The legalities of farmworker housing

As Congress debates our nation’s immigration laws, we are reminded that having a capable, available workforce is critical to agricultural businesses. When that workforce is not locally available, farmers look to foreign workers to help harvest their crops. [emember_protected custom_msg=”Click here and register now to read the rest of the article!”]

The federal H-2A program provides a legal method of bringing foreign farmworkers into the U.S. on a temporary basis. However, programs like H-2A require significant investments for agricultural employers. In addition to providing fair compensation to the workers and paying for background screenings and immigration processing, employers must provide farmworkers with safe, sanitary housing that satisfies state and federal standards.

When navigating the myriad of federal and state requirements, it is easy for agricultural employers to overlook local ordinances related to land use. However, this can be a costly mistake.

It is not unusual for land use codes to be more demanding than the H-2A program with respect to the number of individuals who may live in a single housing unit. In some cases, local governments make no provision whatsoever for farmworker housing.

In the event of a dispute, land use ordinances can be challenged. But proving such cases can be difficult and time consuming. For an employer faced with a rapidly approaching harvest, litigation is unappealing, to say the least.

Here, “an ounce of prevention” is truly worth “a pound of cure.” Determining local land use requirements should be a standard part of the due diligence employers conduct before settling on housing for farmworkers. The inquiry is not usually costly, and it can help avoid costly legal battles with local governments later on.

CREDITS

column by TIMOTHY E. KILEY

BIO: Timothy E. Kiley (Tim) received his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Central Florida in 2001, and his J.D. from the UF College of Law, cum laude, in 2004. While in law school, Tim was a member of the Florida Journal of Law and Public Policy. Tim currently practices primarily in litigation/trial practice, real estate, business law, and health law from the Peterson & Myers, P.A. Lake Wales office. He serves on the Board of Directors of Alliance for Independence, Inc., and the Board of Trustees for the Learning Resource Center of Polk, Inc. Outside of his professional life, Tim enjoys spending time with his wife, Lauren, and his daughters, Madeline and Amelia.
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