Husband and wife James Lovine and Jean Lyn Ebanks were ordered last week to pay $8,000 in penalties, costs and a fine for failing to comply with an enforcement notice from the Planning Department.
The total could have been more than $40,000 because the Development and Planning Law provides for a penalty of up to $200 a day for every day they failed to comply.
When the couple pleaded guilty in November, Mrs. Ebanks told the court that she had been saved from Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, so ‘I extended the blessing to others….after the hurricane we added on.’
The couple built three plywood structures behind their home in West Bay. Planning Officer Burton Schneider said the three structures contained 10 rental units, plus one bathroom and one kitchen for general use.
Photos showed extension cords running from the main house to the structures. More than one Crown Counsel referred to them as shacks. Apart from construction defects there were also setback problems.
The couple was served with an enforcement notice on 21 September, 2005, requiring them to remove the structures under the Development and Planning Law.
In April 2006 they were charged with failing to comply with that notice. They pleaded not guilty in July and a trial date was set.
In November, after taking legal advice, they pleaded guilty. But they asked for time to remove the structures because they still had tenants in them.
Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale postponed sentencing for 30 days to give them time to give tenants’ notice.
In December the matter was adjourned again so the tenants would not be put out over Christmas.
In January, Defence attorney John Furniss reported progress. Most of the tenants had departed, he said, but some had been unable to find another place.
In February, he told the court the tenants were gone and the owners wanted the structures to revert to their original use as storage sheds.
In March the court ordered the structures to be removed. The couple had the choice of demolishing the buildings themselves or having the Planning Department do it, in which case they would be billed for the work.
The case was mentioned five more times in April and May. It did not proceed, partly because Mr. Furniss was in Grand Court and partly because the Ebankses asked for more time to remove the structures.
On 28 June, Mr. Furniss told the court he had read the riot act to his clients because they had not taken down the structures and it was going to cost more when government did it.
He said neither Mr. nor Mrs. Ebanks was working because of health problems. They created the structures to help others who did not have shelter and to provide themselves with some income.
Crown Counsel Jenesha Bhoorasingh submitted various calculations for the penalty to be imposed, based on how many days the court decided the Ebankses had not complied with the enforcement notice. One calculation was from 1 January, 2007.
The magistrate said the court had been extraordinarily generous because the offence began in November 2005.
‘They blithely ignored the order because they were earning money…They were in open defiance of the Planning Law,’ she said.
In the community there are people obeying the Planning Law and others who are encroaching and putting up disagreeable structures. Some of the breaches were flagrant. The stiffer the penalty, the more likely people would hesitate before they break the law, she said.
But in passing sentence, she had to consider the defendants’ means. If she did not intend to send them to prison she could not impose a penalty that would mean they had to serve prison time in default of payment.
She told Mr. Ebanks that, although he had trouble with his leg, there was plenty of work he could do while seated.
She imposed a fine of $1,500; a penalty of $6,000; and further costs of $500 ‘because this should have been disposed of long ago.’ The case was before the court on 17 different dates.
The couple was allowed to pay at the rate of $500 per month.
Ms Bhoorasingh said the Crown was putting the Ebankses on notice: ‘We’ll be coming in within two weeks to take down the structures and we will submit a bill for their demolition.’