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Code-enforcement liens may appear on tax bills

LIEN-ING A LITTLE HARDER — Volusia County Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett addresses the Volusia County Council at the body’s Jan. 18 meeting.  

LIEN-ING A LITTLE HARDER — Volusia County Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett addresses the Volusia County Council at the body’s Jan. 18 meeting.  

BEACON PHOTO/AL EVERSON

Volusia County property owners who have been charged with code violations may see their tax bills going up.

Volusia County Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett has suggested adding code-enforcement liens to property-tax bills, as a means of ensuring local governments are paid back for money they spend to combat urban decay and neighborhood blight. 

“Putting the code-enforcement liens on the tax bill elevates that lien to the priority of taxes,” Bartlett said.

Commonly, cities or the county government may, at their own expense, mow lawns, repair roofs or board up windows at neglected properties, after unsuccessful efforts to get the owners to fix the problems. Then, the governments put liens on the properties in the amount spent on repairs.

Collecting on those liens isn’t easy, however, if the property doesn’t change hands. If the liens become part of the tax bills, property owners would risk losing their property if the bills, including the liens, aren’t paid.

Code-enforcement liens may grow, too, if per-day fines are also imposed.

But only the amounts spent to maintain the property — not including any fines — would qualify as code liens on the tax bills, according to Bartlett. 

“What I am putting on the tax bills are those costs that a city has spent to bring property up to code,” he added.

Bartlett is talking with city leaders, and expects to receive widespread backing for his proposal.

“Now they have a way of getting their money back,” he said. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to get support on this.”

Some Florida counties are already using tax bills to collect property-maintenance liens, according to Bartlett, including Flagler, Manatee and Palm Beach counties.

Under state law, property-tax bills must be paid in full. 

Any non-ad valorem assessments for such services and projects as trash collection, streetlighting, and stormwater control or other fees appearing on the tax bills must be paid along with the millage imposed by local governments and special taxing agencies, such as the School Board and hospital districts.

“You can’t pay part of a tax bill,” Bartlett said.

He said his recommendation was spurred by a desire to improve the appearance of run-down and dilapidated sections of Daytona Beach.

“I want to get the beachside back to what it should be, not a tarnished jewel, but a polished jewel,” he said.

But the proposal would be countywide. All Volusia County cities would have the option to sign on, and would need to notify the Property Appraiser’s Office by March 1 if they want to make the change for 2018 property taxes.

Asked if Deltona, the largest city in the county, may sign onto Bartlett’s proposal, Mayor John Masiarczyk said he favors it.

“I would think at first blush it would stop the worst of the code offenders,” Masiarczyk said. “I think it will help keep our homes cleaned up.”

No estimates of the amounts of the code-enforcement liens that may be collected are available.

Bartlett said he does not intend to cause hardships for those with limited incomes.

“I’m not going after those folks. What I’m going after are those people that ignore the rules about how the property looks — not the elderly couple that can’t afford to mow their grass,” he added.

Bartlett said he may recommend “a threshold” of $1,500 or $2,500 in code liens to be added onto tax bills.

“I’m not going after the guy that has a lien of $62.75,” he said.

— Al Everson, al@beacononlinenews.com

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