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Fla. lawmakers OK tax break for homes with Chinese drywall

MANATEE — Floridians with corrosive Chinese drywall in their homes soon could be paying significantly less in local property taxes under a bill heading toward Gov. Charlie Crist’s desk.

The state Senate on Thursday unanimously passed the bill, which would require local property appraisers to declare certain homes with the corrosive wallboard as worthless for tax purposes. The House unanimously approved the measure earlier this week, and Crist is expected to sign it into law.

“Contaminated drywall, coupled with depreciating home values, has crippled some Florida homeowners and exacerbated the current housing crisis,” said Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, who filed the bill (HB 965). “As we work towards nationwide comprehensive solutions, the bill (HB 965). “As we work towards nationwide comprehensive solutions, it’s clear that Florida homeowners need immediate short-term relief.”

Thousands of Florida homeowners have complained to state and federal officials about the drywall, saying it emits sulfuric gases that corrode air-conditioner coils, electrical wiring and appliances. The drywall also has been blamed for causing various health ailments and pushing down property values.

Some of those homeowners have sought tax relief from their property appraisers, whose responses have ranged from doing nothing at all to reducing property values by as much as 80 percent.

Charles Hackney, Manatee County’s property appraiser, said his office has reduced the value of 80 properties with Chinese drywall by 50 percent across the board. Those reductions have taken nearly $7 million off the tax roll.

“It seemed like a reasonable thing to do at the time,” he said. “Is it enough? I don’t know. That’s why I welcome any sort of guidelines to tell me what I’m supposed to do about this.”

The bill would require appraisers to reduce the assessed values of single-family homes with imported drywall, defined as that containing elevated levels of elemental sulfur that results in corrosion of certain metals. If the home is unlivable unless it is remediated or repaired, it must be valued at $0.

The reduction would not affect the value of the underlying land, and only can be given to homeowners who were unaware of the drywall’s presence when they bought the home. The reduced value would apply to all local property taxes, including school and county levies, beginning in the current tax year.

The bill also would maintain homestead exemptions for homeowners who leave their primary homes because of the drywall, as long as they don’t establish a new homestead. Once the home is fixed, it must be assessed as if the drywall was never there.

The Florida Property Appraisers Association backed the bill, said Polk County Property Appraiser Marsha Faux, its president-elect.

“It will give uniformity so that citizens throughout Florida who are going through this experience will be treated the same,” she said. “It’s a good bill.’

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.