Broward County homestead exemption case headed to Florida Supreme Court

By Deana Carpenter | Jul 12, 2016

TALLAHASSEE – After failing to win a case in the 4th District Court to allow two homestead exemptions, a Florida woman is appealing her case to the state's Supreme Court.

TALLAHASSEE – After failing to win a case in the 4th District Court to allow two homestead exemptions, a Florida woman is appealing her case to the state's Supreme Court.

Venice Endsley, who was married to her husband, the late Robert Endsley, for 60 years, held a homestead exemption on her home in Broward County. At the same time, Robert had one on a separate home in Indiana.

In March, Venice Endsley sued the Broward County property appraiser in the 4th District Court of Appeals in Florida after it took away her homestead based exemption because her husband was receiving the same type of tax exemption at his Indiana home at the same time.

According to attorney Mark Rothenberg, generally speaking, the term “homestead” refers to the act of declaring a residence as one’s sole/primary domicile.

“The term ‘homestead exemption’ generally refers to an exemption an individual or family receives from a portion of their property taxes,” Rothenberg told the Florida Record.

Many states provide some form of protection to homesteaded properties.

“The homestead exemption is a tax-saving mechanism provided by the Florida Constitution for eligible Florida legal residents on his or her home, condominium, co-op apartment and certain mobile home lots if they qualify,” Mila Schwartzreich, general counsel and director of administration for the Broward County Property Appraiser’s Office, told the Florida Record.

The Broward County property appraiser found out about the Endsleys two exemptions in 2006, which started the legal turmoil.

“The Broward County Property Appraiser’s Office Department of Professional Standards and Compliance investigates exemption fraud," Schwartzreich said. 

She said Florida law “prohibits a person from receiving or claiming the benefit of a homestead exemption or tax credit in another state where permanent residency is required from receiving a homestead exemption in the state of Florida.”

The March decision in the 4th District Court of Appeals stated the “appellant’s receipt of multiple homestead exemptions is specifically prohibited by the language of Article VII, section 6(b) of the Florida Constitution.”

The decision goes on to state that because the appellant, Venice Endsley, “benefitted from homestead exemptions both in and out of the state of Florida during the time period at issue, the trial court properly entered summary judgment in favor of the property appraiser.”

“Robert and Venice Endsley admitted they were a ‘family unit,’” Schwartzreich said.

Venice Endsley has now asked that the Florida Supreme Court hear the case.

Over the course of his career in Florida, Rothenberg, who now practices law in California, said he has handled similar cases.

“I have had cases where long-time married couples lived separately, in different counties, and maintained homestead on both of their properties,” he said. “I also witnessed a case where the husband and wife were Catholic, did not believe in divorce, and had lived apart in different states for 25-30 years."

In that case, the husband lived out-of-state and had his home homesteaded and his wife live in Florida with a house that was also homesteaded. The couple had not been in contact with each other in decades.

“The case went before the Value Adjustment Board in approximately 2006 in Monroe County,” Rothbenberg said. He said the board restored her homestead in that case.

Rothenberg said if the Florida Supreme Court would rule in favor of the couple it may or may not set a precedent in other similar cases.

“These cases tend to be fairly fact specific,” he said. “However, if the Florida Supreme Court hears the case and issues and opinion, it may provide better standards, tests or criteria tax practitioners and property appraisers can look to in future cases."

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