March 18, 2021

We all hate getting parking tickets. Now imagine how you would feel getting a ticket not for how you parked on a public street but because an enforcement official didn’t like the way your car was parked in your own driveway. And what if instead of a small amount, the government tried to fine you more than $100,000 for this infraction? 

The South Florida city of Lantana did just that, issuing local homeowner Sandy Martinez a shocking $101,750 fine for a minor parking violation in her own driveway.

Sandy is a working-class mother of three. Along with her children—two of whom are grown—she shares her home with her 81-year-old mother and her sister. Together, four of them hold full-time jobs to help make ends meet, and all four rely on their own cars to get to and from work. Parking all four cars neatly in their relatively small driveway can be tricky, and in 2019 Lantana’s code enforcement department cited Sandy for having a car partially on her front lawn rather than parked perfectly on the driveway.

Even though she remedied the violation quickly, Sandy’s nightmare was only beginning. That’s because the Lantana code enforcement department doesn’t just issue a one-time fine when issuing a citation. Instead, the citation sets an amount that accrues every day until an inspector verifies that the violation has been fixed, with the onus on the homeowner to schedule the inspection.

Sandy called to schedule an inspection, but after several unsuccessful attempts to reach someone, she simply forgot to continue to follow up amid day-to-day life. And so the fines of $250 per day—for parking on her own lawn—continued to accrue without Sandy realizing. Over a year passed before she discovered the fine was still running. She immediately started calling again and secured an inspection, but by then that single citation had snowballed to an eye-watering $101,750.

To make matters worse, this wasn’t Lantana’s first time hitting Sandy with a crippling fine for a minor violation. In 2015, when Sandy was stuck waiting for an insurance claim to process so she could afford to replace a storm-damaged fence, Lantana cited her with daily fines that eventually exceeded $47,000. Another time, the city fined her $16,125 for cracks in her driveway she couldn’t immediately afford to fix. 

For these three trivial offenses, Sandy faces a lifetime of financial ruin. All told, Lantana has fined her more than $165,000—nearly four times her annual income.

Thankfully, IJ’s historic U.S. Supreme Court victory in Timbs v. Indiana has breathed new life into constitutional protections against excessive fines. IJ is using that victory to lead the charge against the nationwide scourge of abusive code enforcement fines.

And now Sandy, like property owners from New York to California, has teamed up with IJ to fight back. A victory will give her back her financial future while ensuring no Floridian can be sentenced to a lifetime of crushing debt because of trivial code violations.

Mike Greenberg is an IJ Law & Liberty Fellow.

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