A Florida Retiree's Uncut Lawn May Cost Him His House

Reason magazine|November 2019

A Florida Retiree's Uncut Lawn May Cost Him His House
The city of Dunedin, Florida, really wants Jim Ficken’s house.
Brian Doherty

Last year, the 69-year-old retiree left town to attend to his dying mother and then to sort out her estate. While he was away, he left a handyman in charge of his property. In a Shakespearean twist, the handyman also died, leaving Ficken’s lawn unmowed and the municipality perturbed.

Ficken returned home, learned that he was in violation of Dunedin’s tall grass ordinance, and mowed his lawn two days later. The city then held a hearing at which it decided to retroactively fine Ficken for each day that his grass had exceeded 10 inches in height. Because he had let his grass grow too tall once before, in 2015, Dunedin deemed him a “repeat violator” and doubled his daily fine from $250 to $500. The total damage: over $29,000.

Ficken, who is on a fixed income, can’t pay the city. In a sane world, his explanation for neglecting the lawn and the fact he remedied the problem promptly upon being informed of it by a code inspector would settle the matter. But Dunedin, a picturesque beach town on Florida’s Gulf Coast, has threatened to foreclose on Ficken’s home to get the money it claims it is owed. Ficken, who is being represented by the Institute for Justice (I.J.), is now suing the city in order to protect his house and end the saga.

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November 2019