City Fines Man $30,000 and Forecloses on His House for Not Mowing His Lawn for 8 Weeks After His Mother Died

If you thought HOAs were bad, don’t move to Dunedin, Florida, where letting your grass get too long could cost you your house

When 69-year-old Jim Ficken returned from settling his late mother’s estate last summer he was welcomed home with a $30,000 fine for letting his lawn get too long while he was away.

He’d even hired a handyman friend to mow the lawn while he was out of town, but that friend unexpectedly died, leaving his grass uncut for 8 weeks.

Here’s howFicken’s lawn looked when he got home. Photo credit: Institute for Justice

Because the City of Dunedin had given him warnings on the handful of other occasions in which he’d failed to mow his lawn as often as the city would like, Ficken was considered a “repeat offender.”

According to city ordinances, this gives the city the right to levy fines of $500 a day without even notifying the homeowner they are being charged.

By the time Ficken was causually notified by a city employee that he had “a big bill” coming from the city, his fines had already mounted to almost $30,000.

Even more unbelievable, when he couldn’t pay, the city put a lien on his house and is now in the process of foreclosing on it.

If you’re wondering how that’s even legal, you’re not alone.

It’s definitely not constitutional according to the non-profit law firm Institute for Justice, who’s taking Ficken’s case pro-bono.

The lawsuit argues the fines are illegal under the excessive fines clauses of the U.S. and Florida Constitutions.

“Losing your home because you inadvertently let your grass get too long is the very definition of an excessive fine,” said Ari Bargil, an attorney at the Institute for Justice in a press  release.  “No one should face crippling fines, let alone foreclosure, for trivial code violations.”

Jim is not alone in his battle with the city.

Dunedin levied a total of $1.3 million worth of fines for similar code violations in 2018 alone, and authorized foreclosure on 18 residents’ houses.

“All over the country, citizens are being fined hundreds or thousands of dollars for minor violations and then threatened with the loss of their property or other serious consequences if they can’t pay up,” said IJ Attorney Andrew Ward. “The Founders knew that the government would always be tempted to levy outrageous penalties. It is past time for courts to give meaning to the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on excessive fines.”