Sunday, May 07, 2006

NO HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION IF PRESENT ONLY ON TEMPORARY VISA [FLORIDA]

Florida provides a reduction in ad valorem property taxes on the principal residence of Floridians. Even more important than the dollar reduction in taxes that arises directly from the exemption is the 3% per year maximum increase in taxable value that is afforded under the Florida Constitution. In a period of rapid price appreciation (such as the last few years), this dollar cap on increases in taxable value has provided a valuable tax benefit to Florida homeowners.

To qualify for the exemption, the residence involved must be a "permanent residence" of the affected taxpayer. In a recent case, two homeowners immigrated from Switzerland and resided legally in the United States. They had lived and worked in Charlotte County, Florida for at least five years. They held social security numbers and drivers' licenses, paid federal income tax, and had filed a Declaration of Domicile in Florida. Further, they had applied for permanent residence status in the U.S. with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.

With this factual background, the homeowners applied for homestead exemption for their residence in Charlotte County. Noting that the homeowners had only temporary visas to be in the U.S., the tax appraiser denied their application. The homeowners appealed that denial.

The homeowners argued that neither the Florida Constitution, nor the Florida Statutes that provided factors for review in determining permanent residence status, mentioned visa status. However, Rules enacted by Florida did indicate that a person in the U.S. on a temporary visa could not qualify for permanent residence status. There is also case law that overides those Rules when an applicant is seeking political asylum in the U.S.

In the end, the appellate court upheld the Rules - notwithstanding all of the connections of the homeowners to Florida and the U.S., they could not qualify for homestead exemption due to their temporary visa status.

[ANDRE DEQUERVAIN and ESTHER MAISCH, Appellants, v. V. FRANK DESGUIN, as the Property Appraiser of Charlotte County, Florida; VICKIE POTTS, as the Tax Collector of Charlotte County, Florida; and JAMES ZINGALE, as Executive Director of the Department of Revenue, State of Florida, Appellees. 2nd District. Case No. 2D05-1880. Opinion filed May 5, 2006.]
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