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Date of Issue: January 16, 2008

Holmes Beach sued over code fine

A civil suit was filed against the city of Holmes Beach recently over the city’s demand that William and Dianne Sorg to pay a $28,000 fine associated with code violations at their property.

The Sorgs, represented by attorney Terence Matthews, filed the suit at the Manatee County Courthouse in Bradenton.

City commissioners learned of the suit during a Jan. 8 meeting at city hall. The suit challenges a lien placed on the Sorgs’ duplex at 3707 Gulf Drive, as well as the city’s fine.

The code enforcement case dates back to August 2003.

According to city records, the code enforcement officer at that time, Walter Wunderlich, observed a problem with a second-floor balcony at the Gulf Drive property. Wunderlich noted a missing rail and that other areas “appear … unsafe.” He also noticed that there was no rental license on file with the city.

William Sorg informed the city that he was unaware a rental license was needed and that he would take care of the balcony, which was not used by tenants, when he returned to Holmes Beach from New York.

Sorg paid a penalty for failure to have a rental license, but the problem with the balcony remained and eventually was presented to the city’s code enforcement board.

A public hearing took place July 8, 2004, at which time the board made several findings of fact, including that the property is used as a rental property and that “the balcony is in poor repair and unsafe in the opinion of the city,” which requires guardrails around balconies to meet code requirements.

The board ordered that the property be brought into compliance by Sept. 3, 2004, and stated that “for purposes of this order, compliance means at a minimum, application for and receipt of a building permit for necessary repairs to satisfy this order, and completion of all work authorized by the permit.” The penalty, the board warned, could be a fine of up to $250 a day.

The deadline passed without a permit application or any repairs taking place, according to city records. But, later that fall, city officials observed that the balcony was fixed without a building permit.

The code enforcement board met again on Oct. 21, 2004, and made four findings of fact: The repairs were made without a properly issued building permit; without a permit there has been no inspection to insure proper repair; the Sorgs had repeatedly been told they needed a permit; and “the city must maintain respect for its permitting system among all property owners.”

Based on the findings, the code enforcement board levied a fine - $30 a day “for every day the violation continues on the property.”

Last fall, after learning that the $30-a-day fine associated with the property had accumulated to a $28,000 debt for the Sorgs, city commissioners decided to foreclose.

William Sorg next appeared before the commission and said that the matter had gotten out of hand, in part because of problems he had with two attorneys he hired for the case. He did not directly ask commissioners to forgive the fine, but asked for help.

Petruff advised commissioners that the Sorgs had been “very very difficult to deal with” and “this case has cost the city a lot of money.”

The commissioners then decided to pursue the total fine.

At press time, no court dates had been set nor had the city responded to the Sorgs’ complaint.