Panama City code enforcement crackdown begins with abandoned properties

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. — As residents work to rebuild their homes even a year after Michael, some houses and businesses haven’t been touched. 

“Here we are a year later and you can still see the trees are down on the property,” said City Manager of Panama City, Mark McQueen.

There’s a notice to appear in court posted on what used to be a lawn, which is now covered in weeds, branches and a car smashed by a large tree which has fallen across the length of the yard, with no signs of recovery a year later.

“This is just an example of the type of homes [and] properties that we’re going after first,” said McQueen. 

Many code letters have gone out with no response. 

“Then we send another letter, and then we send a citation and summons for a hearing,” said Lance Livingston, the Code Enforcement Manager for Panama City.

Those hearings will now move faster, as three more magistrates have been added. 

McQueen says from first notice to possible demolition, it could only take four months, but he hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“Our hope and desire is that we don’t have to go before the magistrate, that property owners will actually do something about their properties,” he said.

This, so owners that have taken steps towards improvement don’t suffer the consequences of someone else’s inaction.

“This becomes a health, a safety and an economic hazard for this community,” said McQueen. “We’re hoping for better.”

The tighter enforcement applies to commercial properties too. 

“We’re working with the owners to try to get them to move forward on remedying this situation,” he said.

City officials say they would like to work with home and business owners as much as possible, and residents who are working to get their residences up to code will not be affected by the change. For those who have abandoned their properties, however, it’s time for action. 

“We need to get everybody to improve their properties so for those that are not, we need to exercise code enforcement to help them move forward in getting their properties renovated,” said McQueen.

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