Noisy neighbor?Florida’s new law no longer allows you to file an anonymous complaint

For years, Floridian has filed anonymous complaints against neighbors, such as noisy parties, too high grass, too low wooden limbs, or too large leaf blowers.

However, if you want law enforcement officers to investigate for violations of local ordinances in the future, all complainants must complain about their name and address.

However, officers have the discretion to investigate anonymous complaints that they consider to be “imminent threats to public health, safety and welfare, or imminent destruction of habitats and confidential resources.”

These new code enforcement requirements are part of a law that came into force on July 1, after Governor Ron DeSantis signed it two days ago. The bill was approved by the state legislature in April and was marketed as a way to stop spending taxpayers’ money to investigate “frivolous” complaints filed in feuds with neighbors.

Senator Jennifer Bradley of R-Fleming, when first submitting the bill to the Senate, said, “Our law enforcement resources are scarce in many places, which complains of legitimate disputes. I think we can narrow down and concentrate more accurately. ” During February.

However, some local and state officials, especially those living in densely populated urban areas, may discourage people from reporting issues that the new law may justify their investigation. I am concerned that it may adversely affect people’s living environment.

“People may not want to name or address for fear of retaliation, which will hinder the quiet enjoyment of the neighborhood,” said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber. The complaint comes from an anonymous source.

According to Gerber, the new law also has a “chilling effect” on the types of follow-up codes that bailiffs enforce for possible violations, as they need to know which complaints correspond to health and safety issues. It is said that it may bring about.

Bradley said in an interview Wednesday that the new law will not change how locals should enforce Florida building code violations, and anonymous complaints can be investigated even if they relate to building inspection and construction issues. Stated.

“If someone has a problem with the building standards, they just call the building department. It’s completely different from garbage problems, too long grass, noise and parking,” Bradley said. I am. “Different animals, very different.”

Focus on enforcement discretion

Dario Gonzalez, a law enforcement officer in Key Biscayne, said police could “50/50” consider certain law violations as a health and safety issue, based on how people file complaints. State and problem.

“They might call and say that their neighbors are making noise after business hours, but they’re working in a 12-story building, drilling and hammering on the 7th floor. They will probably hit the pillars, or something, “said Gonzales. “It’s the 50/50 chance I was telling you, and it’s at the discretion of the officers.”

After the fatal collapse of the surfside condo building, Gonzales said that anonymous excessive noise complaints were due to the building of the apartment and involved health and safety issues involving work done on tools and units. He says he will be more active in what he sees.

“More now,” he said. “If you told me last year, I think it’s okay, maybe it’s just a job, but now it’s okay, I’ll go there and get in touch with the owner of the unit.”

Bradley said code compliance violations that could endanger residents need to be investigated, even anonymously.

“Our mill case practice requires someone to name it,” Bradley said. “But if it rises to a serious level, we certainly don’t want it to be the reason why serious problems aren’t raised.”

Broken fences around pools, “bundles of debris” in an area, or disposal of dangerous goods into water bodies can all be considered examples of anonymous complaints that reach that “level of severity”. She said.

D-Aventura, Congressman Joe Geller, said the new law is another example of an “unwise preemption” passed by a Republican-led parliament that limits how local governments decide to do their best. Said there is.

“Removing their judgment and replacing it with a total ban does not mean a wise policy for me,” Geller said. “Most of these preemptions assume that anyone making decisions in the state knows better than the people in the field,” Geller said.

In February, Senator Janet Cruz of D-Tampa pointed out that the bill was scrutinized by lawmakers. She said she had spoken to local officials in her district and was unsure of what the measures were trying to solve.

“They revealed that the identity of the complainant could be useful in context, but ultimately did not interfere with the code inspector’s ability to investigate potential violations,” Cruz said at the time. I did.

Former state legislator David Richardson said he would monitor whether the new law would change the number of complaints and see if legislative adjustments would be recommended during the January session.

Some dissatisfied people who want to remain anonymous have already been rejected by the city since the law came into force three weeks ago, Richardson said.

I have a lot of anonymous complaints

In Hillsborough County, approximately 45% of the 35,610 code enforcement complaints filed in 2019 and 2020 were filed anonymously.

County officials said they would analyze data from July to determine the effectiveness of the new law. However, the county expects executives to spend more time on active execution, as complaints are expected to decrease if they choose not to report because they do not want to be anonymous.

Hernan Caldero, director of compliance at Miami Beach Code, said in an email that she wasn’t sure if the new law would “have a chilling effect on reporting violations,” but test data show that nearly half of the complaints his department recently received. The one-month period was from an anonymous source.

In a surfside town still upset after the collapse of the condominium on June 24, which killed at least 98 people, town spokeswoman Marary Daudinicus said most of the code investigations were aggressive rather than complaint-driven. So the law “is not really a change,” he said. What we have done. She estimated that about 10% to 15% of the survey was due to complaints.

“Our department is very active in what they do,” said Dauginikas.

In the city of Miami, individuals rarely want to be associated with their complaints.

“Based on experience in multiple jurisdictions, we conservatively estimate that approximately 80% of all code cases are based on complaints, most of which were submitted anonymously. [to avoid retribution]”Miami’s Code Compliance Director, Robert Santos-Alborná, said.

Miami Herald reporters Joe Frechas, Samantha J. Gross, Martin Vasso, and Tampa Bay Times reporter CT Bowen contributed to this report.