Florida requires that a homestead be the “permanent residence to the exclusion of all others.” Her tax bill for loss of homestead ranked among the top 10 this year.
During the boom, the Old Cutler Road property was taxed on less than a third of the property’s market value: In 2007, for instance, its market value was $885,075, but it was assessed for taxes at $225,278 because its long-time homestead kept its taxable value from rising more than 3 percent a year.
Broward County Property Appraiser Lori Parrish, who has long advocated getting tough on homestead cheats, recently reeled in a similar whale for double homestead. In June, Michael and Susan Hooley were hit with a $325,459.16 in back assessments on their waterfront home at 1352 Seminole Dr. in Fort Lauderdale. The tax tab, covering 2007 through 2010, came after Ron Cacciatore, director of investigations for the property appraiser’s office, confirmed that Michael had purchased a second home in the Florida Keys and filed for homestead on it. Records show Michael was registered to vote in Monroe County. Still, married couples are only allowed a single homestead between them.
Another recent lien filed by the Miami-Dade property appraiser on a yellow, two-story house at 8605 SW 56th St. seeks $114,124.90 in back taxes, penalties and interest because the homestead wasn’t removed after the owner, Willadean Allen, died — in 1994.
The property is vacant and listed for sale. Allen’s children, listed in court papers as the heirs, couldn’t be reached for comment. Brian J. Felcoski, the estate’s attorney, declined to comment.
The plunge in property values has eliminated the advantage of the Save Our Homes cap for many homestead properties, leaving the relatively modest break of the $50,000 exemption ($25,000 for school taxes.)
During the boom days of 2007, for instance, Shahriar Bahmani’s house at 360 NE 103rd St. had an assessed value of $334,637, which was $150,298 below its market value of $484,935, because of a Save Our Homes cap.
But by 2009, its market value plunged far below the level it was capped at under Save Our Homes, meaning the only advantage of homestead status was the basic $50,000 in exemptions, which cut the tax bill by a relatively small sum of $1,065.60 in 2011.
This month, the property appraiser notified Bahmani it was eliminating the homestead status for 2005 through 2011 after its investigation showed the house had been rented since 2004. The Property Appraiser said it plans to file a lien for $30,058.99 if the back taxes, penalty and interest aren’t paid by July 31st. Bahmani couldn’t be reached for comment.
With the issue of uncollected taxes at center stage, the property appraiser in March sent letters to condo and homeowner associations, listing member properties receiving homestead and asking them to name which properties were rented.
Some advocates of get-tough tactics on homestead are pushing for legislation that would force the condominium and homeowner groups to comply with demands to identify rental units.
Meanwhile, county commissioners eager to bolster tax revenue without the politically toxic prospect of raising tax rates, have been casting about for ways to catch cheats. In May, the board approved an ordinance that allows the property appraiser to ask the commission chairman to issue a subpoena. The property appraiser already had the ability to seek a subpoena through the county Inspector General’s Office or State Attorney’s Office.
While illegal homestead exemptions are commonly labeled “fraud,” authorities rarely pursue criminal charges, and none were filed against property owners mentioned in this article.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office said it is evaluating whether to bring criminal charges in two other cases investigated by Miami-Dade detectives, including one presented last week.
But except in particularly egregious circumstances with clear evidence of criminal intent, the focus is on collecting the money.
Says Howard Rosen, chief of organized crime for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office: “It’s so easy to put a lien on the property.”