Do Municipal Code Enforcement Judgments Attach To Homestead Properties?

Jon Alper Homestead Exemption

The Florida homestead exemption does not protect your house against taxes owed to a government. An attorney asked me today whether money owed to a local government for a recorded judgment code enforcement fines is in the nature of a tax that could attach to her client’s homestead. He also wanted to know if the code endorsement judgment can be discharged in bankruptcy.

Penalties for non-compliance with local government codes is expressed in Florida Statute 162.09. The statute said that a government can levy an administrative fine for non-compliance and that the fine shall be enforceable in the same manner as a court judgment. The statute does not state that the fine shall be in the nature of aa tax. The homestead exemption in Florida is broad and the Constitutional exemption is strictly construed against any exceptions. Therefore, an administrative fine for violation of municipal codes should not attach to a Florida homestead.

The local government agency may pursue the homeowner individually and try to collect its code enforcement judgments from other non-exempt assets. A bankruptcy filing by the homeowners judgment was awarded to reimburse the government for its actual expenses incurred to fix the homeowner’s code violation then a Chapter 7 bankruptcy would discharge the debt. To the extent the judgment was awarded to recover fines for the homeowner’s non-compliance with code regulations then the judgment is not dischargeable. Fines owed to government units may not be discharged in bankruptcy.

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