Code violators could go to jail in Citrus County

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Citrus County is cracking down on those who don't want to follow the rules. In the past, code violators were only handed fines.

However, fines didn't seem to faze many offenders so the county is threatening jail time.

"When code goes to somebody and says, 'You have a violation, clean it up,' and they clean it up, that's what's supposed to happen, but it doesn't," said Citrus County Commissioner Brian Coleman. "Something's going to happen and it's not going to be, you get a little fine or something, now you're possibly going to jail."

The county has a new ordinance aimed at residents who have already been warned to fix their code violations, but haven't complied.

"We can send them in front of the county judge instead of our local magistrate, and the judge can order them to fix the situation, give them any amount of time frame that the judge sees is due," said Coleman. "And if they don't, the judge can actually hold them in contempt of court and sentence them to up to six months in jail."

Joseph Ambrose-Saunders is now learning how serious the county is. Since 2013, county officials say his yard has been the source of constant of neighborhood complaints.

"There was old tractor tires, there was a broken down hot tub that was gathering water, there was just piles of stuff. You go to a landfill, it kind of looked like a landfill," explained Coleman.

A judge gave Ambrose-Saunders 45 days to fix the problem. When code enforcement returned, little had changed. The violation earned him a 10-night stay in the county jail.

"Eventually, he's going to end up spending six months in jail if he continues down this road," Coleman said.​​​​​​

The county hopes targeting code violators with more serious punishments will result in action and repeat offender like Ambrose-Saunders might learn their lesson.

"We are not just going to stand back and let this happen anymore," said Coleman. "You're going to get in trouble. Clean up your stuff. If you don't, then you're going to look at consequences, going in front of the judge."

Once Ambrose-Saunders is released from jail, he will be given a grace period to make the necessary changes. If he fails to do so, he risks making another court appearance.

The county is currently reviewing about 20 cases of violators who failed to make requested changes.