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Florida Property Tax Appeals – Challenge and Reduce Your Tax Liability
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Florida Property Tax Appeals – Challenge and Reduce Your Tax Liability

August 7, 2017 Real Estate Development, Sales and Leasing Industry Legal Blog

Reading Time: 6 minutes

It’s that time of year again.  Every August, the county property appraisers throughout the state of Florida, mail their annual “TRIM” notices to all owners of residential and commercial property.  If you are a property owner, you may be quite familiar with this notice, which prominently states “DO NOT PAY – THIS IS NOT A BILL.”  “TRIM” stands for “Truth in Millage”, and Florida law requires the taxing authorities to provide owners with notice of the proposed tax assessments before they become a final bill. You have a right to challenge the proposed assessment, but don’t delay—you have a very short window of time to formally challenge the tax assessment (petitions to the Value Adjustment Board (“VAB”) must be filed within 25 to 30 days of the TRIM notice).  If you have any doubts as to whether the assessed value on your property is too high, you should immediately contact a professional who can advise you on the prospects of reducing your tax liability.

Time is of the essence.  Preserve your rights with a timely-filed petition to challenge the tax on the TRIM notice.

Let’s face it, the property appraiser’s office has limited resources: they provide assessments based upon limited information, and sometimes they get it wrong.  However, only a very small percentage of property owners challenge their property taxes each year.  Often times, owners miss their filing deadlines, and—just as often—property owners simply do not understand how the process works. For a comprehensive overview of calculating your ad valorem taxes and the processes to follow in challenging them, read Charles B. Jimerson’s article titled “How are Property Taxes in Florida Calculated and How Can I Challenge or Appeal Property Tax Assessments?”.

Homeowners who owe Florida Property Tax may reduce tax liability from their notice of proposed property tax listed on a TRIM notice through Florida property tax appeals which contest assessment amounts.

A successful property tax challenge is an investment.  Consider your tax savings for this year and for many years to come when you reduce tax liability.

Before embarking on a path to challenge your assessments, you should understand that not all cases are treated equally.  For instance, it would require a $100,000 reduction in assessed value to obtain approximately a $1,700 reduction in your tax bill. That said, the property assessment must be significantly overvalued to obtain a reduction in tax liability that makes economic sense for an attorney to handle your case. However, all owners should consider that a successful challenge and subsequent reduction in assessed value will result in tax savings for many years into the future—a benefit that may be substantial.  High-dollar residential and commercial property owners should immediately seek counsel, as there is typically room for greater error in the assessment, and the resulting reduction in tax liability can be more substantial.  In these cases, a property tax appeal attorney can analyze your information, advise you on exactly how much you stand to gain, and develop a strategy to obtain a tax reduction.

The typical strategy involves an analysis of the public records regarding current and past assessments, evaluation of the appraisal methods used, analyzing comparable sales in the vicinity of the subject property, and gathering all necessary documentation to support a reduction in the assessments.  After gathering the data, a cost-savings analysis should be performed to determine the likelihood of cost-effective results in light of long-term tax savings.  If the case appears economically feasible, the owner and counsel will make a determination whether to move forward with a formal challenge.

In order to provide the most cost-effective solutions, counsel should first preserve the owner’s rights through the filing of a petition with the Value Adjustment Board (“VAB”), and subsequently initiate informal negotiations and consultation with the county assessors. If the informal negotiations fail, counsel should thereafter escalate to a hearing before a special magistrate with the VAB.  If the VAB’s ultimate decision is still inappropriate, the owner should consider filing an appeal of the VAB’s decision in circuit court.

Don’t lose standing to challenge the assessment.  You are required to timely pay the tax to challenge the tax on the TRIM notice.

A recent Florida case underscores the importance of the deadlines associated with successfully challenging a tax assessment.  In Sowell v. Faith Christian Family Church of Panama City Beach, Inc., Case No. 1D17-3365 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018), the property owner’s failure to pay assessed property taxes before the deadline deprived the trial court of jurisdiction to entertain a challenge to the tax assessment.  In the Sowell case, a landowner filed suit in circuit court, challenging the denial of a tax exemption.  However, the landowner did not pay the taxes due and owing on the property until May 11, 2017—meaning the taxes were delinquent by operation of the law after April 1, 2017.  Section 197.333, Florida Statutes, states that taxes become “delinquent on April 1 following the year in which they are assessed or immediately after 60 days have expired from mailing of the original tax notice, whichever is later.”

Because the taxpayer was delinquent, the property appraiser filed a motion to dismiss the tax challenge on the basis that the court was stripped of jurisdiction by operation of the Florida Statutes.  Section 194.171(5) states that “No action to contest a tax assessment may be maintained, and any such action shall be dismissed, unless all taxes on the property assessed in years after the action is brought, which the taxpayer in good faith admits to be owing, are paid before they become delinquent.”  The failure to pay meet the statutory deadlines in this case are jurisdictional.  Fla. Stat. § 194.171(6).  Accordingly, the court properly dismissed the tax payer’s challenge for failure to timely pay the challenged tax assessments.  The Sowell court acknowledged that the penalties are harsh, but it also acknowledged that the statute is clear.  In other words, all taxpayers should pay close attention to all pending deadlines and strictly comply with them.

Conclusion for Florida Property Tax Appeals

Jimerson Birr has experience in representing property owners before the value adjustment board, as well as through direct appeals against the property appraiser and taxing authorities in circuit court.  If you have an inclination that your property is being overvalued by the property appraiser, consult with one of our attorneys to discuss obtaining a reduction in your tax liability.

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