Florida County Backtracks From Fines Against Open Homes Fellowship

orlandoOrlando, FL – After Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter to the Orange County Code Enforcement Board, the county dropped more than $50,000 in fees, property liens, and a notice of foreclosure levied against the non-profit Open Homes Fellowship, a Christian ministry with a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. Now, the organization will pay just $325. Open Homes has served the local community for 25 years and operates a Christian, nine-month program that has higher success rates against drug and alcohol relapse than do comparable secular programs. An Open Homes Fellowship rehabilitation residence was damaged by fire. Despite the best efforts of Open Homes and of volunteer workers, construction related to the fire damage lasted longer than the initial two month deadline and six month extension granted by the county, resulting in excessive fines against the charitable organization.

When Open Homes decided to rebuild, the board granted it just two months to finish all the necessary repairs, which unavoidably included finding money and volunteers for the non-profit’s unexpected repair project. Open Homes attended a hearing and was granted another six months, with the standard fine of $150 per day accruing thereafter. When it became apparent that they would not be finished on time, they attended the next board meeting and showed good progress. The board instructed Open Homes to finish repairs by “early next year” and that, once “all the appropriate permits are filed, more than likely we’ll come back, and I’m sure that a reasonable settlement will be made at that time.” Repairs were finished in Spring 2013 after Open Homes spent nearly $25,000 in materials and approximately $70,000 in donated labor. Open Homes was then assessed a $50,400 fine and served with a foreclosure notice from the county.

Liberty Counsel pointed out that in a similar case in the same neighborhood, the board had waived about $1 million in fines that accrued over an eight-year period. However, with Open Homes, Orange County submitted notice of foreclosure less than two years after the fire and while Open Homes was still within the most recent timeframe given by the board. Apparently, Open Homes was caught in the middle of a conflict between the board and the building inspection department. Several years ago Liberty Counsel filed suit against Orange Country when officials tried to revoke Open Homes’ license to operate. Liberty Counsel won that case and the County had to pay more than $50,000.

“Government boards and officials at all levels need to fairly apply the law, ” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. Charles Camorata, Director of Open Homes said, “It is so wonderful to have Liberty Counsel in our corner.”

Liberty Counsel is an international non-profit litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.

Courtesy of http://www.lc.org/index.cfm?PID=14102&AlertID=1604