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Common Land Use Violations You Should Know About

There are some basic land use violations that occur in many counties in Florida. If you are a property owner, whether an individual or a business entity, it is essential to know what you can and cannot do on your property. Standard rules for using your property include issues on fences, septic systems, and what type of buildings you can have on your property.

Filling Wetlands Without a Permit

What are wetlands, and why are they regulated?

Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil or is present at or near the soil’s surface all year or for varying seasons, including during the growing season. Wetlands generally include:

  • Swamps
  • Marshes
  • Bogs
  • similar areas include sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, river overflows, mudflats, playa lakes, and natural ponds. 

Wetlands do not include those artificial wetlands intentionally created from non-wetland sites, including:

  • artificial lakes and ponds created for water supply or recreational purposes
  • irrigation ditches
  • canals
  • drainage ditches
  • prior converted cropland
  • grass-covered swales and gullies in which water has occurred only from rainwater runoff

Is It Illegal to Fill a Wetland Without a Permit?

It is against federal law to discharge dredged or fill material into any waters of the United States without a permit from EPA under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and state authorization. Florida Statutes also prohibit filling wetlands without an authorized permit. Violators face civil penalties and criminal sanctions, and they may also be required to restore illegally filled wetlands.

Importance of Wetlands

Wetlands perform many valuable functions for the environment; they provide flood control, recharge aquifers, reduce erosion and sedimentation in lakes and streams, filter pollutants from stormwater runoff, improve the water quality of lakes and streams, fish and wildlife habitats, and provide unique recreation opportunities.

Wetlands are protected under federal law if they fall into certain categories (“jurisdictional wetlands”), but there is also state protection of “non-jurisdictional wetlands” under Florida law. State wetlands include lands that have been identified as a wetland on the Florida Wetland Inventory Map (FWIM) found at www.dep.state.fl us/Water/wetlands/. It is illegal to fill or dredge these state wetlands without a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permit.


Dunes are areas of sand close to beaches, typically with vegetation. These barriers act as a buffer between the beach and land, protecting buildings from storm surges and preventing erosion. Humans walking on dunes can damage them by crushing the vegetation, causing it to erode or wash away thoroughly.

The Dune Protection Act prohibits unauthorized dumping or damage to Florida dunes. Remember that dune vegetation is a vital part of the ecosystem and helps prevent erosion by trapping sand blown across the beach by strong winds.

Dumping or Burning Debris

Dumping or burning debris is a commonly found land-use violation. Both of these actions can have negative impacts on the environment. Burning debris produces air pollution, while dumping creates water pollution. In short, these are two things we need to be mindful of as land users!

Exceeding the Amount of Impervious Square Feet on Your Lot

What is an impervious surface? An impervious surface is a complex, compacted surface that does not allow water to percolate or soak into the ground. Examples include driveways, sheds, patios, and walkways. 

If you’re wondering if you already have too much impervious surface on your property, don’t worry. There are plenty of resources available to aid you in determining whether or not this applies to your property’s current state. 

Cutting Down Trees

It is a common land use violation to cut down trees without first obtaining a permit from the government. Usually, you must have the proper documentation in hand before you begin clearing or cutting on your property.

Contact your local planning agency if you are interested in building on or logging any part of your plot and are in need of information about regulations and permits. Every jurisdiction will have different standards on what they allow on private property. When special circumstances exist, a planning agency may grant an exception in some cases. Some standard exceptions include:

  • The tree(s) are dead and dying
  • The tree(s) threaten the safety of property owners or those living nearby

Building Near a Body of Water, Especially Wetlands and Mangroves

Before you begin building, it’s essential to determine whether you need a permit in the first place. For your project to be legal, either you must apply for and receive permits before beginning construction or ensure that the work does not violate any laws.

For example, if you want to build near a body of water—such as a river or lake—you’ll probably need a permit from the organization that controls it (if there is one). This is often the case with federally protected wetlands and mangroves in coastal areas. Even if a permit isn’t required, your city or county might have zoning regulations about what can be built on waterfront property. To obtain a permit or find out about zoning regulations in your area, contact your city’s building department.

Discharging Pollutants into Surface Water

It is unlawful to discharge pollutants into surface water without a permit.

Allowed: Normal flows of water and precipitation runoff; non-commercial use of water for livestock, wildlife, irrigation, and watering lawns; discharges from firefighting activities.

Not allowed: Pollutants that cause or contribute to oxygen depletion in surface waters or interfere with the natural balance of aquatic life; pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides; garbage or other solid waste; petroleum products including motor oil, gasoline, or other fuels (even if filtered through a catch basin); human body waste.

If you’re not sure if your actions will be considered a land-use violation, it’s best to consult with an expert. A contractor, surveyor, or other professionals can help you determine the rules and laws regarding the work you wish to perform. You can also call your local government office, check your local building codes or consult the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. When land use and zoning issues arise during your next endeavor, contact our team of knowledgeable attorneys at Cobb Cole

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