Florida’s Supreme Court Rules on Property Tax Exemption

Florida's Supreme Court rules on Homestead Property Exemption

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court in Garcia v. Andonie, provided guidance on Florida’s Homestead property tax exemption, and provided a favorable ruling for property owners.  The Supreme Court ruled that Fla. Stat. 196.031(1) is invalid and unenforceable to the extent that it imposes a requirement not contained in Florida’s Constitution.

Background of the Homestead Property Tax Exemption Case

In Garcia v. Andione, the Taxpayers were citizens of Honduras, who were lawfully residing in the United States under a temporary visa.  The Taxpayers had three minor children, who, unlike their parents, are citizens of the United States and Florida.  The Taxpayers owned a condominium in Key Biscayne, Florida.  They had lived there with their three minor children.  In 2006, the Taxpayers applied for a reduction in the taxable value of their condominium.  The Taxpayers claimed that their condominium was the permanent residence of their minor children.  The Property Appraiser denied the application.  The Taxpayers then petitioned to the Miami-Dade County Value Adjustment Board (the “VAB”), and prevailed.  The Property Appraiser appealed the VAB’s decision to the Circuit and Appellate Courts, and lost. The Supreme Court reviewed the Appellate Court’s decision.

Miami-Dade’s Property Appraiser claimed that the Taxpayers were improperly granted a homestead property tax exemption.  The Property Appraiser claimed that Fla. Stat. § 196.031(1), requires that the property owner seeking a property tax exemption must establish that he is residing on the Florida property, regardless of whether the property tax exemption is being claimed as the permanent residence of the property owner or as the residence of the owner’s dependents.

Florida’s Supreme Court Rules that a Property Owner is Entitled to the Homestead Properyt Tax Exemption if His Dependents Permanently Reside at the Property

The Supreme Court held that Fla. Stat. § 196.031(1) is inconsistent with Florida’s Constitution. Florida’s Constitution creates the right for every person who owns Florida real property to receive a reduction on their property taxes where  (1) the owner permanently resides at the property or (2) the owner’s legally or naturally dependents permanently reside at the property.  Thus, the Supreme Court concluded that the additional requirement contained in Fla. Stat. § 196.031(1) requiring all property owners to demonstrate that they reside on the property is invalid and unenforceable because it limits people who may be eligible for the property tax exemption.

The Supreme Court also reviewed the legal standard to be used to determine whether a piece of property is being used as the “permanent residence” of either a property owner or the property owner’s dependents.  Fla. Stat. §196.012(18) defines “permanent residence” for property taxation purposes as “that place where a person has his or her true, fixed, and permanent home and principal establishment to which, whenever absent, he or she has the intention of returning…”.

Fla. Stat. §196.015 contains a number of factors that may be considered in determining whether the applicant for the property tax exemption has the intent to establish a permanent residence.  These factors include:
(1) A declaration of domicile by the applicant recorded in the public records of the county in which the exemption is being sought.
(2) Where the applicant’s children are registered for school.
(3) The applicant’s place of employment.
(4) The previous permanent residency by the applicant in a state other than Florida or in another country and the date non-Florida residency was terminated.
(5)    Voter registration cards.
(6) A valid Florida driver’s license issued under s. 322.18 or a valid Florida identification card issued under s. 322.051 and evidence of relinquishment of driver’s licenses from any other states.
(7) A Florida license tag on any motor vehicle owned by the applicant.
(8) The address as listed on federal income tax returns filed by the applicant.
(9) The location where the applicant’s bank statements and checking accounts are registered, and
(10) Utility bills.

The Supreme Court noted that citizenship is not a prerequisite for eligibility for the property tax exemption, however, the individual for whom the permanent residence is being sought cannot have a legal impediment to or restriction from living permanently on the Florida property.  An example of a legal impediment is a temporary visa.

The Garcia decision is a victory for Florida property owners.  Should you have any questions as to whether you are entitled to seek a homestead tax exemption, please contact De Varona law for a free initial consultation.