Monday, December 17, 2007
Help Me Howard: Lake for Sale
The goal of many people who live in South Florida is to live on the water, whether it's a canal, a lake or the bay. But what would you do if you found out the lake you lived on was going to be sold, and you were worried it was going to be drained and developed in South Florida? There is only one thing to do, ask Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser to wade in.
WSVN -- What would you say if a developer offered this: a house on a lake, with a view of ducks and geese paddling around your backyard, boating and fishing whenever you feel like it. Would you buy it?
Lourdes Wongden: "Oh, definitely, it's so relaxing and just being here in the evenings and just sitting out here and feeding the ducks and all. It's very, very nice."
It's called Ponce Estates Lake, lined with 47 waterfront homes.
Julio Perez: "When we first saw the property, we enjoyed it. It was kind of love at first site in terms of property."
Then, still love living on the lake. They're just worried it might be disappearing.
Julio Perez: "Much to our chagrin, two or three weeks ago we received a certified letter that states that this piece of land is going to be auctioned off."
That's right, according to this County document, the lake owned by the developer was going to be sold to the highest bidder because $18,000 in property taxes were not paid for three years.
Howard Finkelstein: "In Florida if you don't pay your property taxes each year they are sold as a tax certificate to an investor, who is paid interest on his money. If the taxes aren't paid for three years, the county auctions the property off to the highest bidder to pay off the investors who bought the tax certificates."
When the 47 neighbors heard their lake was being sold, they realized an investor would not buy it just for the fun of owning one but would have a plan to make money off the lake.
They did their research and say they found another case in Central Florida where a lake was sold, and it was not a happy ending for the homeowners.
Julio Perez: "Another business person could fence the area of the lake and could charge a fee to the homeowners if they wanted a view of the lake."
The neighbors contacted the developer. His attorney wrote, "Shoma does not plan on paying the back taxes" adding, "The responsibility, if any, for the back taxes lies with the county or homeowners."
Julio Perez: "Discouraging, very discouraging, very concerned."
But what can they do? Howard, you want to wade into this one?
Howard Finkelstein: "Legal issues like these are very tough to figure out because they are so rare. The legal options for the homeowners are also very limited and expensive to sue to stop the auction, to sue to get the back taxes paid or complain to various county agencies to get protection for the homeowners."
We spoke to several county agencies, including commissioner Joe Martinez's office, which represents the area. They put together a conference call with county experts who told us the plat restrictions mandate the lake is for the joint use of all property owners, and as a storage basin for storm water. That it would be almost impossible to change it.
As one official put it, if you own the lake you can't do anything to it, and it was never sold. Before the auction the developer paid the $18,000 in taxes. In this letter to homeowners he called it "a gesture of good faith during this holiday season."
Great news for the homeowners, their lake is not going to be drained, their view is not going to be blocked, their lives will not change.
Julio Perez: "We paid a premium for the this land, and we have this view."
Patrick Fraser: "And better news for the homeowners, there will be no more property taxes for the lake owner to worry about. The county does not tax lakes anymore, and if you are curious about a piece of property, or just nosey like me, go to your county property appraiser's web page. There you can find out what someone paid for a piece of property, how much their taxes are and if they have paid their taxes."
Water woes worrying you? Appraise us of the situation. Our legal views are not only tax free, they are completely free.
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