CS/HB 519 (Grant, J.) and CS/SB 1766 (Lee) open the door for an explosion of potential lawsuits against cities by making one-sided changes to the Bert J. Harris Act and leaving taxpayers to pay the price. The Harris Act gives landowners a way to seek compensation when a local government takes action that impacts the use/potential use of their property. The Harris Act is detailed and fair. It allows local governments to negotiate with property owners who are filing a claim and calls on courts to consider the unique conditions of each claim.
The bills require any settlement reached on a Bert Harris claim to be automatically applied by the government entity to all "similarly situated" residential properties that are subject to the same rules or regulations. In essence, this provision would undo legislative action a government entity undertakes by requiring a settlement on one case to be applied across the board, turning Harris Act settlements into quasi class-action lawsuits. The bills do not define what a similarly situated property is, which opens the door for more litigation. The bills significantly amend the attorney fee provisions of the Harris Act, allowing only property owners to recover costs if they prevail. Additionally, the legislation would now include business losses as part of a Bert Harris claim. The Florida League of Cities opposes making one-sided changes to the Harris Act that only benefit attorneys and leaves taxpayers footing the bill.
CS/HB 519 was amended in the House Civil Justice Committee to provide an additional avenue for resolving disputes concerning comprehensive plan amendments. The amendment allows comprehensive plan amendment challenges initiated by citizens to now follow the dispute process from the Florida Land Use and Environmental Dispute Resolution Act.
CS/SB 1766 was substantially amended in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate bill no longer contains the similarly situated concept. It no longer has any provisions affecting how attorney fees are determined, nor does it open the door to include business damages as part of any Harris claim. Currently, the Senate bill reduces the presuit timeframe to respond to claims from 150 days to 90 days and a provision that address the “ripeness” of claims by allowing a property owner to bring a claim prior to being officially denied a permit. (Cruz)