Over the years, we have seen clients purchase second homes in Florida. We’ve also seen many of you establish domicile in Florida while keeping your Ohio home for occasional use. You now consider your Florida home as your primary residence. When you established your domicile in Florida, you applied for a Florida driver’s license, registered to vote, and filed an affidavit of domicile, among other steps. During this process, you may have also claimed the Florida homestead exemption. But did you notify your county tax department that you were no longer entitled to your Ohio Owner Occupancy Credit (previously known as the 2½ Rollback Credit)? If not, you might be facing a claim from your Florida county property appraiser that you have committed homestead exemption fraud and owe back taxes, interest and penalties. This is especially true if you live in Sarasota, Duval or Pinellas County.
The Florida homestead exemption generally permits a person to receive a tax exemption on up to $50,000 of assessed value of property in Florida if the property is your “permanent residence.” However, under Florida law, a person receiving or claiming a tax credit in another state where permanent residency is required to obtain a credit is not entitled to the Florida homestead exemption. This is true regardless of whether Florida is the person’s state of domicile, and whether the person is receiving or claiming the credit knowingly and willingly or mistakenly. Some counties in Florida (Sarasota, for example) believe that the Ohio’s Owner Occupancy Credit is a residency-based credit, and anyone receiving it is not entitled to the Florida homestead exemption. They also conclude that not knowing that the Ohio credit is being provided or not knowing that it is a residence-based credit is not a defense.
In the past, Florida counties have enforced law themselves, and somewhat haphazardly. However, we’ve learned that property appraiser offices in Sarasota, Duval and Pinellas Counties have hired a law firm to investigate homestead fraud, and are paying the law firm a 30% commission on any back taxes, penalties and interest owed. That’s a big incentive to find any technical violation. We do not know if other counties in Florida will following this strategy.
The lookback period for homestead exemption fraud in Florida is 10 years. If a Florida appraiser office finds that in any of the past 10 years you claimed a Florida homestead exemption while not being entitled to it, you will receive a Notice of Intent to record a Notice of Tax Lien for Homestead Exemption. The liability is for the back taxes owed, plus a penalty of 50% and interest at 15% per annum. Depending on how long you have owned both homes, your penalty could be thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. Your only defense to a claim is that you were granted the exemption in Ohio as a result of a clerical error, e.g., you can prove that you notified the Ohio county to remove the Credit and they failed to so.
The Next Steps
If you own homes in Florida and Ohio (or any other state that grants a similar credit), you should review your property tax records in both states for the past 10 years. If you have not received a Florida homestead exemption in Florida, but believe you are entitled to receive one, you should contact your local appraisal office to obtain the necessary forms, while at the same time informing your Ohio tax official to remove your Owner’s Occupancy Credit. If you have been receiving both a Florida homestead exemption and an Ohio Owner’s Occupancy Credit, you should have the Ohio credit removed and contact your attorney or accountant to determine if there is anything you can do to minimize your exposure.
Howard Essner, JD, is the General Counsel AT Ancora Holdings Inc.
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