FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Sept. 8, 2016 – Question: Five years ago, we converted our garage to living space. We pulled the proper permits and had the city's written approval. About a month ago, we received a letter from code enforcement warning us about our "illegal" garage conversion and threatening a fine. When we spoke to the city, we were told that the conversion should never have been approved and that we needed to remove it or face considerable penalties. What are my rights? – Maurice

Answer: Unfortunately, the law is against you. It certainly doesn't seem fair that you did everything that you were supposed to for the renovation and now will have the additional expense of undoing all of that work. The law (referring to a local or specific city issue) is clear that if the city approved the work in violation of its code, it can void the approval to correct its mistake.

There are some things you should try to do before you start the demolition, though. Check to make sure that the conversion is actually against the rules. Carefully check the relevant code section, or hire someone who can. If your renovation is indeed against the rules, try to work with the city to see if modifications can be made to bring it in compliance. Considering the circumstances, maybe you can apply for a variance, which is an exception to the rules.

Finally, keep in mind that every situation is different, and you may have a legal defense or a right to be compensated for the city's error. While this is a long shot, you should speak with a lawyer before grabbing that sledgehammer.

About the writer: Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation.


Copyright © 2016 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Gary M. Singer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.