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Baldwin v. Henriquez

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

September 13, 2019

L. LOWRY BALDWIN and JENNIFER L. BALDWIN, Appellants,
v.
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.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County; E. Lamar Battles, Judge.

          Marie 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.

          Ashely Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Robert P. Elson, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Appellee Leon Biegalski.

          No appearance for Appellee Doug Belden.

          Badalamenti, Judge.

         L. 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.[1]

         Factual Background

         The 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.[2] 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.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         The 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.

         Because 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).

         Florida's ...


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