Fla. Supreme Court case over homestead dispute could affect out-of-state property owners

May 7, 2012

The Florida Supreme Court is considering whether out-of-state residents can qualify for the state’s property tax exemptions if they have dependents permanently living in their Florida homes. Lynn Hatter reports the case stems from a dispute over whether a couple from Honduras could receive an exemption because their children are U.S. Citizens.

David and Ana Andonie were in the country on investment visas and all three of their children were born and raised in Miami. The couple had provided a signed affidavit stating their home was their permanent residence. But in 2006 Miami-Dade property appraiser Pedro Garcia denied the couple’s homestead tax exemption, saying they needed a court order to substantiate their residency status. David Weiss, an attorney for the couple, claimed the property appraiser action was out of bounds.

“I don’t say let’s do away with the presumption that the domicile of the children follows that of the parents…what we say is that the presumption has been rebutted.”   

The appraiser’s decision was based on the presumption that since the parents aren’t permanent residents, the children aren’t either, despite their U.S. Citizenship.  Under Florida’s constitution foreign nationals and other immigrants are allowed to own property. But Justice Fred Lewis says the case is NOT about immigration.

“This is far broader than foreign nationals and children. This could be a resident of Ohio establishing someone as a permanent resident of a legal dependent in Florida. The same law would apply.”   

The Miami-Dade Value Adjustment Board eventually reversed the property appraiser’s decision. But the appraiser sued. The Adjustment Board’s acceptance of the homestead exemption was upheld in two lower courts. But Melinda Thornton, an attorney for the county, says they’re just seeking clarity on the law.

“Whether their visa was expired or whether their visa was temporary, they still aren’t, as a matter of law, permanent residents. So their children need to be established as permanent residents. So the presumption needs to be overcome. And what we’re saying is that the self-serving affidavit isn’t enough to do that.”  

The case could have an impact on any out-of-state homeowner seeking a homestead exemption. The justices did not indicate when they would issue a ruling.