Q: Can you give us some background into the homestead exemption audit?
A: Right now, we have 71,000 homesteaded properties in St. Johns County and some are very old. They have never been audited. If something happens that could affect homestead exemption (such as death, divorce, or remarriage) within the state of Florida, we have a good system to discover it. But it’s not so for out of state properties. Recall that a requirement of homestead exemption in Florida is that a person can have no other homesteaded properties anywhere.
Q: How will the audit be conducted?
A: We will contract with a third party firm, Exemption Project, which will check against national databases to make sure our homestead here is still valid. The firm will work under my supervision and it’s key to understand that any final decisions are mine. My office will investigate and determine if the St. Johns County property has improperly claimed homestead exemption.
Q: How will the third party firm be compensated?
A: There is no upfront cost. Exemption Project is only paid if they find an improperly homesteaded property. If I agree, then we lien the property. When back taxes, penalties and interest are paid, the Exemption Project is paid 18 percent of that. I’ve presented this to all the taxing authorities in the county and received their approval, since a portion of any taxes collected will be paid to the firm.
Q: What are the penalties for improper homestead exemption?
A: The penalties are severe and include repayment of all back taxes, a 50 percent penalty and 15 percent interest annually. I urge readers to contact me if they are unsure of their individual situation and would like to discuss it.
Q: When will the audit begin and how long will it take?
A: We will begin in late summer and it will be an ongoing process. The initial audit should take approximately 90 – 120 days. Checks will continue to be run as national databases are updated.
Q: What are the benefits to hiring this firm and performing the audit?
A: I selected Exemption Project because they are very qualified and can identify rentals and short term rentals. They can also help us identify unclaimed exemptions, which is exciting for us. They can reverse their search to identify people who are not getting homestead exemption but should be. For the county, the audit is beneficial because not only will we collect back taxes, but it will put value back on the tax rolls in the form of any incorrect exemptions as well as any portability.
Q: What is the best way for our readers to contact you?
A: Our office is located at 4030 Lewis Speedway Ste. 203, (904) 827-5500. It is open Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Also, readers can email me at Eddie@sjcpa.us or call me at (904) 827-5500.