As of January 1st of 2017, it has been reported that the total value of real property in Lee County increased for the fifth consecutive year to $105.6 billion (nearly 9% higher than 2016 values).

With this year’s Truth in Millage (“TRIM”) Notices just around the corner (typically mailed by the Lee County Property Appraiser in mid-August), one recent legal opinion highlights the nuances of remedies available to the property owner—and the Property Appraiser—in the event assessed values are contested.

Background on Florida’s “Save Our Homes” Doctrine

For real property that has been classified as a “homestead” in Florida, the Save Our Homes provision of Section 193.155(1), Florida Statutes, allows for an annual increase of only 3% in the assessed value of property, or the yearly increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is less. Moreover, under 193.155(2), Florida Statutes, if the capped value exceeds the market value in a given year, the capped value will be reduced to the market value.

Nikolits v. Haney

In Nikolits v. Haney, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D1261 (Fla. 4th DCA May 31, 2017), owners challenged the County Property Appraiser’s 2010 assessed value of $19.7 million for their homestead property. The County’s Value Adjustment Board (VAB) reduced the assessment to $12 million and the Property Appraiser challenged the VAB’s decision in court. After several years in litigation, a final judgment was rendered in 2014 establishing an assessed value of $17.1 million for the property for 2010. Neither party appealed.

During the pendency of the litigation over the 2010 value, the Property Appraiser applied the Save Our Homes 3% cap to the VAB’s value of $12 million, resulting in assessed values of $12.1 million in 2011, $12.5 million in 2012, and $12.7 million in 2013. Once the litigation concluded, the Property Assessor filed Certificates of Correction for 2011 through 2013, recalculating taxes based on the court’s final judgment establishing an assessed value of $17.1 million for 2010. The end result was that the property owner’s taxes increased by over $90,000 for each of the three tax years.

Again, the owner petitioned to the VAB but, this time, the VAB rejected the petitions without a hearing. The owner proceeded to court, arguing that the recalculation of its taxes was not permitted and that the rejection of its petitions to the VAB was improper. The trial sided with the owners, and the Property Appraiser appealed.

On appeal, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that:

  • the recalculation of the taxes was a permissible correction of a “mathematical” error, but
  • the rejection of the petitions without a hearing by the VAB was not proper.

Accordingly, on remand, the Property Appraiser was directed to allow the owner to contest the valuations for 2011 through 2013 to the VAB.

What’s the Legal Scoop?

The Fourth District’s recent Nikolits decision illustrates the numerous intricacies of challenging property tax assessments in Florida and the need to be aware of remedies available to both the landowner and the Property Appraiser.

If you have any additional questions about the Nikolits case or general concerns regarding your new TRIM Notice and the local government’s authority to levy ad valorem taxes under Florida law, please do not hesitate to contact our office by dialing (239) 344-1100, or reach me via email at: Austin.Turner@henlaw.com.

For more information on how Henderson Franklin can assist you and your family (or business) in challenging your 2017 ad valorem tax assessments, please also visit “Know Your Rights as a Property Owner in Florida Before Opening Your TRIM Notices.”