Welcome to the USSR

In Biscayne Park, the village council enjoys taking steps to ensure the residents don't mess up their enclave's rustic appeal — even if it means trampling all over the U.S. Constitution. Incorporated in 1933, the Village of Biscayne Park, tucked between North Miami and Miami Shores, is a community of mostly residential homes, with the exception of an Episcopal church, a recreation center, and the 1934 log cabin that serves as the municipal offices and police department. It has a quiet 1950s vibe to it: Huge trees shade large yards, and oaks line the broad, grassy medians.

It seems the village elders are trying to keep it that way. In 2006, the council passed a measure that requires property owners renting out a room or duplex in their home to obtain a landlord permit. In order to get that permit, property owners are required to allow Biscayne Park code enforcement officers to inspect their residences. Under a proposed amendment to the village law, any landlord who doesn't obtain a permit will be subject to a $250 fine and property liens. Today the fine is $50. And that, claims Biscayne Park homeowner Morris Yomtov, is "a violation of everyone's civil rights."

"The village elected officials think we are in communist Russia or Venezuela," Yomtov grouses. "But this is the United States." Last March, Yomtov drove down to the log cabin to get a permit for his duplex at 11652 NE 11th Pl. He balked when a village clerk informed him about the inspection. Florida statute allows municipal and county governments to obtain administrative search warrants if they can show a judge a valid reason for seeking the warrant.

"I told them to forget it," Yomtov says. "I'm not giving them automatic permission to enter my property. They don't care about the Constitution."

The village responded by fining Yomtov, who amassed a $1,500 bill for the month he refused to get the permit. He hired a lawyer, who fought the case before the Biscayne Park code enforcement board and won. "The village ordinance is unethical," says Yomtov's attorney, Robin Hellman. "They are discriminating against landlords, not to mention violating their Fourth Amendment right against illegal searches.

"The village looks like a great place to live," adds Hellman, who also resides in Biscayne Park. "Unfortunately that is not the reality."

Biscayne Park Mayor John Hornbuckle insisted the village's landlord permit does not violate any residents' rights. "It has been enacted in many, many other municipalities," he says, "and has been upheld as constitutional."

He says the village wants to know that property owners are not converting their homes to apartment buildings. Hornbuckle explained the landlord permits are used to "ensure that a duplex only has two units and that a four bedroom house is what it is."

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.