Understanding the Florida Homestead Exemption
If you are in debt and have creditors coming after you, or perhaps if you are a creditor, and are trying to collect a consumer debt, you may have heard that if you have a homestead in Florida, that homestead is completely exempt from collections, regardless of how big or how expensive or how much equity there is in the home.
That’s true, for the most part, but there is a little more to the homestead exemption than you may think. Understanding it is important if you are trying to collect money that someone owes you, because the equity in someone’s homestead can go a long way to satisfying that debt.
Yes, all of the equity in a homestead is protected from collection to collect a debt. But not everybody qualifies for the full extent of the exemption.
Intent to Occupy
The owner of the home must actually occupy the home, or evince an intent to occupy it for the purpose of living there. That means that a human person, not a corporation or other entity, owns the property (although a trust can, in some cases, own the property), and that the property is not an investment property or vacation home.
Homeowners can travel, even for extended periods of time, and still maintain homestead status.
To see if property is truly homestead, where it is not otherwise obvious, courts will see where the debtor gets mail, where the debtors’ kids are registered for school, what is on the debtors’ drivers license, and similar indications. A debtor can own property in another state, and still have a Florida homestead.
You can register property as a homestead with the county, and you should as you get a tax benefit from doing so. But registering is not definitive of whether or not property is actually homestead protected.
Home Must Exist
The home must actually be built and exist; a debtor cannot homestead that is not built yet. Likewise, if the judgment pre-dates the purchase of a homestead, the homestead will not be exempt from collections.
Some debtors may own two homes in Florida; one in the name of each spouse. Only one homestead can be protected, even by a married couple, exposing the other home to collections activity. However, in some cases, if a couple is separated and living separately, a court can find that there are two separate homesteads.
Note that you may have heard of time requirements on homestead protections, such as the number of days you must live in Florida, or the number of days you must have owned the home, in order to get the protection. Those time limits largely relate to bankruptcy protection, or to out of state collections—not to just exempt Florida homesteads from a Florida judgment.
Call our West Palm Beach business litigation attorneys at Pike & Lustig today to understand your options when it comes to collecting or defending business debt.