Photo credit: Lauren Maurell licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

Floridians who wished to file complaints against neighbors for having grass that’s too tall or a noisy party or a loud leaf blower could call in their complaints without providing their names. But on July 1, 2021, a change was made so that a complaint would now have to be accompanied by the name and address of the complainant. Some complaints that enforcement officers deem a potential threat to “public health, safety or welfare, or imminent destruction of habitat or sensitive resources” can be investigated without accompanying name or address, however.

Ana Ceballos, Miami Herald, writes that the change was made “as a way to stop spending taxpayer money to investigate ‘frivolous’ complaints filed by feuding neighbors.” The public official introducing this change stated that with enforcement resources being scarce, enforcement officers will be better able to “target and focus complaints on disputes that are legitimate.”

Other public officials, however, are concerned the new law might discourage people from reporting issues that should be investigated. State Representative Joe Geller saw the law as an “unwise preemption,” in part, because it assumes that “the state knows better than the people right down on the ground.” I would have asked State Senator Jennifer Bradley, who asked for the change, whether she had data to indicate that many of the complaints were not legitimate.

With the deadly collapse of the Surfside condo building still in everyone’s mind, a code enforcement officer in the Village of Key Biscayne noted that noise complaints relating to work on apartment buildings would be investigated. State Senator Bradley added that complaints that put people at risk would certainly be investigated even when made anonymously.

Miami Beach Commissioner David Richardson noted that “the city has already turned away some complainers who wanted to remain anonymous since the law went into effect three weeks ago.” One Florida county indicated that complaint data would be analyzed to determine whether the new law decreased the number of anonymous complaints coming in.

Miami’s Code Compliance Director said the majority of complaints are filed anonymously, largely he believes because of the fear of retribution. If that is so, then there may very well be a decline in the number of complaints in Miami.