MIAMI -- It’s easy to find home and land-owner information on the website of Miami-Dade’s Property Appraiser, with a notable exception: the house where the county’s elected property appraiser lives.
Details about Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera’s home value and taxes are simply impossible to find with his website’s search engine. That makes him an exception in South Florida.
Lopez-Cantera would not comment. One friend of Lopez-Cantera’s, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said the information was hidden after a threatening person showed up at his Coral Gables door after his 2012 election.
The Miami Herald accidentally discovered the issue Monday while researching him amid word that Gov. Rick Scott plans to tap him Tuesday to fill the long-vacant post of lieutenant governor.
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Scott’s Naples home information, incidentally, is available on the Collier County property appraiser’s site, which shows it has a market value of more than $13.1 million.
One of Lopez-Cantera’s peers, Broward County Property Appraiser Lori Parrish, was surprised to hear that he had hid his home information because she knows him as a “straight shooter, an honest guy.”
“I don’t think it’s right to keep this information from the public like this,” Parrish said. “People need to see how we’re appraising our own homes just like the homes of everyone else.”
Information about Manatee Property Appraiser Charles Hackney is available on his office's website.
Not everyone’s information is public. The home addresses of criminal and child-welfare investigators, police, firefighters, judges and government-revenue collectors are exempted under Florida law.
Parrish said that, because her husband is a criminal-court judge, she could have exempted her home information. But she said she decided not to in the interests of full disclosure.
Other property appraisers, she pointed out, make their properties as easy to locate on the web along with nearly every other citizen’s home and land.
Even though Lopez-Cantera’s home information is nearly impossible to find, it doesn’t mean that he broke public-records laws, Parrish said, because the property appraiser’s website is offered as a courtesy to the public, not as a right mandated by Florida statute.
Barbara Petersen, an open-records advocate who works for the news-media-funded First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee, agreed that the website might be a courtesy. But she said Lopez-Cantera should post his information.
“This violates the spirit of open public records and the public’s right to know,” Petersen said, noting other politicians’ homes and property information are available.
One exception: Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, whose home address is exempted from public record because he was once a fire fighter.
Lopez-Cantera’s home information can still be found online by a series of complicated steps that involve looking up his neighbors to the east or west, then clicking his property next door that's generically featured on a satellite map that pops up at the bottom of the screen, and then clicking either the property’s deed information or tax information.
But if a person doesn't know the appraiser's address -- often culled from other public record sources -- it's nearly impossible to find the information.
The records show Lopez-Cantera and his wife, Renee Lopez-Cantera, bought the home in July 2011 for $745,000. The following year, his property was assessed at $610,060 and its assessed value continued to decline in 2013, after he took over as property appraiser, by 5.8 percent to $574,471.
Some of his neighbors saw assessed values rise, others saw them drop – a sign of the complicated nature of property-value assessments.
Under Lopez-Cantera, countywide the property-tax rolls rose at a lower rate than county officials had hoped. And many relatively new homeowners in Miami-Dade saw property values decline.