Thursday, March 1, 2007
Help Me Howard: Homestead Exemption
It is one of the simplest acts you can do and maybe one of the most important. Even more importantly, tomorrow is the deadline to do it -- to file for a homestead exemption. If you don't do it, you could lose your home, and, even if you do it, you could still be in trouble. How? Just listen to one South Florida man who is talking to Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Neil Gilwit bought his Coral Springs home 13 years ago and has never regretted it.
Patrick Fraser: "Having a good time since you've been here? Do you like living in this area?"
Neil Gilwit: "Enjoy it immensely."
But today, this house is causing an enormous financial headache because of a little piece of paper.
Patrick Fraser: "So you've never had a homestead exemption on this house?"
Neil Gilwit: "Not one day."
Neil says he is certain he filed for homestead exemption in 1994, on the very day he bought the house.
Patrick Fraser: "Do you have a receipt?"
Neil Gilwit: "If there was a receipt, I no longer have it. I've destroyed records."
Now, with the homestead exemption, your property taxes cannot go up more than three percent a year.
In the '90s, prices were stable, so Neil didn't notice he didn't have an exemption.
Then, in 2000, when property values started soaring, Neil didn't notice because that year the Broward Property Appraiser's Office started sending his tax notice to an old work address.
Neil Gilwit: "The address change makes no sense to me because I hadn't been working at that location for six months."
And since the mortgage company paid Neil's taxes as they soared, his mortgage started skyrocketing.
Patrick Fraser: "How much are your property taxes this year?"
Neil Gilwit: "Just under $10,000."
Patrick Fraser: "And what are your neighbors paying?"
Neil Gilwit: "Half."
Neil admits he made a mistake by not keeping a notice of his homestead exemption -- but, he counters, the Property Appraiser's Office made a mistake by sending his tax notices to the wrong address for the last six years.
Neil Gilwit: "So you think if the notices had been coming here you would have caught it much earlier?"
The county has no record of who changed the address in 2000, which they are required to keep. Neil says since both he and the county made mistakes, they should both pay.
Neil Gilwit: "I think it would be fair for them to roll it back to the year 2000 when the county made the error- I'll pay for those first six or seven years and that is my due diligence. I don't have a problem with that."
But Neil says the county basically told him, "Unless you can prove we lost your homestead exemption -- and made a mistake in mailing your notice to the wrong address -- we don't have to do anything."
Neil Gilwit: "I find it insulting at this point. First it was anger, then it was frustration, now it's an insult, a total insult."
But just what can you do in a battle with the property appraiser? To find out, Neil called Help Me Howard.
Howard Finkelstein: "Both Neil and the property appraiser made mistakes. But, the problem: the law sides with the government, and Neil has to prove they made a mistake, which seems to be impossible."
When I spoke to Broward's Property Appraiser, Lori Parrish told me, "I wish we could help him, but we can't."
She said, "Without written proof of an error, we can never go back to lower taxes. It's illegal."
When I asked why the property appraiser changed Neil's address and didn't keep the authorization like they were supposed to, she said, "There was supposed to be a lot of things done in this office before I got here."
She was blaming her predecessor.
Howard says now Neil is not out of luck, but ...
Howard Finkelstein: "Neil can take this to court, and even if he proves the property appraiser made a mistake in changing the address, they can't lower the assessed value of his home to save him money because the law doesn't allow it."
Neil will continue to fight for two reasons: One, he thinks he is right.
Neil Gilwit: "And, two, is to get the message out to anybody else, if nobody knows this, that this can happen to you also."
Now, one reason we are doing this story tonight -- the deadline to get your Homestead Exemption is Thursday. Not only does the exemption lower the assessed value of your home by $25,000, but also it stops your assessed value from going up more than 3% a year.
If you don't file by Thursday you are not out of luck. You can still file an appeal, but it's more complicated than simply filing by Thursday.
A taxing situation troubling you? Relax, and let us assess it. We can't offer exemptions, but we can find exceptions in some laws.
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