Homestead Exemption

Between them, Florida's Constitution and Statutes extend 3 different types of protection under the Homestead Exemption:

• Partial exemption from property taxes
• Exemption from forced sale, protecting full value
• Protection for surviving spouse and/or minor children

A 4th related protection applies to the year-to-year increase in the assessed value of the homestead property, which is limited to the lesser of 3% or the annual change in the Consumer Price Index. This is a cap on the assessed value's increase, not on the tax bill.

This is some of the broadest and most generous protection when compared to the homestead laws of other states. One main reason is that there is NO limit to the value of the property that can be identified as a resident's permanent homestead. Single family homes, condos, manufactured homes, and even mobile homes can be claimed as homestead properties. Within a town or city (incorporated municipality), it can sit on up to 1/2 acre. Outside a municipality (county only) the maximum is 160 adjoining acres.

Raw land cannot be identified as one's homestead. A habitable structure must be on the land. An owner may give up (sell) one homestead and establish another.

The Homestead Exemption is NOT automatic. Property owners must qualify and apply to the Property Appraiser's Office in the county in which the property is located. Before applying, a property owner must first:
• Be a "natural person" (no LLCs, corporations, partnerships)
• Establish and maintain permanent, primary residency in Florida
• Not claim homestead rights in any other state

Certain types of trusts may own homestead property, others cannot. Consult a licensed attorney for specific eligibility.

The qualifying criteria are quite similar to lenders' criteria when determining primary residence vs second home occupancy status which we discussed a few months ago.
Required documentation can vary from county to county - the local Appraiser's Office may consider any combination of the following :
• Proof of ownership (deed, tax receipt)
• Florida Drivers license
• Florida vehicle registration
• Employer's address
• Bank statement and tax return mailing address
• Proof that former primary residency (outside FL) has ended
• Utility payments at homestead address
• Voter registration
• Schools attended by dependent children

Other documentation may be requested, depending on individual situations.

Very Important - permanent/primary residency must have been established before January 1 in order for the Homestead Exemption to apply for the upcoming calendar year. Filing for the exemption can be done up to March 1, though proof of residency must be dated before January 1.

An annual renewal is sent to homestead property owners by the Appraiser's Office, which includes an affirmation that the property is still being used as the owner's permanent/primary residence.

Some general provisions of Florida's Homestead Exemption
Property Taxes:
• $25,000 exemption from assessed value for all property taxes
• Additional $25,000 exemption applied to the assessed value over
$50,000 - only applies to non-school taxes
• Local exemptions may also be available to owners 65 and older,
widows, widowers, blind, and disabled residents

Forced Sale from Civil Lawsuit and Judgment:
• A person cannot be forced to sell a homestead property in order to satisfy a legal judgment in a suit brought by a creditor.
• The value of a homestead property is unrestricted by Florida Statute. As long as a property and its owner legally qualify for and continue the Homestead Exemption, the property is protected from forced sale, no matter how much it is worth.
• The following are NOT protected by the Homestead Exemption:
- income or property tax liens
- mortgage foreclosure
- HOA liens
- mechanics liens for work performed on the property

Spousal Rights:

• The owner of a homestead-protected property may not sell or otherwise convey the property without her/his spouse's approval. This applies even if the property is in only one of their names or it was purchased with only one spouse's money.
• Homestead property may not be conveyed by will to another person upon the owner's death as long as there is a surviving spouse and/or minor children. A spouse may waive these rights, though without a waiver the spouse's homestead rights are held in place over the will. Note - an ex-spouse is not the same as a spouse.

When property owners have questions about the Homestead Exemption for tax purposes, they should contact their County Appraiser's Office.

If you have questions about asset protection and spousal rights under Florida's Homestead Laws, you should consult a licensed attorney. A Declaration of Homestead may be suggested to establish these rights.
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