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FL Property Tax Exemption for Nontraditional Schools


Florida provides a property tax exemption for properties used for educational purposes. While state schools and universities would seem to fall very clearly under this category, they only represent a portion of the vastly diverse educational opportunities available within the state. There is a large number of trade schools across the state that provide particular academic and clinical training in a narrow field of study. The question of whether a property is used for educational purposes is in fact quite unclear for many of these academic institutions. A recent case out of Alachua county exemplified just how confusing this tax exemption can be.

Florida Statutes provides a definition for “educational institution.” Specifically, an educational institution for purposes of the tax exemption is a:

“federal, state, parochial, church, or private school, college, or university conducting regular classes and courses of study required for eligibility to certification by, accreditation to, or membership in the State Department of Education of Florida, Southern Association of College and Schools, or the Florida Council of Independent Schools.”

The Academy for Five Element Acupuncture, Inc., is a Florida non-profit acupuncture school that was not accredited by any of the institutions identified in the definition of an “educational institution.” Rather, its licensure was by the Commission for Independent Education, a state-created entity within the Department of Education. When the exemption was challenged, the Value Adjustment Board (VAB), found that Commission for Independent Education is a certification and therefore qualified for the exemption. However, the VAB regardless allowed the property appraiser to continue to seek revocation of the exemption.

The reason this case went on appeal was the fact that this identical case had already been heard 10 years ago in 2008. The same parties, with the same facts, and the same law, were addressed in the prior case and the court ultimately ruled in favor of the acupuncture school in that case. The effect of this case is significant to anyone who has ever qualified for a property tax exemption before: even if you go to court and win, the property appraiser can try to revoke your exemption again at any point in the future.

Fortunately, the First District Court of Appeal held in favor of the acupuncture school. Noting that the property appraiser made no effort to appeal the 2008 determination, the court found that the appraiser could not now seek to annul the basis of that decision without a relevant change in facts or law.

There are two big take-aways from this case for educational institutions in Florida: (1) you may qualify for an educational property tax exemption even when you are a nontraditional educational institution; and (2) even when you are qualified, it may not prevent the property appraiser from seeking revocation of that exemption. Luckily, Florida taxpayers have one new case precedent on their side.

undefinedJeanette Moffa is an attorney who concentrates on state and local taxes at Moffa, Sutton, & Donnini, P.A. She is an executive council member of the American Bar Association Tax Section State and Local Tax Committee and the Florida Bar Tax Section. Ms. Moffa is an author of both the CCH’s Expert Treatise Library: Sales and Use Tax as well the ABA’s Sales and Use Tax Deskbook. In addition, her regular columns on state and local tax issues can be found in State Tax Notes and Actionline, a publication from the Florida Bar’s Real Property, Probate, and Trust Law Section. She also serves as assistant editor to the Sales and Use Tax Deskbook and Actionline. Ms. Moffa is a regular speaker at the American Bar Association Tax Section conferences, the Institute of Professionals in Taxation, the Florida Bar Tax Section, the Florida Bar Real Property, Probate, and Trust Law Section, and the FICPA. In her free time, she teaches as an adjunct professor at Broward College. To learn more about Ms. Moffa, visit his firm bio.

At the Law Office of Moffa, Sutton, & Donnini, PA, our primary practice area is Florida taxes, with a very heavy emphasis in Florida sales and use tax. We have defended clients against Florida sales and use taxes for more than 25 years with over 100 years of cumulative experience working for our firm. Our partners are both CPAs/Accountants and Attorneys, so we understand both the accounting side of the situation as well as the legal side. We also have former Department of Revenue agents on staff who know how the tax agents think. With offices in Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, & Tallahassee, the law offices of Moffa, Sutton, & Donnini, PA represent taxpayers and business owners throughout the entire State of Florida. Call our offices today for a FREE INITIAL CONSULTATION to confidentially discuss how we can help put this nightmare behind you.


Section 196.012(5), Fla. Stat.

Crapo v. Acad. for Five Element Acupuncture, Inc., No. 1D17-1895, 2018 WL 4139276, at *1 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. Aug. 30, 2018).


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