A recent case addressed whether owners who had to cease living on homestead property by reason of a court order to vacate the property and enjoining them from residing thereon due to unsafe conditions and code violations, should automatically be treated as having abandoned their homestead. Homestead status was relevant because the husband deeded the property away without joinder of his wife – such a transfer is void under Florida’s Constitution if the property remained homestead property. Here, the husband and wife had moved off the property and been living in a rented residences or stayed with friends for five years after the court order.
The trial court found that the property ceased to be homestead property. Reversing the trial court, the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that abandonment of homestead status under these circumstances was not automatic, and denied the buyer’s request (who was seeking to enforce the transfer) for summary judgment on the issue. While homestead status can be lost through abandonment, a finding of abandonment requires a strong showing of intent not to return to the homestead. Such a determination requires a review of the totality of circumstances to determine such intent. Case law supports that an involuntary cessation of residency on the homestead does not alone constitute abandonment. Based on the foregoing, the appeals court remanded the case for further proceedings, including resolving the question of fact of the wife’s intent (or absence of intent) to abandon the subject property.
Yost-Rudge v. A-to-Z Properties, Inc., 2019 WL 459015 (4th DCA, February 6, 2019)