Florida Appellate Court Reverses Trial Court and Holds Homestead Tax Lien Has Priority Over Earlier Recorded Mortgage

A Florida appellate court recently reversed a trial court’s decision granting summary judgment in favor of a mortgagee and instead held that a tax lien originating from improper homestead benefits had priority over the mortgage recorded seven years earlier.  See Miami-Dade Cty. v. Lansdowne Mortg., LLC, 2017 WL 4655060 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Oct. 18, 2017).  In the case, plaintiff mortgagee recorded a mortgage on the subject property in 2007.  In 2014, the county recorded a tax lien that “resulted from the tax assessor’s determination that the property improperly received homestead benefits.”  The mortgagee later foreclosed, and the trial granted its summary judgment motion, holding that the first-filed mortgage was superior to the tax lien.  The trial court agreed with the mortgagee’s argument that liens arising out of improper homestead tax exemptions are not given the same priority as other tax liens, and are instead governed by a separate homestead lien statute.  Fla. Stat. Ann. § 196.161(3).

On appeal, the appellate court reversed the decision and held the tax lien should have priority.  The Court held that certain liens are given priority over others, regardless of when they are recorded, including homestead tax liens.  Fla. Stat. Ann. § 197.122.  It rejected the trial court’s determination that Fla. Stat. Ann. § 196.161(3) governs the priority of homestead tax liens, holding instead that the statute only addressed “when and how such a lien attaches to a given property” and not priority.  Accordingly, the Court held that homestead tax liens are entitled to priority over earlier-recorded mortgages.

For a copy of the decision, please contact Michael O’Donnell at modonnell@riker.com, Michael Crowley at mcrowley@riker.com or Clarissa Gomez at cgomez@riker.com.