Venice Endsley and her husband, Robert, had what a court described as an “intact, congenial marriage” for more than 60 years.
In the 1980s, Venice Endsley signed over her rights to a home in Huntington, Ind., to her husband. In turn, Robert Endsley signed over his rights to a home in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea to his wife. Venice Endsley had a homestead exemption on the Florida home, while her husband received a similar exemption on the Indiana home.
But the Broward County property appraiser learned of the arrangement in 2006, leading to a dispute that resulted Wednesday in an appeals court ruling that Venice Endsley was not entitled to receive the Florida homestead exemption. In doing so, the court waded into questions about whether state law only barred multiple homestead exemptions in Florida — or whether the prohibition also addresses properties in other states.
A three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal, pointing to a provision in the Florida Constitution, upheld a decision by a Broward County circuit judge, who found that the Endsleys were a “single family unit and could not claim separate homestead exemptions,” according to Wednesday’s ruling.
“The trial court found that the plain language of the provision meant that only one homestead exemption was allowed, regardless of location. We agree,” said the ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Alan Forst and joined by judges Melanie May and Rosemarie Scher. “The meaning of the Constitution’s command that ‘not more than one exemption shall be allowed any individual or family unit’ appears clear on the face of the document.”
In a brief filed last year in the appeals court, however, attorneys for Venice Endsley argued that the prohibition only applies to multiple Florida homestead exemptions.
“It is undisputed that plaintiff (Venice Endsley) has never claimed more than one homestead exemption on a residential unit in the state of Florida,” the brief said. “Nor has any member of a ‘family unit’ of which plaintiff has been a part ever claimed more than one homestead exemption in the state of Florida.”
The brief said the Endsley’s were married from 1944 until September 2007, when Robert Endsley died. Venice Endsley first applied for a homestead exemption on the Broward County property in January 1986 and had it until 2006, when she received a notice from the property appraiser rejecting the exemption because of her husband’s property in Indiana.
Robert Endsley canceled his Indiana homestead exemption in 2006, and Venice Endsley applied for a new Florida exemption in 2007, according to the brief. She was granted the homestead exemption but had lost her earlier financial benefit under the state’s Save Our Homes limit on increases in assessed values.
The brief said the property appraiser used the home’s 2007 market value of $284,930 in determining the taxable value, while the previous assessed value in 2006 under Save Our Homes was $84,240. The lawsuit, in part, sought to require the use of the lower assessed value under Save Our Homes and a refund of additional tax dollars she was required to pay from previous years because of the dispute.
But the appeals court said Venice Endsley was not entitled to the homestead exemption because of the provision in the Constitution and a related state law. It also said Venice Endsley received a financial benefit from the Indiana homestead exemption, at least in part, because she and her husband commingled money.
“Because appellant (Venice Endsley) benefitted from homestead exemptions both in and out of the state of Florida during the time period at issue, the trial court properly entered summary judgment in favor of the property appraiser,” the seven-page ruling said.
–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida