Man Is Fined $30K For Lawn Growing Too Long While He’s Away Tending Deceased Mom’s Estate For Two Months

A Florida man is now in danger of losing his home after he was fined $30,000 for his grass growing too long while he was away for two months taking care of his dead mother’s estate.

Jim Ficken, 69, said that he spent two months last summer tending to his late mother’s estate in South Carolina. While he was gone, the city of Dunedin began fining him hundreds of dollars a day without notice for letting the grass on his lawn grow longer than 10 inches. Jim has since fought back by filing a lawsuit against the Dunedin’s Code Enforcement Board, who fined him $500 a day for the nearly sixty days that he was away.

Jim’s mother Marienelle Ficken first became ill in 2015, and Jim started going back and forth to visit her from his home. While he was gone, the city cited him for letting his grass grow too long, so he enlisted the help of his friends Russ Kellum in keeping the grass mowed when he was away.

Marienelle died in 2016, and it was only last summer that Jim had to go to South Carolina for a few months to close down her estate. During that time period, he had no idea that Russ had died unexpectedly, leaving his lawn to grow without anyone mowing it.

When a Dunedin code enforcement official came to inspect Jim’s yard, he was found to be a “repeat offender” because of his citation in 2015, so the city started charging him $500 in fines every day without notifying him.

Jim, who is retired and living on food stamps, tried to fix the issue when he returned home in July, but his lawn mower broke. He had no idea that the fines even existed until a city official came by his house in August and warned him that he was “going to get a big bill from the city.”

The very next day, Jim bought a new lawn mower and cut his grass, and a city inspector immediately informed him that the lawn was in compliance. However, he still was not notified that he was already facing $23,500 in fines.

It was not until early September that Jim finally learned about the fines during a hearing with the Code Enforcement Board, but he then had to return to South Carolina for another issue with his mom’s estate. This resulted in his grass becoming overgrown once again, which incurred him an additional fine of $10,000.

In total, Jim ended up with a total of $29,833.50 in fines on a house that has a market value of $125,541.

“I was just shocked,” Jim recalled of the moments he heard the fine total “I said, ‘Oh boy, I’m screwed.'”

Things got even worse for Jim in February, when city officials told him they’d foreclose his home if he didn’t pay the fines. He has since reached out to the non-profit law firm Institute for Justice, which has agreed to represent him pro bono.

“Losing your home because you inadvertently let your grass get too long is the very definition of an excessive fine,” said Ari Bargil, one of Ficken’s attorneys. “No one should face crippling fines, let alone foreclosure, for trivial code violations.”

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