So, in my recent Facebook post I teased about a property tax story… here we go.
Fred vs the Property Appraiser
When Yeni and I started dating it was a long distance relationship. She came to the States and lived in Ann Arbor, working for the government on an H1 Visa— this means that if she left her job, she’d have to move back to her (at the time) country. In other words, she could not come live in Gainesville at the time.
Well, as luck would have it, we started dating around the 2008 housing crisis. I tried putting the house up for sale, and after 1 year of no offers, watched my home value drop monthly. Good times.
I’d drive up to Ann Arbor for a few weeks, back to Gainesville, back to Ann Arbor, back to Gainesville, etc. I remained a Florida resident and did things residents (should) do… like voting in every election, yard work, house maintenance, etc.
Yeni and I got married and this arrangement kept going until she (1) received her permanent residency and (2) my work situation changed. With the economy tanking, we could no longer afford to keep her place in Ann Arbor and my place in Gainesville— not to mention the 1,000 mile drive was getting a little old. So, Yeni ended her job in Michigan and moved to Gainesville.
Around this time, I realized I never had gotten the homestead exemption on my property taxes… which was now rather important to have that extra 3k savings. So, I applied for it and a few weeks later received a rejection notice.
A little shocked, I appealed it. I mean, I’m clearly a resident and couldn’t think why they would reject me. I submitted my appeal and included things such as my voting record, google maps showing my truck parked in different positions, etc. Denied again. Next step? Appeal to the Magistrate (aka a hearing).
This process introduced Yeni to the American bureaucracy. On the day of the hearing, we entered the room and waited our turn. The cases before us all were decided in the County’s favor… but I was certain we had a strong case. We present our side and then the Magistrate asked for the County’s response.
Now, to get your homestead exemption, you basically need:
- be a Florida resident
- own and occupy the home as your permanent residence
- occupy the home on January 1st
The “January 1st” is where the County started playing games…
Although I owned the home as my permanent residence for 5 years and used it as my permanent residence (bank, driver’s license, voting, etc.), the Property Appraiser used a blog post from this site as proof that I was not in my home on January 1st, and therefore not eligible for the exemption.
So, my first response was that the post the appraiser used was from a year earlier. They asked where I was on January 1st of that year then, to which I answered honestly… “Ann Arbor, celebrating the New Year with my wife.”
The Magistrate did not love this argument and reading of the law held by the Property Appraiser. He asked, “My wife and I have lived in this county for 60 years. Let’s say next year we go on a world cruise and come New Year’s Eve, celebrate in the middle of the ocean. Do we lose our homestead exemption?”
The Property Appraiser replied, “Yes. You’re not in your home on January 1st and the law says you have to occupy the home on January 1st.”
The Magistrate was dumbfounded and told Yeni and I to go downstairs, file for next year, and that he would be sending his decision to us shortly.
Needless to say, he decided in our favor.
Yeni couldn’t believe that the local government stalked our blog for this type of information and severely changed the amount of information she posted. Clearly I’ve posted less since then as well, but that’s due to being busy, rather than the stalking. This being said, it does show that what you post can be used against you in a variety of situations.