Florida Statute s. 194.034(5) provides that “for the purpose of review of a petition, the [VAB] may consider assessments among comparable properties within homogeneous areas or neighborhoods.” Conversely, the Florida Supreme Court has long held that a court may not reduce a taxpayer’s asssessment below its fair market value based on a mere showing that parcels of other taxpayers are assessed at a lesser amount. This creates a bit of a conundrum for the taxpayer, property appraiser and the VAB in trying to determine whether and to what extent evidence of the Property Appraiser’s assessment of other properties is relevant and admissible.
In Deltona v. Bailey, the Florida Supreme Court relied on the constitutional requirement that all property be assessed at its just value in holding that taxpayers’ assessments may not be reduced below just value just because other taxpayers may be assessed at a lower amount. The exception to this rule is when the taxpayer can plead and prove that it is being “singled out” and specifically discriminated against vis-a-vis the other taxpayers generally in the county. Based on the Deltona case, some VABs have refused to consider evidence of the assessment of comparable properties, despite the existence of Florida Statute s. 194.034(5). It is possible that they are correct in doing so, as any reduction based solely on the assessment of other comparable properties would likely be unconstitutional, absent evidence that the assessment of the subject property exceeded its just value.
However, another view is that the statute allows VAB petitioners to submit evidence of assessments of comparable properties in order to help prove that the Property Appraiser’s assessment was “arbitrarily based on appraisal practices which are different from the appraisal practices generally applied by the property appraiser to comparable property within the same class and within the same county,” per Florida Statute 194.301. Prior to 2009, if a taxpayer could meet this burden, their burden of proving that the assessment exceeded just value would be reduced from “clear and convincing evidence” to a “preponderance of the evidence.” Beginning in 2009, if the taxpayer meets this burden, the Property Appraiser’s assessment is overturned and the VAB must either set the value or remand to the Property Appraiser for a reassessment.
Viewed this way, evidence of the assessment of comparable properties could have limited relevance if it tended to support the taxpayer’s contention that the Property Appraiser used different appraisal practices for their property that were not used for other similar properties. However, based on Deltona v. Bailey, the VAB would still not have the authority to reduce a taxpayer’s assessment based solely on other assessments. To reduce the taxpayer’s value, the VAB would need to see evidence that the assessment exceeded just value.
Also, it is important to note that Fla. Stat. 194.034(5) only applies to VAB proceedings, not to actions in circuit court. Thus, taxpayers who take their case to court should not plan to rely on this statute.