  2. I live here in Dunedin. Code enforcement is about on par with most coastal cities like this. The big fines are mostly symbolic and they tend to work with people to get them in compliance. Locals say this guy is a slumlord extraordinaire with multiple blighted properties. Still not a fan of the big fines. I think the increase in fines is more attributable to the real estate boom here – a lot of flippers doing some really shady fixes.

    1. Well whatever the facts this is good example of becoming the monster when you’re fighting the monster. Judging people and acting on that judgment is a perilous journey and if you’re not thoughtful and just about it you can easily overstep and commit the greater offense making you everything and more then what you set out to stop.

  3. That’s a crime. 500 a day is fucking joke. How about these control freak thief scum instead if they just have to do it how about they mow the grass themselves and send the guy a bill for $50 every two weeks.

    1. how about they mow the grass themselves and send the guy a bill for $50 every two weeks.

      No city could mow a lawn for $50. It would be $500 at least.

  4. ‘Unfair criticism’? They deserve much more than just criticism. Stealing a man’s hone over fricken grass is preposterous.

  5. “bookies” — I know our “City Officials” are the most arrogant twits one will ever deal with. They are dumber than quack grass but insist within their own heads that they are gods. The real kick in the shorts comes when they end up getting re-elected. People really need to UN-brainwash themselves from believing the “bookie” or “career politician” is a god instead of being the arrogant and idiotic pricks they really are.

  6. Almost every bizarre story is about “Florida man.”

    1. LOL. Good one. Perhaps a new sub-species?

  7. If they’re fining $500/day do they have someone checking compliance daily? Grass can grow fast in Florida…

    1. But these type of laws wouldn’t be meant only to allow the government to target whoever is on the “wanted” list … would they? Course not. Still, it seems weird that the average American commits three felonies every day.

  8. Where’s the “Florida Man greets code enforcement offiials with shotgun” headline?

  9. So, is the 8th amendment commonly seen as fully incorporated into state and local governments? If it were, I think a lot more than silly front lawn rules would be open to question.

  10. No, no, no!
    Jim Ficken is going to lose his house because he didn’t SMOKE his grass.
    Get it right.

  11. I know I’m going to get ripped for this, but the politicians only deserve half of the blame here. The other half falls squarely on Jim’s neighbors and his fellow citizens of Dunedin. These draconian “beautification” types of laws are only allowed to be implemented because passive-aggressive citizens won’t talk to their neighbors about even the littlest nuisances. They are so small-minded, miserable, and lazy that they would rather have the government fix little nuisances for them at the expense of liberty. Fuck em.

    1. True. A lot of folks are chickenshit.

  12. Do not mess with Florida Man


  13. here is the statement from the City.

    Statement from the City of Dunedin Regarding Code Enforcement Actions May 24, 2019
    Post Date:05/24/2019 11:30 AM
    Statement from the City of Dunedin Regarding Code Enforcement Actions May 24, 2019

    The City of Dunedin has come under recent unfair criticism for entirely appropriate actions taken by code enforcement. This criticism incorrectly suggests that the affected homeowner is a victim of sudden and unwarranted action by the City – when, in fact, he is an offender with a repeated history of code violations. A thorough review of the history of this case shows that the City took this final action only after several years of repeat violations that could no longer be overlooked.

    The primary purpose of code enforcement is to maintain the appropriate high standards that make Dunedin such a special place, and to maintain property values and the quality of life that our residents expect and deserve. The broad goal of any code enforcement action is to compel property owners to meet the same unified standard as their neighbors and to bring their property into compliance, as the rest of the community cooperatively and consistently does.

    Unfortunately, the property in question owned by Mr. Jim Ficken has a long and chronic history of falling far short of this goal- intentionally. The City has had to intervene 12 times since 2007 to get the owner to properly maintain his property. Each time, the property was brought into compliance but only after intervention by the City.

    On May 5, 2015, after almost eight years of attempting to work with Mr. Ficken to keep the property legally maintained, the Dunedin Code Enforcement Board – a group of volunteer citizens committed to the betterment of the community deemed the owner of the property to be a repeat offender for overgrowth, reflecting an ongoing disdain for his neighbors and community and for following reasonable rules and standards. The Board’s order clearly stated that, as a repeat offender, the owner would be subject to fines up to $500 per day for future violations . This fine level is standard for most Florida cities in dealing with a repeat violator.

    Despite this clear advanced warning and repeated efforts to compel Mr. Ficken’s compliance, in early July 2018 the City received another complaint that the property was again overgrown. This led to unsuccessful attempts by the City to gain compliance. On May 7, 2019, the Board authorized the City Attorney’s office to file foreclosure actions.

    The affected property is one of several owned by Mr. Ficken, and it is not his homestead residence of record. His homestead property in Clearwater has been the subject of 35 cases opened by that city over complaints from overgrowth and broken glass to abandoned vehicles.

    The City of Dunedin has no desire to impose large fines or foreclose on residential property. Our goal has been, and remains, to ensure that Dunedin is a high-quality community for our residents and visitors alike. The law-abiding residents of our wonderful community routinely and regularly maintain their properties consistent with this reasonable goal – as good citizens and good neighbors. Homeownership is a choice and a responsibility, and the owner of the property in this case has repeatedly failed to uphold that standard.

    For more information contact: Ron Sachs at 850-321-8048; or ron@sachsmedia.com

  14. This is no longer tolerable. These overseers have lost all fear. Such fines cannot be paid. And if a person does not have the opportunity to take care of his lawn, then this goes beyond all boundaries. My friend even decided to open a lawn care company. By the way, what do you know about software https://fieldworkhq.com/ for this niche? If you have any information, I will be happy to hear it. In any case, all the best and good luck to you, good people!

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