Code violation fines on Valrico property now at $996,000 - WFLA News Channel 8

Code violation fines on Valrico property now at $996,000

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An 8 On Your Side investigation has learned code enforcement fines against a Valrico couple now stand at $996,950.

Code enforcement started citing Richard and Glenda Smith in 2003 for overgrowth, and accumulation of debris, junk and trash.

Since then the county added more fines for other code violations including living in an RV, fence problems, and structural problems on a house that used to stand on the property at 1602 Main Street in Valrico.

In March, 8 On Your Side started shedding light on the stalemate between Hillsborough County, which wants the property cleaned up, and the Smiths, who wouldn't budge.

Since the reports began airing, the Seminole Indian Tribe, which Smith works for, has moved in heavy equipment to move tons of junk, debris and trash.

The property may not be ready for a spot in Better Homes and Gardens, but what a difference a month has made for neighbor Ed Tewmey.

"It's looking better than it did. This morning I had my coffee out on the patio here and you look at that over there and you can't believe your eyes at times," he said.

Tewmey contacted 8 On Your Side after complaining to code enforcement for ten years about the mess across the street from his house.

He wondered why the county failed to enforce code or collection violation fines from the Smiths. We did too.

"We're not trying to punish the property owner, we're just trying to motivate the property owners to comply with ordinances," code enforcement manager Jim Blinck told 8 On Your Side.

Florida law prohibits the county from foreclosing on a property owner's home if it is their primary residence. According to the law, the county can't step foot on the property to clean it up without the owner's permission. So like the junk, weeds and brush, fines continued mounting over the years.

Smith works for the Seminole Indian tribe of Florida as a driver and a trainer. Following our stories, the Seminoles took action to help the family as well as the neighborhood.

Their fire department hauled in heavy machinery to help clean up the clutter.

As the weekend unfolded, an end loader carried piles of rubble to a dumpster. What the end loader missed, a bobcat scooped up.

The equipment knocked down dead trees and dug up stumps. Work crews cut down scrub trees. A giant chipper then ground the timber into mulch.

Chunks of concrete, house siding, chicken wire, rusted out barbeques, cracked barrels, broken flower pots, rotting roof tarps and just about anything else you can think of were dragged off and thrown into a dumpster. When the dumpster filled, the end loader and bobcat kept up the clearing work, and created a pile of junk some 20 feet in diameter that stands at least 8 to 10 feet high.

Years ago, the Smiths moved onto the property, temporary storage containers as big as railroad boxcars that dwarf a full grown man. The storage containers are another code violation.

It took some doing, but the end loader dragged the containers to the back of the property.

After 10 years of complaining and 11 years of county inaction, Tewmey says he is pleased with the progress and thankful for the Seminole tribe.

"There's still a tremendous amount of trash that needs to be gone," Tewmey said. "I started seeing action whenever I contacted Channel 8 and from then on there's been some action every week."

If the Smith's property were to come into code compliance today, would they really pay $996,950 in fines?

Generally the county only holds property owners responsible for its mailing costs and recording fees.  So as of today, the county would demand a grand total of..$201.33 for 11 years of ignoring code enforcement.

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