Donny the Debtor
In 2010, while living in California, Donny the Debtor (“Donny D”) purchased a 10-acre parcel of vacant land (the “Real Property”) in unincorporated Miami-Dade County. The land was classified as agricultural land for purposes of ad valorem taxes. In 2011, while still living in California, Donny D bought a trailer (the “Trailer”) from a nearby neighbor and moved it onto the Real Property.
In 2012, one of Donny D’s creditors (the “Creditor”) filed a lawsuit against him for failure to pay an invoice. Donny D did not respond to the lawsuit, which culminated in the entry of a default judgment (the “Judgment”) against Donny D. After obtaining the Judgment, the Creditor foreclosed on Donny D’s house in California. Donny D, now homeless, moved himself and all his personal property to the Trailer on the Real Property. The Trailer was equipped with a kitchen, bathroom, electricity, satellite television, water from an onsite well and a septic tank. Donny D also built a paver patio around the Trailer, and also redirected all his mail to the Trailer. In December of 2013, after Donny D had fully moved into the Trailer, the Creditor recorded the Judgment in Miami-Dade County for the first time.
When Donny D initially moved to the Trailer, he believed that he could lawfully reside there. But unbeknownst to Donny D, residing in the Trailer was in violation of Miami-Dade County ordinances. Moreover, in 2014, Miami-Dade County issued a warning notice (the “Notice”) to Donny D, advising him that his use of the Trailer as a residence violated Miami-Dade County Ordinances. After receiving the Notice, Donny D applied for permits to build a home on the Real Property.
In 2015, Donny D filed for Chapter 13 Bankruptcy. Donny D claimed the Real Estate as exempt homestead property pursuant to Article X, Section 4 of the Florida Constitution. The Creditor objected to the exemption arguing, among other things, that the Real Estate was not eligible for the homestead exemption because when its lien attached in December of 2013, the Real Property was zoned for land use purposes and classified for tax purposes as agricultural land, and Donny D was living on the Real Estate in the Trailer in violation of applicable Miami-Dade County Ordinances.
Can Donny D claim the Real Property as exempt homestead?
Would the homestead exemption apply if instead of the Trailer, Donny D was living on a tent on the Real Property?
Would the homestead exemption apply if instead of the Trailer, Donny D moved into a motor home or recreational vehicle that was parked on, but not affixed to the Real Property?
If Miami-Dade County had denied Donny D’s building permit and demanded that he cease using the Trailer as his residence, would that change the outcome?