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Florida Sales and Use Tax – Landscaper’s Guide

installing artificial grass lawn

Landscapers have a unique business. On the one hand, they can come in and completely change a property to something that not even the owner would imagine as an amazing transformation. On the other hand, landscapers can and do sell the items needed for an amazing property transformation to those who wish to do it themselves. From a Florida sales and use tax standpoint, the tax treatment for the landscaper could not be any more different between creating and installing a new landscape versus selling the materials to a do it yourself go getter. This article will discuss some of the differences and the high degree of risks faced by landscapers.

For landscapers, nothing is more satisfying than going to a customer’s property, planning the major changes to the property, and then implementing the changes. Oftentimes, the Florida sales and use tax implications are an afterthought. In most instances, Florida sales and use tax only comes up when a dreaded audit notice is received by the landscaper. The issue is how does one decipher what to do in this scenario?

For landscapers implementing such a contract, this is generally referred to as a real property improvement contract. A real property improvement contract is usually one in which the improvements are permanent in nature and are expected to go with the property when the property is sold. Improvements that are “expected to go with the property” are those that might be plumbed, wired, or connected to the property in such a manner that removing the improvement would damage the real property. In the context of a landscaper, this might be grass installed, a fountain that is plumbed into the property, or perhaps a retaining wall or new patio. The possibilities are endless.

As it relates to real property improvement contracts, the landscaper generally will owe Florida sales or use tax on purchases the landscaper makes to effectuate a such a contract. Examples of this can be topsoil, mulch, peat moss, sand, edge stones, fountains, pavers, and many other items too numerous to name. Even though the landscaper might have a Florida Annual Resale Certificate, the landscaper should not present the Florida Annual Resale Certificate to its vendors. Rather, the landscaper should pay Florida sales tax on these items to its vendor. If the landscaper does present its Florida Annual Resale Certificate to the vendor but uses the items as delineated above, then the landscaper should remit Florida use tax on its purchases directly to the Florida Department of Revenue on its sales and use tax return. On the landscaper’s invoice(s) to its customers, the landscaper does not charge Florida sales tax to a customer. The reason why is the landscaper is considered the end user and consumer of the materials for use in the real property improvement contract. The contract with the customer is nothing more than a service to the consumer.

On the other hand, there may be instances where the landscaper is not “installing” the items for the customer. Rather, the customer is purchasing the items from the landscaper because the customer will handle the “installation” of the items. When that occurs, the landscaper will charge the customer Florida sales tax on the sale. This is the case, as the landscaper is making a sale of tangible personal property instead of providing a service. Of course, Florida sales tax should only be charged if the customer is not exempt from Florida sales tax. One possible exemption could be a sale for resale. If that occurs, the customer would need to present the landscaper with a valid (unexpired) Florida Annual Resale Certificate. Another possible exemption could be a sale for export. What is meant by this is the customer orders the item, does not take possession of the item in Florida, and has the item shipped to a location outside of Florida. To be on the right path to proving this exemption, the landscaper would need to have the shipping documents showing the items purchased and delivered to a location outside of Florida. Not having the proper exemption documentation could lead the landscaper to being liable for the Florida sales tax on the transaction. In other words, the landscaper could have to pay the Florida sales tax out of his/her bottom line.

For landscapers having Florida sales tax due on sales to customers of the tangible items without any type of installation, it may have you wonder whether the landscaper then should be paying Florida sales tax to its vendor on the purchase of the items. In short, no. In these scenarios, the landscaper should present to its vendor a Florida Annual Resale Certificate. The vendor should not charge the landscaper Florida sales tax at that point.

There may be some instances where the landscaper sells items of tangible personal property to a customer without installing the same, but the customer asks the landscaper to delivery or ship the items to the customer. Are the delivery or shipping charges subject to Florida sales tax? If the delivery or shipping charges are optional to the customer, incidental, and itemized, then the delivery or shipping charges should not be subject to Florida sales tax. “Optional to the customer” means the customer can avoid the charge by action or inaction of the customer. For example, the customer can avoid the delivery or shipping charges by picking up the items. Incidental to the sale generally means the main purpose of the sale is not the shipping charge. Finally, itemized means the shipping charge is separately itemized on the invoice.

Some landscapers may buy products directly from a farm. When buying agricultural products from a farm where made, the purchase can be exempt. However, it is important for a landscaper to realize this exemption from Florida sales and use tax does not apply to ornamental nursery stock. “Ornamental nursery stock” means all plants, shrubs, and trees sold by a nursery for landscaping purposes. It does not matter the state of growth or maturity of these items. Sod and ferns are examples, specifically noted by the rule, that are included as ornamental nursery stock. Therefore, the sale or purchase of ornamental nursery stock is usually subject to Florida sales or use tax.

What happens if you are a landscaper and you have not done things correctly? You could perform a voluntary disclosure to get things cleaned up and get on the right path. By doing as much, the landscaper can then sleep better at night knowing they do not have to constantly look over their shoulder for a dreaded audit notice. The other option involves for when you receive an audit notice. At that point, the Florida Department of Revenue will “help” you to get things right with your business. Going down this avenue can be significantly more expensive than attempting to fix things on the front end, as the Florida Department of Revenue rarely would send out an assessment for less than is owed. Moreover, the process for fighting a large assessment can be time consuming and emotionally draining. While there can be arguments made to potentially mitigate any type of an exposure, one must know exactly the argument to make and how to make such an argument. If done enough in advance, there are potential planning opportunities in place for a landscaper to implement to possibly significantly reduce the Florida sales and use tax exposure for the company. The key is doing so sooner than later.

In conclusion, landscapers are in a difficult position when it comes to Florida sales and use tax issues. The landscaper must determine what “bucket” he or she falls into based on their business model. Sometimes, the “bucket” is not easy to determine, as it could be ambiguous based on what is done or whether a mix of things are done in a single contract. Ensuring the proper amount of Florida sales or use tax is paid to the vendor or collected from the customer, as applicable, is a critical component for the landscaper to know how best to mitigate the exposure. Moreover, a landscaper does not want to stare down the barrel of a six-figure assessment just because it was easier to do nothing early on. Such an approach could have disastrous consequences for a landscaper.

Florida sales tax attorney; Florida sales tax audit; Florida sales tax audit help; Florida sales tax litigatorAbout the author: David Brennan is partner with Moffa, Sutton, & Donnini, P.A. His primary practice area is multistate tax controversy. David received a B.S. in Accounting and Finance, with a minor in Computer Science, from Florida State University. He worked as an accountant for a CPA firm before attending law school at Regent University. He received his Juris Doctor in 2013 and was licensed to practice law in Florida in the same year. In 2015, David earned his Masters of Laws in Taxation from Boston University. While working for the Florida Department of Revenue as a Senior Attorney, David focused on various sales and use tax issues. You can read his BIO HERE.

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 Florida businesses against the Florida Department of Revenue since 1991 and have over 100 years of cumulative sales tax experience within 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 represent taxpayers and business owners from the entire state of Florida. Contact us for a FREE INITIAL CONSULTATION to confidentially discuss how we can help put this nightmare behind you.


Section 212.05, F.S. – Sales, storage, use tax.

Section 212.06, F.S. – Sales, storage, use tax.

Rule 12A-1.048, F.A.C. – Sale of Agricultural Products.

Rule 12A-1.051, F.A.C. – Sales to or by Contractors Who Repair, Alter, Improve and Construct Real Property.

Rule 12A-1.063, F.A.C. – Tangible Personal Property Consumed in Manufacturing, Processing, Assembling and Refining.


2023 FLORIDA SALES TAX UPDATE PART I, published July 5, 2023, by David J. Brennan, Jr., Esq.

2023 FLORIDA SALES TAX UPDATE PART II, published August 14, 2023, by David J. Brennan, Jr., Esq.

FL SALES TAX CAR DEALERS PLAYBOOK, published April 22, 2023, by David J. Brennan, Jr., Esq.

FLORIDA SALES TAX AUDITS PROCESS AND TRAPS, published March 4, 2023, by David J. Brennan, Jr., Esq.

2023 FLORIDA SALES TAX RATE ON COMMERCIAL RENT, published January 23, 2023, by James Sutton, CPA, Esq.

PHONE CALL FROM FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE: SALES TAX, published October 15, 2022, by Jeanette Moffa, Esq.

FLORIDA SALES TAX INFORMAL WRITTEN PROTEST, published November 17, 2018, by James Sutton, C.P.A., Esq.

FLORIDA SALES TAX - VOLUNTARY DISCLOSURE PROGRAM, published April 9, 2018, by Jeanette Moffa, Esq.