Permit Me to Speak About "Permits"


Authored By: Ryan A. Featherstone, Esq.

As real estate professionals, we have all had a transaction or two that have been affected by permit-related issues.  Whether it was an open permit, an expired permit, a failed inspection, or unpermitted work, permit-related issues can derail an otherwise smooth and successful transaction.  And now that all title insurance underwriters require the additional “municipal lien search“ prior to closing, dealing with permit issues is as common as dealing with title-related issues.  Luckily, however, the legislature has made some recent changes that will hopefully, in practice, make dealing with certain permit-related issues easier for all of us.

House Bill 447, effective July 1, 2019, resulted in some significant changes to the Florida Statutes.  For example, an open permit may now be closed by a local enforcement agency 6 years after it was issued without a final inspection if the local enforcement agency determines that no apparent safety hazard exists.  This will be tremendously helpful for those older permit issues that often come up, where currently time-consuming and often costly effort is required to get these permits scheduled for final inspections and closed out once and for all.  Additionally, under this Bill, we finally have a definition for the term “close” as it relates to open permits.  That definition is, “that all requirements of the permit have been satisfied.”  Next, this Bill states that if a permit has expired and the work has been substantially completed, the permit may be closed without obtaining a new permit, and the work required to close the permit may be done pursuant to the building code in effect for the original permit, unless the contractor is using a different material, design, or method of construction than that used under the original permit.  Furthermore, this Bill protects bona fide purchasers for value from fines, penalties, sanctions and fees due to an open permit that was applied for by a previous owner and was not closed.  Next, the local governing body can only charge one reasonable search fee for the research and time necessary to pull permit records on a property.  And finally, to help reduce the number of future open or expired permits, the Bill authorizes notice of a soon-to-expire permit to be sent to the property owner.  However, this is not a requirement; the statute states that the local government “may” send a written notice of expiration.

Another helpful recent legislative change, House Bill 1159, effective July 1, 2019, created Florida Statutes section 163.045 “Tree pruning, trimming, or removal on residential property”.  This law states that if a tree is a danger to persons or property as confirmed by a certified arborist or licensed landscape architect, then a permit to remove, prune or trim the tree is no longer necessary.  The law also states that the property owner cannot be required to replant a replacement tree.  Of course, when it comes to our beautiful Florida trees, this topic does have its critics.  Some argue that the law is not stringent enough on its requirements and could be easily subject to abuse, or perhaps result in a corrupt niche industry looking to profit from the removal of trees that are deemed “dangerous”.  From a practical standpoint though, this can be another tool in keeping a closing on track and on time.

Whenever dealing with any permit-related issue, as always, we recommend you consult with a Florida licensed real estate attorney.

This blog is intended for informational purposes only and it is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice or legal opinion.  The reader should not consider this information to be an invitation to an attorney/client relationship, should not rely on information presented here for any purpose, and should always seek the legal advice of counsel in the appropriate jurisdiction.