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Renovating a Commercial Property: Beware, the Governmental Entity Owes No Duty to Convey Accurate Information to You Concerning Its Own Development Code

Are you looking to renovate your commercial property? Prior to engaging in this costly, lengthy process you may think it’s a good idea to schedule a meeting with the local building officials to review your plans and obtain their approval prior to commencing construction. While this may sound like the prudent thing to do, beware…as the law is now clear that even if the governmental officials inform you that your project complies with the code and you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in reliance thereon, the plans may later be rejected and the governmental entity has no liability for the erroneous representations.

On April 3, 2017, the Second District Court of Appeal in the case of City of Dunedin v. Pirate’s Treasure, Inc., 2018 WL 1769152, (Fla. 2d. DCA 2018), held that a City owes no duty to the public to disseminate accurate, reliable information. The plaintiff in this case met with the City to review its site preliminary site plan prior to preparing a costly, time-consuming site plan. However, notwithstanding the City’s representation that the plans complied with the City’s code, the City later did not approve the site plan. In response, the plaintiff sued for fraud and negligent misrepresentation against the City wherein the plaintiff alleged the City knew or should have known the falsity of its representations concerning the site plan’s compliance with the City’s code. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s denial of the city’s motion to dismiss the negligent misrepresentation claim stating that the City owed no common law or statutory duty of care to the plaintiff to convey accurate information regarding its own code and, thus, as a matter of law, the City cannot be liable for negligent misrepresentation.

The takeaway is that you cannot rely upon a City’s representations as to the propriety of your plans for renovation and it is best to retain a professional to ensure compliance prior to commencing with costly construction.