Christopher Spuches, founding partner of Agentis Law. Courtesy photo

A complaint has been filed against the City of Miami Beach for allegedly using strong-arm tactics to enforce its rules against short-term rentals.

Attorney Christopher Spuches filed a complaint accusing the city of violating the Florida Constitution’s excessive punishment clause Monday. The Agentis Law founding partner told the Daily Business Review his client, a Miami Beach property owner, has been unreasonably sanctioned by the city after they purportedly violated the city’s ordinance restricting short-term rentals with the use of platforms such as Airbnb.

“We had tried to work this out amicably with the city, but they employed strong-arm tactics that they had no right to employ like turning off his power and water,” Spuches said to the Daily Business Review. ”[Miami Beach] left us with no choice.”

The attorney said the trouble began when his client rented out the problematic property to a rentee who himself rented it out for transient use.

“When we were alerted to that those people were immediately evicted,” Spuches asserted.

Spuches claimed his client has faced continual problems from the city despite being in compliance with the law since March 2018.

“When the homeowner did not pay the constitutionally excessive fines, the city ordered Florida Power & Light (“FPL”) to discontinue electricity to the home,” the complaint said. ”The city also ordered the Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department to discontinue water/sewer services to the home.”

Read the suit against Miami Beach: 

The attorney added that the fight to turning his client’s power back on—a process described as taking less than a day and as simple as a literal “flick of the switch”—took several months.

“The building director for the city of Miami Beach expressly said twice, ‘We’re turning it back on, we’re turning it back on,” Spuches claimed, noting that the property’s electricity was still off long after he’d been assured it was returning.

Although power has since been restored to the plaintiff’s property, the same apparently cannot be said for its water.

“The water’s been off for nine months—there’s no justification under the short-term rental ordinance to turn off somebody’s water,” Spuches said. “We’ve never seen someone’s water turned off—that’s a new one.”

Spuches said he filed an emergency motion with the city Wednesday to turn his client’s water back on in addition to the formal complaint submitted Monday.

Commenting that some of Miami Beach’s own city commissioners have called the ordinance extreme, Spuches explained that the suit will be challenging the law under the Florida Constitution’s clause against excessive fines.

Miami Beach “had imposed on homeowners approximately $6.5 million in fines associated with the ordinance” as of October 2017, according to a press release announcing the lawsuit.

“The only way the city has been able to collect on these fines is to force people to sell their homes to pay the fines and that’s what they’re trying to do,” Spuches said of his own client’s predicament.

Emomotimi S. Brisibe, the senior assistant city attorney for Miami Beach, told the Daily Business Review the suit is being handled by Aleksandr Boksner on behalf of the city.

Boksner, Miami Beach’s chief deputy city attorney, did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

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