By: Charles B. Jimerson, Esq.
Every August Florida Property Appraisers will send out their TRIM notices, or Notice of Proposed Property Taxes, advising all tax payers of the proposed assessment on their properties. It is crucial for land owners to critically review this Notice and determine whether the assessment is fair and accurate, as the mailing of the notice commences a very short window in which a tax appeal must be filed. Very often these Notices are inflated to require payment of more taxes than should be assessed.
The county assessed value of your real estate should equal what the property would easily sell for in an arms-length transaction between a willing buyer and seller (Market Value). As often occurs, the true number that the local real estate market will bear is a lower number than what the county property appraisers value lists because properties are not impervious to natural variables that diminish value. If the property has been affected by a diminution in value caused by declining prices and market conditions, detrimental conditions (i.e. cracked slab, landslide, construction defects, condemnation, environmental problems), or other causes, the property owner should consider filing an appeal. Property tax appeals can be filed on any real estate including a home, ranch, vacant land, apartment building, commercial, industrial, or special use property.
Property owners are often shocked when receiving annual notices attempting to re-valuate their property because their property tax values often rise dramatically from a previous valuation (increases in value by 40% or more are not uncommon in some jurisdictions). This Blog post will attempt to answer two common questions we are often asked by Florida land owners: “How does the property tax process work and What can I do if I think my property has been over-valued by the tax man?”
I. Overview of Florida Property Taxation
Florida’s Constitution requires property appraisers to establish the property tax base for their county annually. In doing so, property appraisers determine the just, or market, value of each parcel of property as of January 1 of each year. Then, they apply all valid exemptions, classifications and assessment limitations to determine each property’s taxable value, or relative tax burden. The property appraiser does not determine the property tax rate or the amount of property taxes levied.
The Florida Department of Revenue (“the Department”) reviews the property tax rolls of each county in July and August of every year. These reviews are conducted to ensure the tax base established by the property appraiser is equitable, uniform, and in compliance with Florida law. The Department also reviews and approves each property appraiser’s annual budget.
In August, the property appraiser sends each property owner a Notice of Proposed Property Taxes, or TRIM notice. This notice contains the property’s value on January 1, the millage rates proposed by each local government, and an estimate of the amount of property taxes owed based on the proposed millage rates. The date, time, and location of each local government’s budget hearing are also provided on the notice. This provides property owners the opportunity to attend the hearings and comment on the millage rates before approval.
Though this will be addressed in greater detail below, the proposed tax and the basis for
that tax can be addressed through an administrative appeals process initially instituted at the local level. Each county has a five-member value adjustment board, which hears and rules on challenges to a property’s assessment, classification, or exemptions. The value adjustment board is independent from the property appraiser and tax collector. Value adjustment boards cannot change the millage, or property tax, rates adopted by local governments. The Department provides annual training to value adjustment boards. The Department also issues mandatory procedures and forms in order to promote fair, impartial, and uniform hearings for all taxpayers.
Following the adoption of millage rates by local governments, county tax collectors send annual property tax bills, usually in late October or early November. Full payment is due by the following March 31. Discounts of up to four percent are given for early payment.
If a property tax bill is not paid by the following March 31, the tax collector sells a tax certificate on that property in order to collect the unpaid taxes. A tax deed may be sold if the property owner has not paid all back taxes, interest, and fees within two years. Tax collectors also process and issue refunds for overpayment of property taxes.
The tax collector distributes property taxes to the local governments and taxing authorities. Roughly, 50 percent of Florida’s public education funding and 30 percent of its local government revenues come from property taxes.
A. Save Our Homes and Portability
After the first year a home receives a homestead exemption and the property appraiser assesses it at just value, the amount the assessment can increase for each following year cannot be more than 3% or the percent change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is less. This is called the “Save Our Homes” (SOH) assessment limitation. The accumulated difference between your assessed value and the just (market) value is your SOH benefit. Amendment 10 to the Florida Constitution created this assessment limitation in 1995. Even if the value of a property owner’s home goes down, his or her tax assessment may increase, but only by this limited amount. It will never be more than the just value of the home. Portability allows most Florida homestead owners to transfer (or “port”) their SOH benefit from their old homestead to a new homestead, lowering the tax assessment (and consequently, the taxes) for the new homestead.
B. Calculation of Property Taxes
Ad valorem tax is a tax which is based upon the assessed value of the property. The term “property tax” may be used interchangeably with the term “ad valorem tax.” Taxable value and total tax liability is calculated by the following equation:
Just value (market value)
– Assessment differential (e.g. Save Our Homes)
– Exemptions (e.g. Homestead)
x Millage Rate
= Total Tax Liability
Putting numbers to that equation should look something like this: Assume a homestead has a just value of $300,000, an accumulated $40,000 in Save Our Homes (SOH) protections, and a homestead exemption of $25,000 plus the additional $25,000 on non-school taxes. The millage is 7 mills for county schools and 11 mills for all non-school taxing authorities combined (city, county, and special districts).