Gov. DeSantis waives deadline for property taxes from Champlain Towers condo units

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Families of people lost in the Surfside condominium collapse and surviving unit owners won’t have property taxes due this fall or see notices next month after an emergency order from Gov. Ron DeSantis waived deadlines tied to yearly bills from local governments.

The order issued Friday afternoon doesn’t erase tax liability from the former 136-unit oceanfront condominium tower, which suffered a partial collapse June 24 followed by an emergency demolition July 4. The Republican governor said he would ask the GOP-controlled Legislature to provide tax relief when it convenes again in Tallahassee.

This week, DeSantis told reporters at Surfside he wanted to “provide as much relief to the families from the state perspective as we can” and that Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava planned action at the county level, too.

“I’ve ordered all our folks to suspend any type of property-tax enforcement. I know Mayor Cava is doing the same for these notices,” DeSantis said Thursday, in an apparent reference to the county tax notices that hit the mail in August each year. “My goal is to waive any law I can under the state of emergency to forestall that, and then we probably will just ask the Legislature to remit any property-tax liability from Champlain Towers South.”

DeSantis’ floating of a tax-free year for Champlain Towers South could save thousands of dollars per unit in the former complex, where 78 people have been confirmed as dead and another 62 missing as of Friday afternoon. However, Miami-Dade’s Property Appraiser Office likely has justification to drastically lower the pending tax bills in the coming weeks after the catastrophic loss of the condo structure.

Tax bills reflect the appraiser office’s estimate of a property’s value on Jan. 1 of that year. Even so, the appraiser’s office can lower those values if later events show the property was overvalued — such as discovery of mold that had clearly been present at the start of the year. Owners can appeal values to the Value Adjustment Board, or the appraiser’s office can adjust the values without an appeal if the circumstances aren’t in dispute.

“The property appraiser isn’t all knowing,” said Carlos Lopez-Cantera, the county’s elected property appraiser until 2014, when Rick Scott appointed him lieutenant governor. “If something comes to their attention that obviously would have affected the value at Jan. 1... they can make any adjustment they think is warranted.”

Miami-Dade tax bills aren’t due until November for property owners wanting the 4% early-pay discount, but residents will get their estimated tax obligations in “TRIM” notices that must be mailed by Aug. 24. Those ‘Truth in Millage” statements detail what a property would owe if local taxing authorities don’t increase their taxing rates in budget meetings that conclude by Oct. 1.

The DeSantis order waives all of those deadlines, meaning the Property Appraiser’s Office isn’t under pressure to send TRIM notices for Champlain Towers South and unit owners — or their estates — won’t lose the 4% discount by not paying property taxes in November. It also waives the deadline for Champlain Towers South owners to appeal 2021 valuations.

While tax obligations vary unit by unit, a spot check of Champlain Towers South TRIM notices from 2020 shows tax bills ranging from $4,000 to $8,000 for the year.

County officials say they were waiting to see the scope of the pending DeSantis order before announcing any changes in the way Miami-Dade treats the property-tax obligations from Champlain Towers. While property taxes are the top source of dollars for local governments, state law governs how the taxes are levied and collected.

“We won’t know until we get more details from the governor’s office,” said Eileen Hernandez, spokesperson for Pedro Garcia, Miami-Dade’s elected property appraiser.

A Levine Cava spokesperson said the mayor supports the governor’s order. Levine Cava oversees tax collection, but not the mailing of TRIM notices by Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia.

The governor’s order touches on the delicate topic of which extraordinary actions should be taken after Surfside, and the precedent that might be set for future catastrophes.

Lopez-Cantera said he supported emergency action by DeSantis to prevent tax bills from heading out weeks after the Champlain Towers collapse, many addressed to residents who died in the rubble.

“Wouldn’t it be unfair to send a property tax bill to the owner of these condominiums? Their property was destroyed. Many of those bills will go to their estates,” he said. “This is an unprecedented tragedy.”

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