Floridians whose homes were damaged to the point of uninhabitability could receive passes on paying property taxes until they move back in, thanks to a proposal advancing in the House.
Democratic Hollywood Rep. Marie Woodson’s bill, HB 71, received unanimous approval Monday from the House Local Administration and Veteran Affairs Subcommittee. It still has two more committees to clear before a floor vote.
If passed and signed into law, the bill would allow homeowners whose dwellings were rendered uninhabitable by natural or man-made disasters for at least 30 days to apply for tax abatements from their local governments.
The local property appraiser would have to vet each claim and notify the tax collector of the just value of the residence, the number of days that year in which the home was uninhabitable, the value of the home post-catastrophe, and the percent change in value applicable to the parcel.
The tax collector would then calculate a “damage differential” and process a refund to the homeowner.
The bill, which would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2021, was inspired by two events, Woodson told Florida politics in January. One was the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside on June 24 that killed 98 people and is still under investigation. The other was a house fire a month earlier in Woodson’s district.
“Let’s just say, for some reason, not your fault, your home was destroyed in a catastrophic event in the middle of the year. You can’t live in the home, but (under current law), you are still required to pay taxes for the entire year,” she said. “Why should you have to do that? You should pay taxes for the time you were able to live in the home, and this bill seeks to prorate the tax rate of that home. And if your home is fixed — let’s say your home is repaired and you’re able to go back into the home — then you can pay taxes again.”
Woodson’s proposal, to which Democratic Boca Raton Sen. Tina Polsky has filed a Senate twin (SB 568), is hardly novel. According to a Senate analysis of an alternate bill Republican Doral Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez filed last month, the Legislature has approved at least five bills providing tax relief for property damaged in natural disasters, including most recently for Hurricanes Hermine, Matthew, and Irma in 2016 and 2017.
In those instances, staff wrote, the Legislature was required to appropriate funds to fiscally constrained counties to offset tax losses resulting from the abatements.
After the Champlain Towers South collapse, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order suspending property tax deadlines for those who owned condo units in the building. The order said DeSantis would “request the Florida Legislature to explore additional legislative acts as may be necessary to alleviate the Taxpayers’ property tax obligations.”
Woodson filed HB 71 on Sept. 7. Polsky filed its companion on Oct. 20. Monday marked the first time the House took up Woodson’s item, and Polsky’s still awaits a committee hearing.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez’s bill (SB 1610), filed Jan. 6, has zipped through the Senate and received unanimous support in two of three committees, most recently on Friday.
While Rodriguez’s version of the bill would also be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2021, it is more restrictive and would sunset Dec. 31, 2023, without further Legislative action.
Woodson’s bill would offer tax relief to all homeowners. Rodriguez’s bill would apply only to residential buildings of 50 or more units that were destroyed “due to a sudden and unforeseen collapse,” not just temporarily damaged.
However, Rodriguez’s bill, which Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo of Miami is co-sponsoring, would place less onus on the property owner to seek tax abatement.
“It was a tough day,” he said. “We thank you for what you’re doing.”
Woodson credited Broward Property Appraiser Marty Kiar, a former state Representative, for dedicating “many hours” to drafting her bill, which is next slated for a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee.
Polsky’s bill still sits in the Senate Community Affairs Committee, the first of three committees it must move through before heading to a final vote.
Rodriguez’s bill awaits a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee, its last hurdle before reaching the floor.