By: Robert H. “Bo” Trudeau

The answer to the title question is not as clear as you think, and even many attorneys get this wrong. So, what is the answer?

The starting point is the Florida Constitution. In general, Article X, Section 4 of the Florida Constitution states that if you live in municipality (i.e., a city or town), your residences is fully protected so long as you live on less than one-half acre.  If you live outside of a city or town in an unincorporated area, your residences is fully protected so long as you live on less than 160 acres.  This protection is determined without regard to the value of the home.  To illustrate, if we compare properties within a municipality, a $3,000,000 beachfront residence on a half-acre would be fully protected, but a $300,000 inland residence on a full acre would only be partially protected.  When a residence exceeds the acreage limitation, there are two methods courts use to allow creditors to collect. First, if the property is divisible, courts will partition the property, and the portion in excess of acreage limit will be used to pay the creditor. Second, if the property is not legally divisible, courts will order a sale of the entire property and division of the proceeds between the owner and creditor.

In Duval County, determining the extent of protection is a bit complicated.  In 1968, all of Duval County (except for Jacksonville Beach, Atlantic Beach, Neptune Beach, and Baldwin) was consolidated into the City of Jacksonville.  As a result of this consolidation, all of Duval County is now within a municipality.  So, does that mean that the one-half acre homestead limitation applies to all of Duval County?  Fortunately for homeowners, the answer to this question is “No.”  As part of the 1968 consolidation, the Jacksonville City Charter was amended to clarify that homes in a “general services district” (i.e., outside of the pre-1968 municipal area) would not have their homestead protection reduced.

Section 2.06. – Homestead law
“That part of the general services district not included in the urban services district shall be deemed to be a rural area, and a homestead in such rural area shall not be limited as if in a city or town. Whenever any urban services district is altered, created, or expanded pursuant to this charter or legislative act, a homestead within such urban services district shall be limited as if in a city or town.”

In general, only those portions of Duval County that were previously within a municipality prior to the 1968 consolidation are subject to the one-half acre limitation.  Those portions of Duval County that were previously outside of a municipality prior to the 1968 consolidation are still subject to the 160 acre limitation.

So, how do you tell if your home is subject to the one-half acre or 160 acre exemption?  The easiest way is to visit the Duval County Property Appraiser’s website and search for your residence.  (Here is the site.)  Once you locate the page for your residence, in the “Property Detail” box (top left box), there is a row for “Tax District” (second row).  If the code for your tax district starts with the letter “U,” that means you live in an urban services district, and your residence has one-half acre of protection.  If the code for your tax district starts with the letter “G,” that means you live in a general services district, and your home has 160 acres of protection.

We hope this is helpful.  If you have specific concerns regarding the protection of your assets, please contact us for an appointment.