Miami mulling deadlines on home, duplex construction
By Risa Polansky
City of Miami officials are advocating stricter building permit laws to ensure single-family homes and duplexes don't linger in the construction stage to the point of becoming a nuisance to neighbors.
Rising condo projects, however, have yet to be addressed.
Commissioners recently passed a resolution encouraging Miami-Dade County to change its code to stipulate that a building permit for a single-family home or duplex expire after four years, requiring the permit holder to submit a full set of plans that must comply with all current laws.
As the code stands now, "you could continue to get extensions, extensions, extensions," said Hector Lima, Miami's Building Department director.
Permits now are valid for 180 days following the last action on a property, he said. "It could run for years based on that."
A home in Commissioner Tomás Regalado's district on Southwest 21st Street "has been a nightmare," Commissioner Regalado said. "They've been at it almost nine years."
The permit holders "keep getting extensions from the county," he said. "We need to stop this procrastination or delays."
Mr. Lima agreed it's "not proper for someone to live next to a construction site for nine years," he said. "We're trying to be creative and come up with a request to the county that would force developers in a reasonable amount of time to develop their properties and allow the neighbors to live."
Herminio Gonzalez, director of the county's Building Code Compliance Office, said his department "would be happy to look at the resolution," though the issue may need to be addressed by the state, which has its own building code.
He has yet to hear from the city on the issue, he said, but acknowledged that "occasionally you get some people that drag their feet to try to finish the job."
The key will be figuring out how often.
"First, we need to find out what's out there," Mr. Gonzalez said. "A study needs to be made."
And once it is, the number of cases found is likely to be "very minimal," said Silvio Cardoso, president of United Homes International and current president of the Builders Association of South Florida.
"You can't change the laws just because of one isolated case," he said. "Probably 99.9% of the people finish within a reasonable amount of time."
The longer it takes to build, "it costs you money," he said. "It's ridiculous they'd change a law for that minute issue."
Mr. Lima concedes he is aware of only two cases in the city, including Commissioner Regalado's "nightmare," but said still that "the code should have language that addresses these types of issues. At this time construction can take forever."
Mr. Cardoso said changing the permit laws would create an "additional burden" on builders.
But never-ending construction projects create a "hardship on the residents," Commissioner Regalado said. "Neighbors are able to live with construction for a while, but not forever."
And what of the neighbors of rising condo projects?
High rises are an "altogether different issue," Mr. Cardoso said.
There's no telling what will happen to buildings under construction as the current market slump drags on, "but it's going to be ugly," he said. "It could be buildings left abandoned, it could be buildings completed with units unoccupied for years and years and years."
But the city has yet to consider pushing a similar measure to govern permits for large-scale building, Mr. Lima said.
"We're not in a recession where that is an issue. Those developers and those contractors have everything set for them to go and build," he said. "Those developers are wanting to finish as soon as possible to sell those units."
Half-completed buildings are less likely than changes in project plans, he said, such as switching to rental units or adding commercial space when possible.
Ensuring a project's success in this market may require "a business decision," Mr. Lima said, "But the building will probably get built if they started."
It's possible, he said, contractors will only go so far as demolishing an existing building, then attempt to sit out the market turbulence before beginning construction.
In that case, the city has enacted laws to protect neighbors, requiring sites be kept clean and fenced.
Commissioners in May also passed measures to ensure construction doesn't block streets and sidewalks longer than necessary, tacking on additional fees to permits.