July 1st is the Property Appraisers’ deadline to notify land owners that they are denying their application for an agricultural classification. Thus, this post will discuss common reasons for denial of an agricultural classification (sometimes referred to as a “greenbelt exemption” or “greenbelt classification”) and the procedures for appealing such a denial.
Why was my agricultural classification denied?
Probably the most common reason for an agricultural classification to be denied is the owner’s failure to file an application by the statutory deadline. Pursuant to Fla. Stat. 193.461(3), an application for agricultural classification must be filed with the Property Appraiser by March 1st of the tax year for which the classification is sought. Failure to file an application by March 1st constitutes a waiver of the classification privilege for that year. If an application is filed after March 1st and the taxpayer demonstrates particular extenuating circumstances for the late filing, the Property Appraiser may go ahead and grant the classification. However, if the Property Appraiser denies the classification, the taxpayer would need to file an appeal to the Value Adjustment Board.
Other than tardy applications, the most common reasons for denial of an agricultural classification are probably the size of the property and the failure of the owner or lessee to care for the land using accepted commercial agricultural practices. To qualify for an agricultural classification, the property must be used primarily for bona fide agricultural purposes, which has been defined as “good faith commercial agricultural use of the land.” This does not mean that the operation must be profitable, but it does mean that a parcel that is too small to be commercially viable or that is overgown with weeds will probably not qualify.
Qualifying for an agricultural classification also requires good communication between the owner and any lessees. It is fairly common for an owner/developer to lease their land to a cattleman or farmer for a nominal amount in the hopes that the property will qualify for an agricultural classification while the owner waits to develop or re-sell the property. However, if questions arise about the use of the property, the owner must ensure that the lessee promptly responds to any questions or document requests from the Property Appraiser’s office or the owner may be faced with a denial letter.
Appealing to the Value Adjustment Board
The most common way to appeal the denial of an agricultural classification is by filing a petition to the county Value Adjustment Board. The petition, which can be found by clicking here, must be filed with the Clerk of the Value Adjustment Board (in the Clerk of Court’s office) no later than 30 days after the Property Appraiser mailed the notice of denial. In small counties, the petition will be heard before the full Value Adjustment Board, which consists of two members of the county commission, one school board member, and two citizen members. In larger counties, the petition will be heard by an attorney Special Magistrate, whose recommendations will be either approved or rejected by the full VAB. Taxpayers who do not prevail before the VAB may take a further appeal to the local circuit court, but that appeal must be filed within 60 days of the VAB decision.
Appealing Directly to the Circuit Court
Taxpayers also have the option of taking their dispute directly to circuit court, without going before the VAB. A circuit court action to challenge the denial of an agricultural classification must be filed within 60 days of the certification of the tax roll by the Property Appraiser. Also, in order to file a circuit court action, the taxpayer must pay the taxes in full, or at least pay the amount they admit in good faith to be owning (the amount they would owe if they were granted the agricultural classification). Failure to pay the property taxes for the year in dispute and any subsequent years will likely result in dismissal of the case for lack of jurisdiction pursuant to Fla. Stat. 194.171.