Contractors engaged in hurricane repairs found out that rebuilding to these standards was not as easy as it seemed, and they abandoned projects in large numbers. Homeowners such as Ms. Alberti became the victims of contractors who, in many cases, had understated the scope of the work in permit applications to avoid submitting sealed drawings, and who used private-sector "special inspectors" allowed at the time in lieu of regular county inspectors who would have caught discrepancies had they visited these projects.

Homeowners and regulators alike are frustrated at the inability to hold designers, contractors, and special inspectors accountable for their misdeeds in spite of layers of regulations designed to protect the public. Contractors and others exploited loopholes in those regulations that exist to this day and that will be used by contractors until closed.

The building department at Miami-Dade County helped thousands of people after the storm, and continues to do so. Many administrative procedures have been put in place to upgrade the level of service the department offers the public, as well as the qualifications of the people providing that service.

I would respectfully suggest that New Times could aid the community immensely by publishing information about the amnesty ordinances as a topic by itself, and by advising citizens of the many pitfalls associated with hiring contractors to do work on their homes, after a storm or under normal circumstances. As many found out after Andrew, it is not as easy as it looks, and homeowners assume considerable liability when they hire contractors to work on their property. Ultimately, the law and the building code hold the property owner responsible for the condition of any particular piece of property, and many citizens are unaware of the tremendous risks involved with doing major repairs, particularly with unlicensed or unqualified individuals. This department offers advice about contractors and home repairs on a regular basis to citizens who call or drop in. The Office of Building Code Compliance does the same thing, although neither department is officially charged with that responsibility.

While we are currently attempting to assist Ms. Alberti in every way possible, the obligation to repair her home lies with the contractor who abandoned her. She and we can deal with the requirements of the building code and how best to proceed from this point, but we are only locking up the barn after the horse has been stolen. Citizens of Miami-Dade County can avoid a similar fate by knowing what the building code requires of them in such situations, by insisting on working with qualified, licensed people who sign enforceable contracts, and by contacting the appropriate regulatory agency at the first sign of trouble.

Lee E. Martin
Department of Planning, Development, and Regulation
Miami-Dade County

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