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Appeals Court Upholds ‘Save Our Homes’ Amendment

A Florida appellate court on Wednesday upheld the popular “Save Our Homes” property tax provision in the constitution that protects full time Florida homeowners from dramatic increases in property values.

The “Save Our Homes” amendment, passed in 1992, capped property tax assessment increases on Florida homesteads, but not on properties owned by seasonal residents. The intent was to protect senior citizens on fixed incomes whose tax bills would have potentially skyrocketed with upswings in property values. Property values in Florida are going the other way now, but when voters put the amendment in the Constitution nearly two decades ago, values were skyrocketing, threatening homeowners with massive increases in their assessments.

Out-of-state residents with Florida vacation homes were unhappy with the amendment though – their properties aren’t covered by it - and some Alabama residents filed suit in 2007 in a Leon County court, alleging that the amendment was discriminatory toward people who own property here, but aren’t full time residents. The circuit court upheld the law, and the case was appealed to the First District Court of Appeal, which also upheld the constitutional provision on Wednesday.

The 1st DCA relied heavily on a previous opinion in Reinish v. Clark, which held that the Florida homestead exemption doesn’t violate the Equal Protection Clause in the U.S. Constitution, the same clause that the plaintiffs had argued was violated in the “Save Our Homes” amendment.

“The plaintiffs argue that the existence of a benefit for homestead property, when combined with the tax treatment of non-homestead property, gives Florida residents a tax advantage, but this is essentially an argument that the homestead exemption is itself unconstitutional, a point rejected in Reinish,” wrote Judge Philip J. Padovano.

In the Reinish case, handed down in 2000, the same appeals court found that the homestead exemption promoted a legitimate state purpose and wasn’t unconstitutional.

The lead defendant in the case that was decided Wednesday, Walton County Property Appraiser Patrick Pilcher, referred questions to attorney Larry Levy, who wasn't available for comment. Several other attorneys for defendants didn't return calls for comment late Wednesday.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, Jerome and Joyce Lanning of Birmingham, Ala., also didn't respond to requests for comment. Jerome Lanning is a lawyer who owned a second home in Santa Rosa County, in the Panhandle. Another plaintiff was Marlow Reese of Montgomery, Ala., who owned a Destin vacation home.

Save Our Homes capped property tax increases at 3 percent, or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. The amendment, which took effect in 1995, passed with 54 percent of the vote in 1992.

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