Homestead lawsuit comes to a potential halt in Florida

By Dawn Geske | Jan 23, 2017

TALLAHASSEE — It is possible that a Florida homestead case will end with the decision that was made by the Florida Supreme Court ruling against the plaintiff.

The plaintiff, Venice Endsley, took her denial of two homestead credits in Florida and also in Indiana to the Florida Supreme Court after losing in an appeal to the 4th District Court of Appeals. Endsley lost her homestead credit in Florida after the Broward County property appraiser removed the exemption because her husband was receiving credit for a home he had lived in in Indiana at the same time.

There is little reason to believe that she will take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court after its latest ruling.

“It is highly unlikely that they will,” Mark Rothenberg, an attorney who has been published on the issue and teaches land use and property law, told The Florida Record. “There are a real limited number of arguments one can make when appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. It really depends on the nature of their argument but I think it’s unlikely.”

With homesteads in both Florida and Indiana, Endsley was receiving credit in both states for two different properties. While homestead laws in every state are different, the Florida Constitution specifically prohibits multiple homesteads, leaving Endsley without recourse in her suit.

“Homestead cases are highly dependent on the facts of each specific case and from what I can discern from this case, it looked like even though the husband and wife lived in two different states, they ordered their finances together and they still filed joint returns,” Rothenberg said.

The intact marriage of Endsley and her husband raised a red flag with the property appraiser that in most instances is incentivized to spot instances where properties don’t qualify for the homestead credit.

“It is advantageous for property tax appraisers to remove that because someone that has bought a house that is valued at $150,000 in 1985 might be sitting on a property today that is worth $2, $3, $4 million,” Rothenberg said.

With a homestead credit, Rothenberg said, an owner is only paying a marginal increase in property tax each year, making the credit worthwhile for property owners to receive. With the removal of a homestead credit to a property, the city sees an increase in revenues and they can accelerate the evaluation of the property more in line with the current value of the home. This creates a windfall of revenue for the municipality as it can also collect on back payments going a predetermined number of years back.

When an individual finds themselves involved with the loss of a homestead credit, seeking the proper legal council is the best course of action, according to Rothenberg.

“In any homestead case, seek a member of the Florida bar with experience in handling property tax issues,” he said. “These cases are really driven by the facts of each specific case, and I would also urge anyone with a homestead case to seek legal counsel with someone that has a lot of familiarity with homestead cases.”

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