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Tax crisis even impacts Crist's rent

By Steve Bousquet
Published February 28, 2007

[AP Photo]

TALLAHASSEE -- For Gov. Charlie Crist, the quirks in the Florida property tax system have literally hit home.

And it’s even worse for Crist’s landlord.

The governor, who rents a high-rise condominium in downtown St. Petersburg’s Bayfront Tower, got socked with a 25 percent rent increase after his landlord lost the protection of the Save Our Homes tax cap.

That’s the cap that Crist and lawmakers have decided is long overdue for a change because of the inequities it has spawned between homeowners who stay put and those who move, or between homeowners and business owners.

In Crist’s case, it’s the landlord’s fault. Condo owner Lawrence Compton was illegally claiming the $25,000 homestead exemption on the condo, even though he didn’t live there.

When the Pinellas County property appraiser discovered that last year, he revoked Compton’s homestead exemption, and that’s when Compton’s problems began.

Only owner-occupied or “homestead” properties in Florida are eligible for the Save Our Homes tax cap, which limits increases in property assessments to 3-percent a year.

In other words: No homestead exemption, no tax cap.

“Once you lose the cap, it goes to fair market value,” said Property Appraiser Jim Smith.

Overnight, the taxable value of the governor’s rented condo more than doubled, from $210,000 to $425,700.
Compton’s property tax bill ballooned from $5,131 to $9,857 -- even though the collective property tax rate in Pinellas declined from 2005 to 2006.

Compton passed on a big chunk of his higher tax bill to his tenant, Crist.

Crist said Compton increased his rent from $1,200 a month to $1,500 for a 22nd floor condo he uses mostly only on weekends.

“It’s hitting everybody, owners and renters alike,” Crist said.

The 1,300-square foot condo, built in 1975, is on Bayfront Tower’s 22nd floor and overlooks Tampa Bay.

Even though Crist now has a rent-free house known as the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, he said he has no plans to give up the condo he has rented since 2003.

“This is where my family is. It’s home. It’s where I vote,” Crist said.

The magnitude of a $10,000 tax bill on a small 30-year-old condo is even greater when Compton’s situation is compared to his neighbors’.

Just down the hall is an owner-occupied unit that is much larger than Compton’s, but the owners have had the benefit of the tax cap at least since 1996, according to tax records.

The market value of their bigger unit is slightly higher than Compton’s, but with the cushion of the tax cap, Steven and Joan Lozanoff’s condo is assessed at $96,540.

Their taxes were $2,235 last year, or about one fifth what Compton had to pay.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.


Here’s what happened to the property tax bill on Gov. Charlie Crist’s rented St. Petersburg condo after Crist’s landlord lost his Save Our Homes tax cap:

                                     2005                          2006
Market Value      $296,900                    $425,700
Taxable Value      $210,000                   $425,000
Property Taxes   $5,131.18                  $9,857.17
Millage Rate           24.4342                     23.1552

Source: Pinellas County Property Appraiser

[Last modified February 28, 2007, 18:16:24]

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