Florida 2019 Legislative Update For Local Governments: Permit Fee Transparency

Over the past few years each legislative session in Florida seems to generate new laws that impose various requirements on local governments. Some are labeled “unfunded mandates” and others are described as an assault on “home rule”.  But as bad as those things sound, the reality is that most state laws involving local regulations are motivated by an effort to improve transparency and efficiency when doing business at the local level.  In 2019, House Bill 127, otherwise known as the Permit Fee Transparency Bill, is one such example.  Here’s a quick look at the bill that passed and the steps a local government will be required to take in order to comply with the law’s requirements.

Permit Fee Transparency – House Bill 127

 If you are a general contractor, electrician, plumber, or simple homeowner trying to make improvements to your property, it can be very difficult to determine which types of permits and other authorizations are required before you begin work.  Complicating that factor can be the myriad of costs associated with the application processes.  Each local government has its own regulatory scheme and seemingly all of them charge different fees for permits and inspections.  Thus, House Bill 127.

Over the past couple of sessions, the language in House Bill 127 has been debated, red-lined, and finally in 2019, approved with unanimous support of both the House and Senate.  This bill was strongly supported by the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida in an effort to obtain predictability and certainty in permitting and building inspections.  And you can bet that Governor DeSantis will recognize the legislatures unanimous support by signing it into law in a few weeks.  Here is what House Bill 127 requires.

What Local Governments in Florida Must do by July 1, 2019

 Pursuant to House Bill 127, all county and municipal building departments must post their permit and inspection fee schedules on their respective websites in an area that is “easy to access” by July 1, 2019.  This requirement includes any updates or changes to fee amounts, fee descriptions or new fees in the future.  This may seem like an innocuous ask.  But many small Florida local governments have razor thin budgets or limited technological resources that result in websites operating on the fringe of compliance anyway.  Having to include significant pricing and processing information on permitting and inspections may not be an easy ask for some.

The new law also reminds local governments that the Florida Statutes require building department fees to be “reasonable”, tied to municipal levels of service, and that the revenues from such fees remain in the municipal budget.  In other words, a local government (or a state agency for that matter) is not authorized to charge a permit application or processing fee that amounts to more than the cost of administering the particular regulatory program or the enforcement thereof.  So, how does the new law remind local governments of this pricing restriction?

What Local Governments in Florida Must do by December 31, 2020

 Using the existing statutory requirement that administrative fees be directly tied to reasonableness and the city’s or county’s “costs” in processing applications, House Bill 127 requires local governments to post the relevant budgetary information on their websites by December 31, 2020.  This is being called a newly “required building permit and inspection utilization report”.  This report must include costs incurred by local governments in administering a given regulatory or building department program, the revenues derived from enforcement of the Florida Building Code, and where those revenues fit into the municipal budget.

Any amendment of a building permit and inspection fee schedule adopted by a local government would also require an update to the mandated utilization report.  All must be updated and easily accessible on the respective city or county website.

The clear intent of House Bill 127 is to give a comprehensive snap-shot of the demands and resources of a building department, including data on the number of permit applications, number of permits issued, the associated number of inspections required and performed, and the operational uses of the local government – or, how much of this work is actually performed by staff versus private consultants or providers.

The Growth of Transparency in Florida

Whether it be the annual budgetary process of local governments, the recently developing demand for better access to municipal meetings online, or Florida’s long-standing sunshine and public records laws, transparency at the local level continues to garner repeated attention each legislative session in Florida.  House Bill 127 and permit fee transparency is just another example of what local governments must do in order to keep up with this trend.  And as with all state mandates, it behooves a local government to not only comply with the letter of the law, but also its clear intent.

Look for the Governor to sign House Bill 127 in the coming weeks, thus making it effective July 1, 2019.


For more information on House Bill 127, please see:

https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2019/127/ByVersion

https://www.flsenate.gov/Committees/billsummaries/2019/html/1903


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