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Anonymous code complaints curtailed

New state law in effect

By Staff | Jul 22, 2021

A new state law that went into effect July 1 restricts code inspectors from investigating minor noise and code violations if the person making the report doesn’t provide their name and address.

Building inspectors and code enforcement officers, though, still must investigate the matter “if the violation presents an imminent threat to public health, safety, or welfare or imminent destruction of habitat or sensitive resources.”

For all other code violation complaints, the person who reports a potential violation of a code or an ordinance must provide his or her name and address.

The city of Cape Coral will be among the entities changing procedures to comply with the new state mandate.

“Some changes will be necessary, but we don’t expect it to significantly affect our operating procedures for initiating and investigating code complaints or ways the public can report non-emergency code issues,” Cape Coral city spokesperson Maureen Buice said via email Thursday. “311 has also been notified and they agree it will not negatively impact their function either.”

She provided the city’s understanding of the legislation.

“An individual making a complaint of a potential violation must provide his or her name and address to the local jurisdiction before an investigation may occur,” she wrote. “The newly enacted state law does not apply if the code inspector has reason to believe the alleged violation presents an imminent threat to public health, safety, or welfare, or presents an imminent destruction of habitat or sensitive resources.”

Code Compliance Standard Operating Procedures will be modified to reflect the new law changes and training will be provided to Code Division staff, she said.

“Some changes will be made in screening by customer service representatives in the Code Compliance Division, the Clerk’s office/311, and any other staff (council’s office and City Manager’s office) who may receive complaints of issues received by phone, in person, mail, or e-mail. In the Code Compliance Division, the message on the telephone system voicemail will need some minor changes to inform callers that a name and address are required.”

Those calling in through the city’s 311 system will be so advised.

“We intend to implement a similar process in Cape Coral for online submittal through the 311 system,” Buice said. “At the time of submittal, the following instructions will be given: ‘For Code Enforcement complaints, you must provide your name and address pursuant to Florida State Statute effective July 1, 2021 unless the complaint is an emergency that immediately threatens public health, safety, or welfare, or imminent destruction of habitat or sensitive resources.'”

The new law may impact both cost and the number of complaints received.

“Local governments across the state may experience a minor cost in updating codes and ordinance enforcement mechanisms to comply with the changes in the law however, this cost will in most cases be absorbed by current operations, as it will in Cape Coral,” she wrote. “Local governments may experience a reduction in complaints filed due to individuals not wanting to provide personal identifying information. Thus, this may lead to fewer resources being utilized by local code enforcement. However, we don’t believe it will impact Cape Coral in this manner. We will track the number of cases and compare to prior years to identify whether the new law impacts the number of complaints received.”

She pointed out that the law is not breaking new ground as some governmental entities already do not investigate anonymous complaints.

“The concept of not accepting anonymous code complaints in Florida is not foreign. Collier County has used this practice for eight years,” Buice said.

Senate Bill 60 passed the State Senate by a vote of 27-11 and the State House by a vote of 81-35.

State Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, and State Rep. Mike Giallombardo, R-Cape Coral, both voted in favor of the law.