Lien Against Home-Long Story

mustangs81July 2, 2005

Eight years ago, we had a large pine tree limb hanging over our roof. We surmised that the tree had been hit by lightening and a rather large limb was hanging precariously over our house.

We hired a tree service to take the tree out. When we asked the tree person if we needed a permit, he said that it wasnÂt necessary because the tree was a slash pine and consequently was exempt from tree removal guidelines. Since we verified that he was licensed, we were comfortable with his guidance.

A neighbor reported the tree removal and subsequently the County sited us and the tree service for code violation. The tree service ignored all communications and refused to accept any responsibility so, as the homeowner, we were liable for 100% of the fines and tree restoration. Keep in mind that in Florida, our trees are better protected than our children.

We purchased and planted trees to the CountyÂs specifications to be in compliance with code enforcement. The County inspected the plantings and deemed them to be grade B. We purchased and planted more trees and again the County inspected the plantings and indicated that we had satisfied the terms of the violation.

Move to present date: My position was recently eliminated along with 2200 other jobs at my company. Consequently, we are in the process of refinancing our home in order to reduce our monthly bills.

We received notice June 30 that the closing will not take place as we have a $128,000 lien on our home. This lien was placed by the County; they contend that we didnÂt respond to the tree removal violation. We are devastated and desperately trying to prove that we satisfied the fine in order to resolve this issue.

The County attorney returned our call and recommended that we "PAY THE $128,000". Hey, why didn't I think of that!

Any experience with liens?

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Mustangs, this is devastating! And just which sweet, kind and friendly neighbor did you the favor of reporting this "infraction"? Wouldn't you think he would have spoken to you before filing a report?Have you contacted your county commisioner? Of course, over the holidays there's nobaody working downtown.
You mean you never got a notice about the lien being placed on your property? It's a good thing you were going to refinance so you found this out. otherwise it could have gone on for more years, with the daily penalties mounting until you woke up one morning to the sight of officers escorting you out of the county's latest aquisition.
I'm so sorry this is happening to you and your DH. Keep us posted.
PS. Which tree service was it?

    Bookmark   July 2, 2005 at 6:26PM
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If it were me, the FIRST thing I would do is gather ALL pertinent papers re: the tree- work orders, receipts showing you paid for the removal, receipts showing you bought replacement plantings. What paperwork do you have to indicate you satisfied the code violations? Place any and all documents in chronological order. The SECOND thing I would do is, from here on out document names, dates, etc. of any persons you speak to- including the county attorney (just curious- which county? I am in Volusia, near Daytona).
Thirdly, contact an attorney pronto. If he/she recommends it, you may wish to contact the credit reporting bureaus and inform them that the lien is in dispute. I do not know whether there is a form that they will mail you to 'put it in writing', nor do I know whether a lien is in fact disputable- but I would at least TRY to dispute the lien, as the bank doing the re-fi gets their info, however erroneous, from the Big 3 credit reporting bureaus- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You may also request to schedule a meeting w/ the county attorney to plead your case and present any refuting paperwork. I wish you well in sucks, but you are started on the right track.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2005 at 7:16PM
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Thanks for listening. One good thing, I havenÂt been able to eatÂor sleep.

Our neighbors (with one exception) have rallied and will volunteer to give depositions.

Mona, it was Rick's Tree Service. The neighbor who reported is the XXXXXXXXX XX XXXXXXXX's wife. (I was going to give the information, but decided that I had better XX it our or I might get in more trouble.)

You are right about everyone being on holiday. Our county commissioner's sister a played ball for my DH in college, we will call him if necessary. Do you know Rose Ferlita? On of our neighbors is very close to her and is going to talk to her Tuesday. DH is in Colorado with his girls team for a week and he is going mad. I told him in his state of mind, it wouldn't be wise to coach third! DH talked to the city attorney (who happens to have a daughter playing for him in Colorado!), she is going to see what she can do when she gets back. She said that you can cut slash pines in the city but not in the county-is that crazy??

Jane, It's Hillsborough County. Our credit bureau score was almost a perfect score, it was the title search that uncovered the lien.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2005 at 12:27AM
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What can I say except, "Geez". I never knew there was a difference in tree cutting regulations between city and county. I'm in shock at what's happening to you. Yes, we know Rose very well. But she's City, not County. Who's your county rep? Hagan? Norman? I'd get him out to do a walk through to see the new trees you planted 8 yrs. ago and see if that helps your situation. And if all else fails, I'd get media coverage. Get an article in the newspaper, have a TV crew come out to see the property. Who knows, that just might work for you.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2005 at 8:45AM
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I thought that you would know Rose. When my neighbor mentioned her, I pictured her on the city council, but in my panic, city versus county didn't click at the time.

Hagen is our CC. But my daughter reminded me that I told the Hagen's never to darken our door again!

I am so grateful for the friends who have reacted so quickly and have actually gone to or called the county office in our defense.

Let's hope that there is something that can be done.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2005 at 5:36PM
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I would still call Ken Hagan. Chances are, if you don't bring the past up then neither he or his staff will remember. (You really think yours was the only home that told him this?) I think about your problem constantly and can't believe this is happening to you,Cathy. I have to believe that you'll be vindicated of any wrong doing. Too many things are in your favor, not the least of which are the proof of relatively young trees and the fact that your neighbors are willing to confirm your story. Still, the stress...... Hang in there and keep us posted. Is there anything we can do?

    Bookmark   July 5, 2005 at 9:47PM
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Mona, Thanks for much your encouragement and offer!

The supervisor of the department we dealt with eight years ago called us back today; he was non-committal and there was nothing encouraging during 25 minute conversation.

Sweet story: The teenager (16) across the street said "I'll bet we have a picture me when I was a little girl playing in our yard. If we have one, it will show your yard in the background." At 10:30 last night she came knocking on the door. She had searched through pictures for hours looking for one that showed our yard. She found one of herself playing with her dad with our yard and house in the background. Sure enough, with a magnifying glass it clearly showed the giant tree limb projecting over our roof. I know it was painful for her as her dad died recently very unexpectedly.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2005 at 6:44PM
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Good Grief! Rick's Tree Service, could that also be the one that serviced my back neighbor's tree in Pasco County? I've got pics showing his truck (Rick's Tree Service).

Century Oak that must be at least a century old... I can get my 5'4" arms around it about a third of the way. Jerk in back didn't like the leaves falling on his lot (postage size patio), and had ALL the limbs removed on his side (cheaper than getting a permit to take the tree down). Now the tree is leaning in my direction to the point of pushing his fence over (another post here somewhere).

I was livid! Doesn't take much of a mastermind to figure that if you take 2,000 pounds off one side of a tree, it's gonna lean and eventually fall. He never responded to certified letters asking who his insurance company is, but he's on notice and that's what it takes.

Sorry that isn't much help to you, but I saw Rick's and saw RED again!!!

    Bookmark   July 12, 2005 at 11:48PM
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Cathy, what's happening?

    Bookmark   July 16, 2005 at 8:24PM
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Gina--it very well could have been the same Rick's Tree Service as we are very close to Pasco Co line.

Mona--As requested, we went around the county last Sunday taking pictures of DH standing next to each tree that we planted 8 years ago. Our attorney told us Friday that County Planning & Growth Management has cleared us as we were in compliance. of our responsibility...Yea!!!! They will go after Rick's.

Next step, we have to appear at a hearing August 4 to see if the Code Enforcement Board (the legal people) will release the lien as it is at their discretion.

I feel like a baby about this after I read in the Tribune this week about a homeowner in the Town & Country area who has a $1.2 million dollar lien on their modest home because they have been sited with violations at a rate of $5,000 a day.

I will report back after the hearing. Thanks for your thoughts.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2005 at 7:33AM
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Mustangs, this T&C family is in this position with another home they own in another city. You cannot compare your situation with theirs. You were a victim; according to reports I've read they have purposely ignored notices and are aware of their violations. Some of the fines are for not mowing their lawn for months at a time and for having the property littered with junk. Cleaning up and mowing doesn't take a whole lot of time and effort compared to $5000 in daily fines.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2005 at 5:15PM
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Reporting back:

The hearing was Thursday. Our friend, the lien attorney, went to the hearing for us. The county employee who originally placed the lien and is a friend of the attorney, went to the hearing. She, the county employee, told the board that she should not have filed the lien as we had satisfied the fine.


    Bookmark   August 7, 2005 at 8:49AM
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YES!!!!!! CONGRATS!!!!! BRING OUT THE JACK DANIELS!!(though I prefer Vodka)

    Bookmark   August 8, 2005 at 1:16AM
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I hope you went out to celebrate!! I know you certainly are sleeping better.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2005 at 9:24AM
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WOOHOO Cathy!!

    Bookmark   August 11, 2005 at 1:42PM
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Just read your story. What a nightmare youwent through. I'm glad it worked out and you can relax again.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2005 at 10:23PM
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Late arriver here - but so relieved to reach the happy ending!!!!



    Bookmark   August 24, 2005 at 4:47PM
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Congrats on your happy ending! Just to show that your story is completely believable, here's what happened in our neighbor-town of Carmel CA a few years ago.

A large tree in the backyard of a Carmel man began leaning dangerously over his roof. The man sought a permit to remove the tree. Carmel, being Carmel, said no. The tree continued to lean and finally touched the roof. Carmel still said no. Then the tree began to push in the ceiling of his bedroom. The man brought pictures, asked the town council to come and have a look, and they still refused. Yes, this did happen; it made headlines here. So the guy went up to San Francisco and hired a high-powered and well-known attorney. The attorney drove into Carmel in his chauffered limo. The next day the man had his permit. I don't know whether the city paid for the damage to his house or not.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2005 at 11:06AM
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Another late-comer here. We have a Homeowner's Assn. in a nearby developement that refused homeowner's requests to take down partially diseased trees and trees dangerously close to homes. Fast forward, H. Isabel comes racing thru Virginia in 2003 and this neighborhood gets hit HARD. The homeowners that had been denied treework sued their HOA (and basically themselves). They won and bankrupt the HOA. This really woke up my HOA....seems they are paying closer attention to the difference between preventative maintenance and preservation.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2005 at 9:50AM
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America is a strange country. The death of a tree seems more important than the life of an American. And I think it's stupid and ignorant to use valuable court-time and money on some stupid tree case. People who fire such cases up has too much time on their hands! Throughout the world there are far bigger issues than chopping down a tree.

I am glad you came through this well!


    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 6:32PM
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Thank you all for your input and well wishes. Here is what I hope is the end of the story.

Several weeks ago we had our annual street party (there are only 14 homes). The tree-hugging wacko lady whom I have been mad at for all these years for reporting us to the county came up to me and asked if the tree situation had been resolved. BTW-I had sent her a letter when we found out about the lien to update her since she "was a player" in the scenario-nothing nasty, just an overview of our situation since she and her husband were attorneys. I told her that it had been resolved. She said she was glad and now that it was over, she said I know that you have been mad at me for sometime and I want you to know that it wasn't me who reported you. She went on to tell me that she had gone to the county environmental office on my behalf (I had solicited her help in my letter) and talked to her friend and asked him to pull the file. She found out which neighbor had made the call to report the tree. She then explained that she did indeed love trees but her problem was with fly-by-night tree businesses who sell their services at cut rates and have no idea how trees should be trimmed or cared for. She went on to say that it takes years before the damage they do is evident in the tree consequently, the tree owner doesn't know to blame the trees failure on the fly-by-night guys.

I thought it was very classy of her to tolerate my cold shoulder all of these years. I thought it was sh*&*%y that the real reporting neighbor has sided with me against the misjudged neighbor all of these years.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 12:41AM
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@#&$^@# Mustangs. I have some square eggs we can lob at his/her house as revenge.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2005 at 3:51PM
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If you had NOT removed that dangerous tree that could have invalidated your home insurance policy! If there had been a claim as a result of that overhanging tree (and if it was an Eastern White Pine it for sure would have been a hazard) causing damage and a claim - your insurance company could have refused to pay on the grounds that you had not prudently protected your home by removing a dangerous tree.
I recently had a claim as a result of removing an overhanging tree - the tree company were incompetent and dropped a large section of the tree on my roof. I had damage to the roof as well as interior water damage to several rooms and celings etc. Well owing to the claim my premiums WENT UP and I complained - I pointed out I would have been better off if I had not removed the tree and had just taken a chance that the tree would have been OK. The insurance company said that they might not pay on a claim like that if it was caused by my negligence because it could easily be seen that I had not protected my property!

    Bookmark   December 11, 2005 at 10:57PM
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Chester, YOU should not have filed a claim, the tree guys insurance should have covered it.

if you used an uninsured company, then that is your fault.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2005 at 12:32PM
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In Florida if this was your homestead property the liens were totally illegal. Under Article X of the state constitution liens by code enforcement have no force of law and you can sue for damages. See my web site for all the info on this as well as my own fight with an out of control code board.

Here is a link that might be useful: Codes Extortion

    Bookmark   March 16, 2006 at 7:19PM
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Jim, Thank you for sharing this very enlightening information. I have read through all that you have supplied.

Good luck with your situation.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2006 at 3:03PM
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