WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.—This morning, a Florida court rejected the town of Lantana’s attempt to end a lawsuit filed by resident Sandy Martinez, who is contesting sky-high fines she was assessed for minor infractions on her own property. One parking violation, assessed daily for over a year, totals more than $100,000. The total amount the town fined her, which includes two other infractions, comes to an astounding $165,000, more than half what her home is worth. In February, Sandy teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a lawsuit asking the court to rule that her excessive fines violate the state constitution.
“Six-figure fines for parking on your own property are outrageous and today’s decision will allow Sandy to make the case that these fines are unconstitutional,” said IJ Attorney Ari Bargil. “While Florida’s Constitution forbids fines that are ‘excessive’ or ‘shock the conscience’, places like Lantana routinely impose crippling fines against residents for minor code violations. It is time that Florida courts make it clear that cities cannot fine people into poverty for trivial violations.”
“It’s surreal that the town still refuses to admit that what it’s doing to me is abusive and unfair,” said Sandy. “Like everyone else in my neighborhood, I work hard for what I’ve got. I shouldn’t have to fight in court to stop the city from fining me into poverty. But with today’s decision, I’m glad that I am one step closer to making sure that doesn’t happen—to me or anyone else.”
The $165,000 that Sandy owes is a result of daily fines that the city assessed for property code violations. Most of this amount is a result of the way Sandy’s family parks their cars. Sandy, her two adult children and her sister all own cars so that they can get to their jobs. When all four cars are parked in the driveway, sometimes one of them has two tires on the lawn, a $250 per day violation. And those fines continue to accrue until the homeowner corrects the problem and calls the city to inspect the property to confirm it is in compliance.
After receiving the parking violation, Sandy called the town like she was supposed to, but an inspector never came out. Once Sandy discovered that the fines were still accruing over a year later, she immediately called and passed the inspection. But by then, the amount she owed was $101,750. This fine is on top of fines for two other similarly trivial violations—for cracks in the driveway and a fence that fell over during a storm.
IJ has challenged abusive fines and fees across the country, notably in Dunedin, Florida, where a homeowner is facing foreclosure after he was fined over $30,000 in fines for tall grass. IJ has successfully protected homeowners in California and Missouri from abusive fines and fees practices. In 2019, IJ released a study of cities that relied heavily on fines and fees to balance their budgets, “The Price of Taxation by Citation,” and in 2020 released a 50-state survey of state laws governing municipal fines and fees.
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