TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Foreigners and out-of-state residents may be able to get a break on state property taxes thanks to a potentially far-reaching ruling from the Florida Supreme Court.
The court on Thursday unanimously said that a couple from Honduras who had been living in a Key Biscayne condominium with their children were eligible for a homestead exemption.
Those in the U.S. on a temporary visa aren't normally eligible for the tax break, but all three children of David and Ana Andonie were born in Miami-Dade County and had never lived anywhere else.
Justice Jorge Labarga, who wrote the opinion, said that a provision included in the state constitution back in 1968 trumped an existing law that requires a person seeking a homestead exemption to permanently reside in the home.
Labarga said the constitution made it clear that a home qualifies for the state's $25,000 homestead tax break if it is the permanent residence of either the owner or someone who is a dependent of the owner.
"We think the court correctly laid out the entitlement," said Daniel A. Weiss, the lawyer for the couple.
The case could have wide implications for the numbers of Central and South Americans who live in South Florida and out-of-state residents who have also purchased property in the state.
The tax break - which was initially sought on the $1 million home back in 2006 - was opposed by the Miami-Dade property appraiser. The county's Value Adjustment Board overruled the appraiser's office and granted the exemption.
The appraiser took the case to the courts, which have consistently sided with the couple. The office of Attorney General Pam Bondi and the state Department of Revenue also supported the Andonie family.
Back in May, an assistant county attorney for Miami-Dade County had argued that under common law the children were residents of Honduras because that was the permanent residence of their parents. Therefore, an exemption should not have been allowed, she said.
Justice Barbara Pariente at the time said the claim the children were residents of Honduras was "absolutely incredible."
At the time of the initial dispute, the three children were minors. One is still a minor, while the other two are adults.
The appraisers' office has denied the family's exemption for subsequent years - and those cases are also now in the courts as well. Weiss said that he anticipated that the litigation would now be dropped in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
Homeowners could get a $25,000 exemption in 2006. Now, they can get an additional $25,000 exemption on non-school taxes. Another benefit is a 3 percent cap on annual assessment increases for homesteads.
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