Court rules against investors
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING - The best Christmas present received by Sun 'n Lake of Sebring Improvement District and the tax collector was a ruling by the Second District Court of Appeals.
Published: December 26, 2012
Published: December 26, 2012
"It's a big win for local governments," said Sun 'n Lake General Manager Michael Wright.
Raymer F. Maguire III and Charlotte Maguire, as trustees for the Raymer Maguire Trust, sued to invalidate the tax certificate sale for the entire year of 2007.
"I think they didn't do their due diligence, and they didn't realize they would have to pay a lot of Sun 'n Lake assessments, in combination with the (land) values decreasing," said Tax Collector Eric Zwayer.
Tenth Circuit Court Judge Angela Cowden ruled against the Maguires on similar reasoning.
"Here, the facts are simple. The plaintiffs bought tax certificates that they believe have declined in value," Cowden wrote. "It is unlikely that the plaintiffs would be suing the Highlands County tax collector, Sun 'n Lake of Sebring Improvement District, Florida's Department of Revenue, Highlands County, the Highlands County School Board, and the Southwest Florida Water Management District if the tax certificates appreciated in value.
"They have suffered no special injuries setting them apart from every other speculative investor in Highlands County. As such, they do not have standing to attack the constitutionality of the assessments or otherwise sue…"
When landowners can't pay their property taxes, the Highlands County tax collector sells tax certificates like the Maguires bought. In 2007, there were 2,712 tax certificates sold; the majority was from Sun 'n Lake.
The tax certificate holder pays the property taxes to the tax collector, then waits for the property owner to pay off the tax certificate, at a specified interest rate. If the tax certificate is not repaid within two years, the tax certificate holder may force a tax deed sale, and eventually own the property.
"Typically, though, the investor doesn't want the property," Zwayer said. The tax certificate holder usually prefers to be repaid, with interest. "It can be a great investment, but it's buyer beware."
Cowden dismissed the Maguires' case on June 9, 2011, and the court of appeals affirmed without comment on Dec. 5, 2012. If the Maguires had succeeded, the money from the tax certificates would have been pulled back from the governments named in the suit.
"All of them would have been affected," said Zwayer, who was elected to office in 2010, before the suit was filed against the previous tax collector, the late Charles Bryan. "All the monies were already dispersed.
"If you are not familiar with the tax deed process, then we highly recommend that you go to the Florida Statutes link at www.flsenate.gov/Statutes to get familiar with the laws and rules government the sales," said the Highlands County Clerk's website, which lists 1,546 tax certificates under "Lands Available."
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