- A Florida man was fined nearly $US30,000 for having tall grass over a period of roughly eight weeks.
- Jim Ficken, 69, has sued the city of Dunedin, arguing that he was away settling his late mother’s estate, and wasn’t given any warning that he was receiving daily $US500 fines over the grass.
- He said the man he had tasked with mowing his lawn while he was away died unexpectedly.
- The city has filed foreclosure actions against Ficken’s home.
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A Florida city is trying to foreclose on an elderly man’s home, citing his failure to pay nearly $US30,000 in fines he racked up in 2018 – all because his grass was too tall.
Jim Ficken, 69, sued the city of Dunedin and members of its Code Enforcement Board this week, arguing in a complaint that he was hit “without any warning” with daily $US500 fines that totaled $US29,000 over roughly eight weeks, because his grass grew over 10 inches while he was away from home settling his late mother’s estate.
“Now, his inability to pay that sum means that the City is going to take his house,” the complaint said. “This, the city attorney has touted, is Dunedin’s ‘well-oiled machine’ of code enforcement at work.”
Ficken spoke out about his lawsuit at his home on Wednesday, in front of a neatly trimmed lawn, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
“It’s an excessive fine, and everyone I’ve spoken to says it’s outrageous,” he said.
A City of Dunedin spokeswoman told INSIDER in a statement that city has not yet been served with Ficken’s lawsuit, and that the Code Enforcement Board had been attempting to work with Ficken since 2007 on the issue of his grass being mowed, using “a series of phone calls and violation notices.”
The board has already authorised city prosecutors to file foreclosure actions “after resolution of the case could not be agreed upon with Mr. Ficken.”
“[It] was not until 2015 that [Code Enforcement] staff recommended him for repeat offender status after numerous complaints from the neighbourhood,” the statement said.
It added that the property is not Ficken’s primary, homesteaded residence, and that city and state policies prohibit foreclosures on homesteaded residences.
According to Ficken’s lawsuit, he doesn’t dispute the fact that the height of his grass exceeded 10 inches during the summer of 2018 – but he was away on trips to South Carolina for weeks at a time, and the friend who usually mowed his lawn while he was away had died unexpectedly. Then, when he returned from a trip and attempted to mow his lawn, the mower broke.
Beyond that, Ficken alleged he was never notified that the code enforcement board deemed him a “repeat violator,” which comes with $US500 daily fines. Instead, Ficken said nearly two months had passed before he learned he owed the city tens of thousands of dollars.
When the Code Enforcement Board scheduled a hearing on the matter, Ficken was again out of town managing another issue with his mother’s estate. Between two fines, Ficken was told he owed a total of $US29,833.50.
Ficken’s lawyers from the Institute for Justice told reporters at a press conference that they agreed to take FIcken’s case pro bono.
“Nobody should lose their house for having tall grass,” lead attorney Ari Bargil said.
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