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Date of Issue: September 13, 2007

City considers foreclosure over $28,000 fine

A $30-a-day fine for a code violation has accumulated to a $28,000 bill for one Holmes Beach property owner.

The bill has prompted officials at city hall to consider foreclosure action at 3707 Gulf Drive, the location of a duplex owned by William and Dianne Sorg, of Brewster, N.Y. The city has already placed a lien on the property.

The Sorgs, at press time, had not returned The Islander’s calls.

The case dates back to August 2003, when Walter Wunderlich, the code enforcement officer at the time, observed a problem with a second-floor balcony at the Gulf Drive property. Wunderlich noted a “wall missing” and that other areas “appear ... unsafe.” When he looked up the history of the property, he also noticed that there was no rental license on file.

Wunderlich contacted the Sorgs about the situation. William Sorg, in a letter, said 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 informed Wunderlich that “the units are unoccupied and no one has access ... or means of getting onto any decking.” The owner also raised the issue of holding an open permit for work on the property, according to a June 2006 letter from the Sorgs’ attorney, Jamie Goble, to Holmes Beach building official Bill Saunders.

Sorg paid a penalty for failure to have a rental license, but the problem with the balcony remained and eventually was presented to the 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 the 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.”

Sorg, in another letter, repeated his assertion that he didn’t need to seek a permit because he had an open-ended permit for work at the site.

But the city held its position that there was no such open-ended permit, that no permitted work had taken place at the site after 1989, and that the code violation continued to exist. The fine, city officials stressed, also continued to mount.

As recently as last October, the city reminded the Sorgs and their attorneys of the code enforcement violation and the compounding fine. “The code enforcement fine is running,” wrote attorney Jim Dye on behalf of the city.

The violation, according to code enforcement officer Nancy Hall, continued until at least this spring, when William Sorg pulled a permit for the repairs and began the process of renewing a rental license for the property.

But the case remains open because the fine has not been paid, Hall said.

Last week, Mayor Rich Bohnenberger presented the matter to city commissioners, asking whether the city should take foreclosure action.

“The bottom line is if we do nothing, they continue to compound the fine,” the mayor said.
Commissioner David Zaccagnino objected, but the other commissioners approved of the city attorney pursuing a foreclosure.

“The people knew what to do and just didn’t do it,” said Sandy Haas-Martens, the commission’s chair.

“They could have remedied [the violation] in less than 30 days,” she added.