Regarding your question, extended absence from a home is not cause to deny homestead but rental of homestead property constitutes abandonment and you will lose the homestead status. With regard to military personnel, the statutes contain specific language acknowledging that physical presence is not essential to a determination of permanent residence. Section 196.061, Florida Statutes, generally makes the rental of homestead property to another an abandonment of such property for homestead tax exemption purposes. However the statute contains this exception: "The provisions of this section shall not apply to a member of the Armed Forces of the United States whose service in such forces is the result of a mandatory obligation imposed by the federal Selective Service Act or who volunteers for service as a member of the Armed Forces of the United States." Thus, service personnel who are called to active duty and rent their homestead property to another may continue to qualify for and receive a homestead tax exemption on such property under the terms of this statute. Clearly, actual physical presence on homestead property is not determinative in resolving entitlement to a homestead exemption for military personnel.
Florida clearly recognizes the significance of extending the homestead exemption to members of the armed forces:
"Every person who is entitled to homestead exemption in this state and who is serving in any branch of the Armed Forces of the United States, shall file a claim for such exemption as required by law, either in person, or, if by reason of such service he or she is unable to file such claim in person he or she may file such claim through his or her next of kin or through any other person he or she may duly authorize in writing to file such claim."
However, as discussed above, the person seeking the exemption must clearly come within the requirements and scope of the law granting the exemption.
The issue of residence and its permanency must be resolved by the property appraiser based on all the facts and circumstances in a particular case. It is my opinion, therefore, that the fact that a military service member's former official home of record was in another county and the service member had no property titled in his or her name at the time of entry into active military service is not conclusive of the entitlement to a homestead exemption.