L. LOWRY BALDWIN and JENNIFER L. BALDWIN, Appellants,
BOB HENRIQUEZ, as Property Appraiser of Hillsborough County; DOUG BELDEN, as Tax Collector of Hillsborough County; and LEON M. BIEGALSKI, Executive Director of the Department of Revenue, Appellees.
FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF
from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County; E. Lamar
A. Borland and Robert E. V. Kelley, Jr. of Hill, Ward &
Henderson, P.A., Tampa, for Appellants.
William D. Shepherd of Hillsborough County Property
Appraiser's Office, Tampa, for Appellee Bob Henriquez.
Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Robert P. Elson,
Senior Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Appellee
appearance for Appellee Doug Belden.
Lowry Baldwin and Jennifer L. Baldwin appeal from a final
summary judgment in favor of Bob Henriquez, as Property
Appraiser for Hillsborough County, Doug Belden, as Tax
Collector, and Leon M. Biegalski, as Executive Director of
the Department of Revenue, on all three counts of the
Baldwins' amended complaint. In their complaint the
Baldwins challenged, among other things, the Property
Appraiser's denial of a homestead exemption on their
residential property for tax year 2015. We hold that the
Baldwins are not entitled to a homestead exemption for their
residential property for tax year 2015 because they failed to
maintain the subject property as their permanent residence on
January 1, 2015.
undisputed facts are as follows: In July 2013, the Baldwins
sold their residence and abandoned their homestead. On July
10, 2013, the Baldwins purchased another property with a
house on it. They did not move into that house.
Instead, in November 2013, the Baldwins demolished the
existing house on the property and began construction on a
new house on the property. During the construction of the new
house, the Baldwins resided at a leased condominium unit and
rented a storage unit for their furniture and personal items.
They were able to use the dock on the premises of the subject
property while their new house was being constructed. When it
became obvious that the construction would not be completed
by the end of 2014, the Baldwins pitched a tent on the
subject property on December 26, 2014, and spent the night on
the subject property. Jennifer Baldwin spent one additional
night in the tent later that week. As of January 1, 2015, the
Baldwins' driver's licenses and voter registration
cards reflected the address of the subject property where the
new house was being constructed. The new house received a
temporary Certificate of Occupancy on June 9, 2015, and the
Baldwins moved into their new home on June 11, 2015. Finally,
on January 8, 2016, the new house received a final
Certificate of Occupancy.
Baldwins timely applied for homestead exemption and transfer
of homestead assessment difference (the Save Our Homes
portability benefit) for their new property for tax year
2015. They received a notice of disapproval from the Property
Appraiser informing them that their application was denied
because the subject property was not the Baldwins'
permanent residence as of January 1, 2015. Next, the Baldwins
petitioned to the Value Adjustment Board (VAB) seeking a
reversal of the Property Appraiser's denial. The VAB
agreed with the Property Appraiser and denied their petition.
Finally, the Baldwins filed a complaint in the circuit court
seeking a declaration that they were entitled to claim
homestead exemption for property tax purposes for tax year
2015. They also sought a declaration that they were entitled
to a transfer of the Save Our Homes portability benefit.
parties filed competing motions for summary judgment. The
Baldwins argued that their inability to physically occupy the
premises as of January 1, 2015, was not determinative of
their ability to claim the property as homestead because they
manifested an intent to use the property as their permanent
residence. The Property Appraiser, conversely, argued that
initial physical occupancy of the homestead property by the
taxpayer or a dependent of the taxpayer was required to
secure a homestead tax exemption.
trial court found that initial physical occupancy is not
required to establish entitlement to a homestead exemption
from ad valorem taxes. Instead, the trial court explained,
"it is one factor to consider in conjunction with
several others when determining whether an applicant has
established a permanent residence at the property for which
he seeks the exemption." It further explained that
"the determination of permanent residency is not based
on the parties' intent alone." The trial court
recognized that although the Baldwins undoubtedly intended
for the subject property to become their permanent residence
at some point in the future, the Baldwins had not yet made
the subject property their permanent residence as of January
1, 2015. Ultimately, the trial court found "insufficient
indicia of permanent residence at the subject property at the
time of assessment to support a homestead exemption."
The Baldwins timely appealed.
the facts were not in dispute and the issue before the trial
court was purely legal, we review the court's entry of
summary judgment de novo. Karayiannakis v. Nikolits,
23 So.3d 844, 845 (Fla. 4th DCA 2009).