I have a story idea for you.
Headline might be:
“Unchecked Code Violations in Retirement Community Cheapen Safety, Lifestyle and Property Values” or maybe “Timid Code Enforcement Threatens Lifestyle of Retirement Community”.
Main points, detailed below, are:
Pelican Preserve is a very desirable 2,500 retirement home development in Ft Myers, Florida. Started around 2001. There are about 400 homes left to build. Build out is predicted to be 2022.
This is a beautiful place, an ideal lifestyle for retirement. Seniors move here from all over the US for the resort style living. Homes sell for $200k+. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjeiAI7cSVI.
This high active development has over 60 separate activities for residents to enjoy. There is an extensive series of nature trials for most residents. Recently these trails were made inaccessible for wheelchair users - more on this later.
Lennar Corporation, new to the development, is making illegal, unilateral changes and profiteering by selling substandard homes. These are violations of city and state law.
Sometimes it seems Lennar makes these changes for no better reason then they can get away with it. –This must be a case of hubris of the local Lennar management. It seems unlikely that ignoring the law is a Lennar corporate wide policy.
Lennar shows no interest in addressing the violations. Timid Ft Myers Code Enforcement shows no interest in forcing Lennar to address the violations.
The city enables Lennar to continue profiteering off the good reputation of pre-Lennar Pelican Preserve. There is no reason to think Lennar’s behavior will change in the next four years. It also seems unlikely the City will step up and do its job.
Ft Myers code, which is city law, requires any and all changes be approved by our Design Committee, called the ACC. The City of Ft Myers has repeatedly refused to enforce this code.
This approval law is very important to the Community. It is intended to stop profiteers like Lennar from destroying community lifestyles for their own selfish short-term gain.
This approval law is our “voice”. We must have an effective voice to maintain our lifestyle now and past build out. That is, if Lennar doesn’t destroy Pelican Preserve first.
There are four flagrant code violations documented here. All are still on-going and still violations. These are in the open for all to see. Lennar is aware of these violations, but doesn’t seem to care. The City is aware of the violations, but does almost nothing.
Ft Myers demonstrates a crass disregard for its disabled citizens. Specifically, Lennar built large “speed bumps” on a nature trail. They stop wheelchair users from enjoying the access they had for many years.
Think about this – speed bumps on a nature trail?
This is a violation of Traffic Code and common decency. The City does nothing.
Too bad if you are a disabled citizen of Ft Myers. Ft Myers doesn’t care.
The nature trail speed bumps are 2” tall. Too high for a wheelchair to safely navigate.
Code says height difference cannot be over 3/8”.
The blind Pelican Preserve trail user now has a tripping hazard.
Note the preserve in the shaded background. This is the Florida of hundreds of years ago.
The Conservation Area sign marks the protected area.
Next violation is a Sign Code violations for “sign clutter”. Too many signs -19 illegal signs in one relatively limited area. All without required permits. All have “too large violations” among many other violations.
The picture on the left shows the main entrance to Pelican Preserve. This is the first impression a possible buyer gets when they visit the Community. Sign clutter.
Picture on the left is the very definition of sign clutter.
It seems hard to tell if Lennar is selling upscale homes or trying to attract used car buyers.
The code provides for one sign, the large monument sign.
The picture on the left was taken from a street intersection. Notice how hard it is to see the blue truck because of the Lennar sign.
This is one wide right hand turn away from a head-on collision.
Senior drivers in our retirement community don’t need surprise driving hazards. They need City protection.
Note the fire hydrant. Imagine the trees in the background catch fire Florida has its droughts. A fire truck might need to connect to the pictured hydrant, too bad the Lennar sign is in the way.
The firefighters’ job is hard enough without inept City inaction allowing Lennar to make it even harder.
City reaction to all this? “No problem” says the City.
There is documented Community outrage with these amateurish signs. One example is the letter from our Community Design Committee (ACC), see Attachment 1.
This outrage didn’t motivate the City to enforce its laws, and of course was of little concern to Lennar.
To their credit, the City did cite Lennar for this single violation. The violation went as far as the highest code court – called the Code Enforcement Board – only to be mysteriously canceled the day before it was to be heard.
Most likely political influenced from the highest levels of City Management. Lennar must have lots of campaign money.
The City will now not even investigate the other complaints. The fix is in.
Lennar is building and selling substandard homes. They sell for a reduced price, driving down property values in the whole development.
This is especially obvious in landscaping.
This is in violation of Landscaping and Uniformity code and, of course, the Community Approval requirement. All required by City and State law. When the City is informed of this, they do nothing.
The City has ignored the Community Approval requirement for all of these obvious violations.
There is reason to believe that some Lennar permits were obtained using fraudulent documents. The City will not investigate. More on this below.
Lennar is not just breaking city laws, but state laws as well. Florida state law (Chapter 720 Part 1 - Homeowner’s Association Act) prohibits all of these Lennar changes. Link below.
The President of the Home Owners Association (HOA) is a key player in all of this. He ignores his legally mandated fiduciary responsibility to work in the best interest of the Community. We trust him to represent us. He has a serious conflict of interest problem.
He knowingly implemented the illegal acts that violate City code and state law.
This is a cautionary tale. Any city faced with the combination of a developer’s hubris and timid City code enforcement could threaten any community anywhere.
Lennar and Pelican Preserve.
Lennar Corp (2nd largest in the US) acquired the original developer about three years ago. Before Lennar, the Community had a mostly good relationship with the developer, and owners were happy with their homes.
There are many, in fact too many, anecdotal stories of Lennar’s poor home construction. This is not surprising. Lennar has a reputation of using the lowest cost subcontractors which most certainly leads to the lowest quality construction.
Who knows what short cuts these guys take. Lennar probably doesn’t want to know.
As Lennar sells cheapened homes, property values and Ft Myers tax base fall. We bought our home three years ago for $230,000. Real estate comps now value it at $220,000. This is in an area of generally rising home prices.
When the Community bring our concerns to the City, the City does nothing.
So what?? A home builder can build the homes they want – right? No. Again, our Community’s special code gives us a voice in any and all changes. This is the reason the development has worked for all these years. This is why Pelican Preserve is now a desirable place to retire. Hopefully it will remain so into the future - if Lennar starts to obey the law.
What does code mean in Ft Myers?
Permits and their detailed requirements to meet permit conditions, is how all cities control their buildings (Building Code) and how the land is used (Land Use Code). A City Council ordinance is turned into this code. Code is law.
Cities everywhere issue a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) once a new home is fully permitted. This means the home meets Building Code and Land Use Code.
Any new buyer will, logically, assume the CO for their new home meets all code. A buyer assumes the City “has its back”. Not if code is not enforced, as in Ft Myers.
Every home has hidden construction that needs permits and follow up inspections by the City as construction proceeds. Inside walls, under slabs and landscaping are unseen structural, electrical, plumbing, grading, and other exterior and interior construction.
If a developer is empowered to believe permits, and permit requirements, are not important to the City, abuse will inevitably follow. If the city is lax in land use code enforcement, so it naturally follows they may be lax in building code enforcement.
Lennar new homes seem to have an unusually high warranty claim rate. It is suspicious that a new home blessed with the City’s CO, have so many problems. One would think if the city were doing its permit inspection job properly there would be essentially no code violations with a new home.
Some of this hidden construction may be hazardous. These hidden hazards may not become evident for years, long after any home warranty has ended. Long after Lennar is gone.
Permit Variances used to Deceive.
The permit process can be unnecessarily cumbersome and lengthy. There are ways to legitimately work around the formal permit process. One work around is to ask for a permit variance. This is ok. These are necessary and commonly used all across the US.
Permit variances are known by many names: variances, administrative deviations and others. They can be granted either in writing or verbally “across the counter”. This too is ok in noncontroversial situations. You want to expand your driveway? Many Building Departments in the US will ok this without any paperwork at all – or, as they say, across the counter.
It’s not ok to use a variance permit shortcut when it is used to bypass code in controversial situations.
It is never ok to bypass the required Pelican Preserve Community approval step.
When the Community complains, as Pelican Preserve did, variances are not ok. Any City with a mission to serve it citizens will know this. Most cities are proud of their roles as fair intermediaries between it’s citizens and, in this case, home builders. Apparently not Ft Myers.
So what is a builder to do when they have permit violation situations? Most would do the smartest and cheapest thing and obey the law - get permits. What did Lennar do? Don’t get permits. Look for any and all reasons to delay legal compliance. Even if this involves deception and submitting fraudulent permit applications. This turns out to be easy given timid code enforcement.
One deception is to promise future actions that never occurs. Lennar tells Code Enforcement they have, or will soon have, a valid permit application. The application never comes.
This ploy needs a gullible Building Department that can be repeatedly fooled. Why the City still trusts Lennar’s word after repeated deceptions is a mystery. But then, this not only works for Lennar, but works for them over and over again.
Another deception they have used is to tell the City that some other legal entity, such as a Utility District, has “oked” the violating situation. Only a gullible Building Department will believe a Utility District has jurisdiction over their City’s permitting process. Oddly enough, this also worked, until someone pointed out that a Utility can’t approves permits.
Another deception is to use a fraudulent approval document to make the City believe a permit has been approved by the Community. They have done this.
Attached 1 below is a fraudulent backup document Lennar submitted to get a permit variance for their violations of Sign Code (explained below).
When this trickery, and possible crime, is brought to the City’s attention, they do nothing. More below.
The ultimate work around is lobby muscle to intimidate the City into killing active code violations, and be sure future violations are not investigated. For Lennar, that seems a winner – so far.
Lennar is profiteering off the good name of Pelican Preserve. Code requires that all homes in the development be reasonably uniform. This is the Uniformity Standard. A home built in 2003 should reasonably resemble one built in 2018. This preserves property values and tax base.
A Lennar built home is not like older homes built by the previous developer. Lennar homes are degraded in appearance and poorly landscaped. In some cases not landscaped at all.
Some have said a Lennar home has the curb appeal of army barracks.
Florida Homeowner’s Association
Florida has a law that protects communities such as Pelican Preserve from predatory developers. This is Homeowner’s Association Act. (HOA) law (fl statute 720).
In section (720.3075 (5) it is prohibited for the developer to make changes “… that are arbitrary, capricious, or in bad faith; destroy the general plan of development”. The link for Florida’s Homeowner’s Associatiionn Act is here: http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0700-0799/0720/0720.html Scroll down about half way to read 720.3075 (5).
Not only does Lennar break Ft Myers law, but the state of Florida’s law also. I wonder if the State will be as indifferent to it’s laws as Ft Myers is? Story for another day.
The HOA is initially controlled by developer. This is ok. Any large project, such as Pelican Preserve, the developer needs this concession to make it work.
Lennar came to Pelican Preserve very late in the development. Yet they feel free to abuse this HOA concession.
Florida law says the president of an HOA has a fiduciary responsibility. This means he is required to act in the best interests of the Community, even though his paycheck comes from the developer. Not everybody is up to going against their employer to perform their fiduciary responsibility.
Our HOA President ignores this responsibility. It’s not clear he is even aware of his fiduciary responsibilities. Put simply, it seems Lennar tells the President of the HOA what to do, and he just does as he is told. He acts in the best interest of Lennar, not the Community. Florida HOA law and its fiduciary responsibility be damned.
Ft Myers Code Enforcement and Political Influence
To their credit, some City officials have tried (once) to enforce code, but “the fix is in”. Now the City will not even investigate reported code violations.
Ft Myers Code Enforcement issued Sign Code violations in 2017. When confronted, the HOA President responded for Lennar with excuses and fabrications to delay any action. More on this below.
Finally, when Lennar faced the real prospect of financial penalties and media exposure, the violations mysteriously disappeared. There has been no explanation. No accountability. The violating situations continue to this day with no action from the City.
I suspect that Lennar has a “friend” high in the City management that leaned on Code Enforcement to bury the violations. Possibly they improperly gave Lennar a verbal variance, possibly no variance at all. There is little incentive for Lennar to go to the trouble of a permit when the City will not require one.
This could not have happened without influence from at the highest level of the City.
What can Ft Myers do now?
Ft Myers has the tools to force Lennar to obey the law. The City can legally freeze all code inspections of all Lennar construction within Ft Myers. No inspections, no CO, no home sales. There is a lot of Lennar construction in Ft Myers. This would be a disaster for a home builder.
This is a City remedy for habitual offenders like Lennar. That would get any home builder’s attention. Too bad the City seems so timid.
The record shows the City is willing to flex their muscle on a small guy, but unenthuiastic against Lennar.
I have four specific examples.
These examples are important to the Community. They are a look at what a big home developer can do when a city will not enforce code.
All of my four examples are well within Lennar’s ability to easily correct. It is a mystery why Lennar doesn’t take the cheapest and easiest answer and simply obey the law. Any well run and responsible corporation would do this without question. Not Lennar.
Now that Lennar is empowered by the City’s spinelessness, Lennar is free to use the remaining years to erode our lifestyle even further. A lot can happen in four years.
Example one: sign clutter
Sign Code specifies maximum sign size and restricts “sign clutter”. If a city didn’t have Sign Code, we would have billboards everywhere. Think Las Vegas.
Sign Code also specifies that all signs, unless exempted (which Lennar’s are not), must have permits. A permit requirement is neither unusual nor unreasonable.
When Lennar acquired Pelican Preserve developer, they installed 20 unsightly and unlawful signs. All without permits. None of the Lennar signs could meet permit conditions, even had they bothered to apply for permits.
This is not just one cranky senior’s opinion. There was Community outrage at the unsightly, amateurish signs. The attached letter was signed by the Design Committee of Pelican Preserve (ACC). This is typical of the whole Community reaction.
This is the example where Code Enforcement actually issued Sign Code violations in 2017. Later (July 2018), the violations were mysteriously closed. No reasons given. No transparency.
One sign has been removed, nineteen other illegal signs still remain. Perhaps Lennar told the City they would remove one sign and everything would be ok. Perhaps the City bought that…
The sign clutter still exists, and is still illegal, and still in violation. The City does nothing.
Perhaps Lennar feels they are above the law. Maybe they are. Perhaps the highest levels of the City have other priorities then enforcing the law.
The bottom line: Code Enforcement will not enforce Sign Code when Lennar is involved.
Example two: Too bad if you are disabled
As mentioned above, this next example shows that even blind and wheelchair bound citizens don’t motivate Ft Myers to stop Lennar. Some that know Lennar’s business philosophy may not be surprised. But it is especially crass on the part of the City to not protect its disabled citizens.
Pelican Preserve has a series of nature trails for residents and guests to enjoy. These have been available to all pedestrians, bicyclists, golf carts, and, until recently, wheelchair users for many years.
Lennar recently installed a series of “speed bumps” on these trails.
Lennar’s speed bumps are the real hazard, not that Lennar or the City seem to care.
Why on earth would anyone put speed bumps on a nature trail?
Lennar claims these are for safety reasons, but this is just another Lennar deception. These were a part of a sweetheart deal (wink wink) between one small condo complex and Lennar for a property line change of a few feet.
Nothing to do with safety. Actually, it makes the trails more unsafe.
This shows the pettiness of Lennar, and its lapdog HOA President, to ignore the greater Pelican Preserve Community for their selfish gain. Who cares what Ft Myers thinks?
This is also an example of the City helping Lennar avoid a permit violation by having no investigation. If this had been a small business, I suspect an investigation would have occurred, and occurred quickly.
The specific law violation is this: Traffic Code requires that sidewalks and paths cannot have height differences over 3/8”. The Lennar’s speed bumps height difference is 2”.
The Code Enforcement will not, or is perhaps not allowed to, enforce Public Safety and Traffic Code laws if Lennar is involved.
Example three: Cut every corner to squeeze every nickel…
The law says that code must be enforced uniformly throughout all of the Pelican Preserve. Put simply, code says homes built in 2018 should more or less resemble those built in the early 2000s. This doesn’t seem unreasonable. This assures a new buyer a new home is up to the Pelican Preserve standard. Little does the new buyer know….
This is profiteering off the good reputation of Pelican Preserve.
This example is landscaping.
For some inexplicable reason, Lennar refuses to do simple things like plant trees to make landscaping uniform. A $200k+ home and Lennar balks at a few palm trees? This has to be local Lennar hubris. This can’t make business sense to cut these sorts of corners, even for Lennar.
Again, Code Enforcement will not enforce Landscaping Code to assure reasonable uniformity within Pelican Preserve.
This is especially concerning to the Community as the sale of cheapened homes result in lower property values for everyone. The City should be concerned for an eroded tax base. They are perhaps more concerned to keeping the Lennar lobby happy.
Example four: Design Committee - Our Voice.
The law behind the legal Design Committee requirement stops developers from profiteering off Pelican Preserves’ good name. Code specifies, in lengthy detail, the Design Committee’s duties and responsibilities. This Committee is charged with approving all changes and permits before they go to the City.
Once the permit application is approved by the ACC, they affix their official stamp so the City knows the Design Committee has approved the Permit. This is a code requirement.
To get around our Community voice, Lennar appointed a phony Design Committee of its own to stamp permits. No doubt an attempt to deceive the City. It has worked – so far.
Lennar’s committee is one individual, the HOA President mentioned above, the same guy that ignores his fiduciary responsibilities. This phony committee meets none of the legally specified requirements for a Design Committee. For example, the law specifies four to 10 committee members. One guy is not a committee of four.
This one-person phony committee admitted to stamping permits at least six times. There are probably more. The law says permits submitted with fraudulent documents are void. Under the law, all six of these permits granted using the phony committee should be invalidated. I suspect the City will be unenthusiastic to investigate, much less void, any of Lennar’s fraudulent permits.
This begs the question, how many of the fraudulent permits relate to safety issues? Landscaping is one thing, electrical or structural is another.
A person knowingly submitting fraudulent permits may have committed a crime. Our HOA President may feel he has the protection of Lennar. At least until Lennar throws him under the bus.
I can document all of this.
All of the code references I cite are online. This is Sec. 118.6.2 online here: https://library.municode.com/fl/fort_myers/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=SPBLADECO_CH118LAUSRE_ART6SPDEAR_118.6.2PEPRSPDEAR
I have more pictures and email correspondence. If you need more information, please contact me.
10465 Materia Dr
Ft Myers Fl 33913
Letter from Pelican Preserve Design Committee (ACC) to Lennar objecting to signs. Typical of other phone calls and complaints to Lennar. The authors characterized them as “billboards”. They are actually unpermitted signs.
Lennar just moved the signs, not remove them as asked.
Alleged fraudulent submission from Lennar to City Permits Department
Possibly to defraud the City into believing the proper Pelican Preserve Design Committee approved the signs. They did not. The “PPDRC” is imaginary. Notte he claims to be a member, but he is the only member…
Source: Ft Myers Building Department.