In 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 VERY important for the taxpayer to carefully review the TRIM notice and quickly 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.
Florida law provides a taxpayer the option of appealing his or her assessment in an administrative appeal before the Value Adjustment Board ("VAB"). The appeal is commenced by filing a Petition with the Clerk of the Value Adjustment Board. This petition must be filed no later than 25th day following the mailing of the notice by the Property Appraiser. The deadline for filing the petition is normally found on the bottom of the TRIM notice. These forms can be obtained at the clerk's office or online at your property appraiser's website. There is a $15.00 filing fee for the petition and an additional $5.00 fee for each additional contiguous parcels - such as a group of lots. Petitions cannot be mailed and must be filed in person.
The TRIM notice also contains a phone number whereby the taxpayer can request an informal meeting with the property appraiser to discuss his or her assessment. The client should be advised that, should they wish to contest the assessment, he or she will need to file VAB Petition whether or not they have a meeting scheduled with the property appraiser. It is not uncommon for the property appraiser to agree to review the assessment, only to sandbag the taxpayer, telling them after-the-fact that the time has passed for the property appraiser to make a change.
- In most cases involving residential homes, it is not financially feasible for us to represent the client. Please be aware that a disagreement of $100,000.00 in value only equates to approximately $1,700.00 in taxes. Therefore, unless the property is a high dollar residence or commercial property, the taxpayer is usually better off filing their own petition and representing themselves at the VAB hearing. An exception might be if this is the first year that the Save Our Homes limitation applies. In those cases the taxpayer will realize future savings if the assessment is reduced. In the smaller cases, I usually advise the client to contact Rik Bass, who is an appraiser specializing in tax appeals (he has served as special master for the VAB in prior years). For a relatively small fee, Rik will file the appeal for the taxpayer and do a simple appraisal to determine if it warrants going forward. He can also represent the taxpayer at the hearing as one is not required to be an attorney to appear at a VAB hearing. Rik's number is 954-7553.
- If there is any doubt, the client should be advised to file the petition with the VAB. If it is without merit they can always withdraw their petition at a later time. Further, since the hearings will not be until October or later, we can always appear on behalf of the client at the VAB hearing should the disputed taxes warrant our fees.
- A client may have also received a denial of homestead or ag class. Typically the notices denying homestead or ag class would have gone out in June and the time would have already run, as the appeal to the VAB is also governed by the 25 day filing deadline.
- A VAB petition is not a condition precedent to filing a lawsuit to contest the value, so even if the taxpayer misses the VAB filing deadline, he can still file a lawsuit later. The date for filing a lawsuit where a VAB petition is not filed usually falls in October or November. Only in high dollar cases would a taxpayer want to skip the VAB and proceed directly to a lawsuit.
- If the case is substantial, and has merit, there may still be time to file a petition after my return. Out of the approximate 100 calls I receive each year, I typically only accept only 2 or 3 cases. Most complaints do not have merit as the tax payers do not understand how the assessments work. For example, it is not sufficient for a taxpayer to complain that neighboring properties are assessed lower. The test is whether the assessment exceeds fair market value - and in this market, the assessments have typically not kept up with the values. Further, the property appraiser is presumed to be correct, so only cases where the property appraiser erred considerably will relief be granted.
John Chapman is the principal of The John Chapman Law Firm in Sarasota. He is Board Certified as a specialist in business litigation by the Florida Bar and is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell. He focuses his litigation practice in the areas of construction, banking, real estate, commercial, employment contract, probate and ad valorem tax litigation. Mr. Chapman represents property owners in ad valorem tax appeals based on valuation, as well as homestead, special use and agricultural exemption issues.