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Sunday, February 11, 2018

No Homestead Treatment for Property Owned by a Corporation [Florida]

In a recent case, residential property was owned by a corporation. The sole shareholder and president of the corporation resided on the property, and the corporation had attempted to convey the residence to the shareholder, but its deed was effective and ineffective. In attempting to fend off a creditor, it was argued that the property qualified as homestead property and was thus beyond the reach of creditors, and the trial court agreed.

Article X, section 4 of the Florida Constitution, which provides protection against forced sale for homestead property, reads in relevant part:

There shall be exempt from forced sale under process of any court, and no judgment, decree or execution shall be a lien thereon, except for the payment of taxes and assessments thereon, obligations contracted for the purchase, improvement or repair thereof, or obligations contracted for house, field or other labor performed on the realty, the following property owned by a natural person. . . (emphasis added).

Since a corporation is not a natural person, that would seem to be the end of the argument that the property was homestead property. However, in Callava v. Feinberg, 864 So.2d 429, 431 (3rd DCA 2004), and other cases similar to it, property owned by a trust qualified as homestead property. Since a trust is not a natural person, why should ownership be a corporation be treated differently than a trust for this purpose?

In reversing the trial court, the 2nd DCA noted the crucial difference. In Callava, an individual beneficiary of the trust was found to hold an equitable interest in the subject property. Legal ownership was in the trust. Equitable ownership in a natural person is sufficient for these purposes – legal ownership is not required.

The problem for the shareholder in the instant case is that the shareholder had neither legal nor equitable/beneficial ownership, and thus the property did not qualify for homestead protection.

DeJesus v. A.M.J.R.K., 43 Fla. L. Weekly D331a (2nd DCA 2018).

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