Florida homeowner ordered to pay $30,000 for overgrown grass

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Jim Ficken, a homeowner in Dunedin, is vowing to “fight” a federal court’s ruling that he pay $30,000 in fines for failing to mow his overgrown lawn for a few months in the summer of 2018. (Institute for Justice)

(NEXSTAR) – Floridians across the state might be feeling a sudden, overwhelming urge to cut their grass today.

A homeowner in Dunedin is vowing to “fight” a federal court’s ruling that he pay $30,000 in fines for failing to mow his overgrown lawn during the summer of 2018.

Jim Ficken, 71, says he was out of town for a few months in 2018 to tend to his late mother’s estate in South Carolina. But during that time, Ficken’s grass grew to a length of “longer than ten inches” — a code violation punishable by a fine of $250 per day, and up to $500 per day for repeat violators.

Ficken later filed a complaint, alleging excessive fines and insufficient notice from the code enforcement officers who first took note of his overgrown grass. However, on Monday, the court upheld the fines, agreeing with the City of Dunedin that Ficken’s overgrown grass could “draw snakes, rats or other vermin” and potentially decrease property values, per the decision.

“I was out of town when code enforcement officials first noticed my grass was too tall,” Ficken said following the ruling on Monday, according to a media release issued by his lawyers at the Institute for Justice. “They came back almost every day to record the violation, but never notified me that I was on the hook for fines. By the time I found out, I owed them tens of thousands of dollars.”

Ari Bargil, one of Ficken’s attorneys at the Institute for Justice, claims the city’s behavior is “outrageous” and alleges that the ruling will only “embolden” officials across Florida to impose similar fines.

Following Monday’s ruling, the City of Dunedin also released a statement saying, in part, that Dunedin remains “committed to protecting the health and safety of our citizens, and public and private investments in the community through fair and equitable policies consistent with the applicable law.”

The statement also confirmed that local officials have “undertaken a thorough and careful analysis and review of its code enforcement policies and procedures” to “reflect modifications emphasizing compliance over enforcement.”

Ficken and his attorneys, however, say they still plan to appeal.

“I am disappointed that the court sided with Dunedin, but what happened to me is wrong, and I will continue to fight.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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