Real Estate Law Services


Florida Homestead Laws

With Florida's homestead exemption, you can protect the entire value of your home if you file for bankruptcy, although there are some limits on total acreage. Homeowners may exempt an unlimited amount of value in their home or other property covered by the homestead exemption. However, the property cannot be larger than half an acre in a municipality or 160 acres elsewhere. In order to qualify as your Florida homestead, you and your home must meet three criteria:

  1. You must have legal or beneficial title to the home on January 1.
  2. You must reside at the home as your permanent residence.
  3. You must apply for the homestead exemption in person at the property appraiser's office in the county where your home is located between January 1 and March 1 of the year in which you are seeking the homestead exemption. Once your property receives homestead status, this status will generally stay in place until you inform the property appraiser's office that the property is no longer your Florida homestead. Some counties will send out a letter or postcard reminding you that you are required to let the property appraiser's office know when a home is no longer your homestead.

Even under Florida homestead protections, there are four types of creditors who can still force the sale of a homestead to collect debts owed to them:

  • The State of Florida and Florida counties or municipalities, in order to collect past due property taxes;
  • Creditors to whom the homestead property was specifically pledged as credit for a mortgage;
  • Mechanics, contractors, or builders who are owed money for work performed in repairing or improving the property; and
  • Any creditor with a pre-existing lien on the property before the establishment of homestead.

Because the homestead exemption is a state law subject to the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, federal law can override it. Federal income tax liens are superior to the homestead protection provided by the Florida state law. Generally, however, the Internal Revenue Service is reluctant to foreclose on a taxpayer's home to enforce these liens, and will normally only get involved if the property is sold or mortgaged before the tax lien expires.

Assuming that your property meets all three of the criteria listed above, then in order to understand the laws that govern your Florida homestead, you need to know in what context the homestead is being discussed - in relation to:

  • Real estate taxes
    • Your Florida homestead will be entitled to receive certain exemptions from real estate taxes. Please refer to the Florida Department of Revenue's website for a list of available exemptions. In addition, Florida's "Save Our Homes" cap on assessments provides that the annual valuation of your homestead for property tax purposes can only increase by the lesser of 3% or the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index for the prior year. This will generally lead to significant savings on your real estate taxes the more years that you own your homestead property.
  • Creditor protection
    • If someone sues you and obtains a judgment against you, then Florida law provides that the judgment holder cannot force you to sell your homestead in order to pay off the judgment. This protection from judgment creditors will also carry over to certain heirs who inherit your homestead after you die, including your spouse, children, siblings, and nieces and nephews. Nonetheless, any judgments specific to the property, such as foreclosures, past due association fees, and contractors’ liens, will trump homestead protection.
  • Death, descent and distribution.
    • The third concept with regard to  Florida homestead is the restrictions that Florida law places on who you can, and cannot, leave your Florida homestead to after you die. This will depend on whether or not you were married at the time of your death and whether or not you were survived by minor children.
      • If you are not survived by a spouse or any minor children and own a Florida homestead residence, then you can leave the homestead to whomever you want. 
      • If you are married and your homestead is titled in joint names with your spouse, then you can leave your protected homestead to your spouse through right of survivorship.
      • If you are a single parent and the homestead is titled in your sole name, you can establish a special type of irrevocable trust for the minor child's benefit until an age selected by the parent. This will prevent the need to set up a minor guardianship and give the parent control over when and how the child will inherit the homestead. This special type of trust must be irrevocable and should only be established with the assistance of an experienced attorney. Please give us a call at (239) 823-4541 today to schedule your complimentary consultation. 
      • If you did not leave your homestead to your spouse outright and without any strings attached, then your spouse would receive what is referred to as a life estate in the homestead and your children would receive the remainder in equal shares after your spouse dies. Receiving a life estate in the property means that while the surviving spouse has the right to live in the property for his or her remaining lifetime, it also means that the surviving spouse has to pay all of the property taxes and insurance to maintain the residence. In addition, the surviving spouse cannot force the children to sell the property, and the children cannot force the spouse to sell the property. Today there are two ways around this strict rule: (1) You and your spouse can enter into a prenuptial agreement or postnuptial agreement where the spouse who does not own the property waives all of his or her rights to the protected homestead. This will allow the owner of the homestead to leave the property to whomever he or she wants; (2) the surviving spouse who is initially stuck with a life estate in the homestead can elect within a limited amount of time after the deceased spouse's death to divide the property so that the spouse will receive one-half and the children of the deceased spouse will equally divide the other half.

Florida homestead laws are complex; if you have minor children or are considering making your second home in Florida your primary one, then you should consult with an experienced attorney to insure that you have looked at all aspects of the Florida homestead laws and planned appropriately.

Florida Adverse Possession Laws

Under adverse possession, when an individual publicly moves into an otherwise neglected property and improves this property, they can be granted title to it after a period of time. Florida adverse possession laws require claimants to occupy a given property for at least 7 years and either under color of title or payment of property taxes for seven years.

There are normally four major requirements for a valid adverse possession claim:

  1. Hostile Claim: The trespasser must either be aware of his or her trespassing; merely occupy the land (with or without knowledge that it is private property); or make an honest mistake (such as relying on an incorrect deed),
  2. Actual Possession: The trespasser must be physically present on the land, treating it as his or her own.
  3. Open and Notorious Possession: The act of trespassing cannot be in secret.
  4. Exclusive and Continuous Possession: The trespasser cannot share possession with others, and must be in possession of the land for an unbroken period of time.

Additionally, Florida’s adverse possession statute requires cultivation, improvement, or protection from a substantial enclosure on the land.

Scope of Real Estate & Property Law Representation

The terms “real estate”, “realty” and “real property” are generally used interchangeably, although many people associate “real estate” more closely with the structures or buildings and the land. However, real property/real estate encompasses more than just the obviously tangible aspects. It comprises land and that which is attached to or belongs with the land, such as the immovable structures like buildings, houses, trees, bushes and minerals permanently affixed to the land, But it also consists of the interests, benefits and rights that are legally considered attached to the real property, which can include certain rights to the air above the land, to drill in the ground beneath it, rights to live on the property for a specific timeframe or to acquire the real property in the future, and more. 

The practice area of real estate and property law deals with a variety of related issues, including the following: rights and interests in real estate and real property; sales, purchases and other transfers of real estate and real property; legal aspects of rental property and landlord issues; tenants’, renters’ and homeowners’ rights; title to real property; settlement of claims against property rights; property development; zoning and land use; related agriculture issues; home loans and foreclosures; and various other relevant topics. This is a complex practice area, further complicated by the significant inconsistency in the laws throughout different cities and states. Knowledgeable Attorney Shanthy Balachanthiran is well versed in many different activities, from the mundane drafting of deeds and filing of liens, to handling boundary and zoning disputes and even assisting families in court when threatened with foreclosure. 

If you are experiencing any of the following issues, please call us today at (239) 823-4541 for a complimentary real estate/property law consultation. 

  • Foreigners Purchasing Real Estate in the USA
  • Dealing with Nuisance Neighbors and/or Their Personal Property and Fixtures
  • Failing to Disclose Environmental Defects in Property Sales
  • How to Remove an Unwanted Guest from Your Home
  • Eminent Domain Issues
  • Understanding Statute of Frauds
  • Steps to Take After a Hurricane or other Natural Disaster 
  • Early Lease Termination Agreements
  • Subleases and Assignments 
  • Mold Issues in Residential or Business Environments 
  • Earnest Money Disputes
  • Condemnation Process Assistance
  • Commercial Leases & Negotiations 
  • Misrepresented Wraparound Lien Upon Sale 
  • Evictions with Tax Foreclosure Property Purchases 
  • Expert Witness & Construction Defect Issues
  • Fair Housing Act Violations
  • Foreclosure Avoidance Counseling Assistance
  • Partition of Jointly Owned Property
  • Responsible Party for Home Repairs Following a Home Purchase
  • Letters for Intent for Residential Real Estate Transactions
  • Refusing to Close Real Estate Deal
  • Adverse Possession Issues
  • Squatter's Rights in Adverse Possession
  • Permissive Use and Easements 
  • Legal Remedies for Dealing with Noisy Neighbors 

Real Estate & Property Law Questions

Whether you are buying or selling a home, in a real estate law dispute, or contemplating a real estate transaction, it is important to know your rights and have them explained to you by a real estate lawyer. Real estate law encompasses a broad range of issues in relation to property law that you may have never thought about before, such as easement disputes, foreclosures, injuries, property taxes, neighbor relations, property deeds, real estate warranties, different types of mortgages, insurance, landlord/tenant matters, and issues related to buying and selling real estate. For more information and advice on real estate transactions, insurance, disputes and rentals, please call Attorney Shanthy Balachanthiran today at (239) 823-4541 for a complimentary real estate and property law consultation.

Corporate Real Estate Matters

If you are a multinational company, local nonprofit organization, emerging enterprise, or commercial entity seeking real estate law assistance, Bala Law can provide you with enhanced legal services that include:

  • Investigating real property assets involving mergers, acquisitions and divestitures
  • Reviewing leases and advising on real estate purchases and sales
  • Development of standardized forms, documentation and procedures
  • Commitment to understanding the company's real estate holdings, policies and business objectives
  • Streamlined processes for acquiring and disposing of interests in real estate
  • Periodic analysis of results to continually refine and improve the overall program and manage expenses
  • Sustainability analysis that can be used to assess a company's real estate portfolio