TAMPA — Tampa City Council member Orlando Gudes said he has lived in his childhood home in East Tampa for more than four years, but until last month, he enjoyed an improper tax break for another residence he owns in North Tampa.
Gudes requested that the homestead exemption on the North Tampa home on May 18 be removed and has paid $13,222.42 to the Hillsborough County Appraiser’s Office, said Marilyn Martinez, director of administrative services for the office. The payment is for the 2019, 2020 and 2021 tax years and includes penalties and interest.
Gudes said he moved back to his childhood home (his parents now live elsewhere) in District 5 in March 2018, about a year before he won the District 5 seat on City Council representing parts of central and East Tampa.
As a retired police officer, Gudes’ addresses are protected from disclosure under Florida law.
Gudes said he learned of the improper homestead exemption during the course of a lawsuit filed by a former aide and her daughter accusing him of creating a hostile workplace and making inappropriate remarks to both. Gudes has denied most of the allegations, saying he is being targeted by Mayor Jane Castor’s administration for his occasional opposition to her policies. Castor’s office has denied the claim.
“Once we heard about it, we took care of the problem. We took care of all the issues,” Gudes told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday.
Will Shepherd, general counsel for the appraiser’s office, said most improperly claimed homestead exemptions are unintentional.
“Ninety percent of these things are not intentional. Somebody doesn’t understand what it is or it’s an oversight. Parents die, kids still living there. Look, there are some intentional ones, too,” Shepherd said.
Florida’s homestead exemptions were put in place to help homeowners cope with big jumps in property values and associated hikes in ad valorem tax bills. A homeowner can claim an exemption for up to $50,000 of their primary residence’s taxable assessed value. Any annual increase in the assessed value is capped at 3 percent until the home changes ownership.
Anyone who knowingly gives false information about a homestead exemption is subject to a first-degree misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of a $5,000 fine and up to a year imprisonment, under Florida law.
But, Shepherd said, that law is almost never enforced. The appraiser’s office stopped turning over cases to the Hillsborough state attorney’s office years ago, he said.
“They basically told us: We’ve got bigger fish to fry,” Shepherd said.