Developers and investors file 10 new suits seeking to overturn property value assessments

Plaintiffs allege Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia uses arbitrary and discriminatory techniques in determining valuations

Don Peebles, Pedro Garcia, The Bath Club and One Fifty One at Biscayn
Don Peebles, Pedro Garcia, The Bath Club and One Fifty One at Biscayn

UPDATED Feb. 13, 1:50 p.m.: Pedro Garcia’s methodology for calculating property valuations in Miami-Dade County is facing legal challenges from a slate of deep-pocketed owners that contend the county appraiser uses unfair and discriminatory practices in determining a property’s taxable worth.

Between November 30 and January 4, 10 separate lawsuits were filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court against Garcia, as well as Tax Collector Marcus Saiz and Florida Department of Revenue Executive Director Leon Biegalski, that seek to lower the 2018 assessed value of more than a half-dozen signature properties, including The Bath Club in Miami Beach and the former Univision headquarters in Doral. If the owners prevail, they would win reductions on the real estate taxes paid on the properties.

A spokesperson for Garcia said the property appraiser’s office doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Every fall, after the Miami-Dade Value Adjustment Board certifies the assessments determined by Garcia’s office, the property appraiser typically faces litigation from some owners that dispute the techniques the county uses to assess their properties, according to real estate brokers who also specialize in handling tax appeals.

Sheila Anderson, principal of Miami-based Commercial Property Services and Florida Tax Appeals, said owners can avoid court by appealing to the Value Adjustment Board when the property appraiser sends out notices on a property’s proposed assessment every September. The appeal must be made within 25 days of receiving the notice, Anderson said.

Some owners would rather make their case in front of a judge and don’t go before the board, she added. “It looks like these taxpayers who filed lawsuits decided not to file petitions with the VAB,” Anderson said. “It could be an internal decision or a legal reason, and they believe the VAB is not the right forum.”

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Brian Sharpe, a principal of Real Estate Tax Appeals Group and Sharpe Properties, said the board does its best to follow the letter of the law. Sharpe also noted that the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser’s Office under Garcia has been more aggressive in its valuations. “The past few years, they have been more proactive in correcting the books,” Sharpe said. “They are trying to clean up the tax rolls and getting everyone assessed properly.”

The owners suing Garcia include industrial REIT PS Business Parks, Peebles Corp., the One Fifty One at Biscayne and Univision. PS Business Parks alleges that the $249 million valuation Garcia calculated in 2018 for the Miami International Commerce Center at 8216 Northwest 14th Street “dramatically exceeded the just value” of the individual parcels that make up the business park. The REIT accuses the property appraiser’s office of using arbitrary, discriminatory and illegal techniques in its valuations. As a result, PS Business Parks ended up with a tax burden that is “grossly disproportionate” compared to similar business parks in Miami-Dade, the lawsuit alleges.

The Peebles Corp. is suing over the $1.7 million assessed value and $4.3 million market value on the famous Bath Club in Miami Beach. Bath Club Entertainment, a Peebles-controlled entity, claims the assessment is arbitrarily based on appraisals that are not professionally accepted practices.

One Fifty One at Biscayne condominium association claims that Garcia’s office unlawfully levied a tax against the land under the condo, which the association claims should have been left as a “reference” parcel with a nominal tax. The lawsuit claims that the property appraiser’s 2018 assessed value of $1.8 million is arbitrarily based on appraisal practices not generally applied to comparable condominium buildings. The project consists of two towers with 373 units and a garage. It was the only phase of the former Biscayne Landing project of the early 2000s to get built.

Univision Television Group alleges that it was unfairly taxed on the value of broadcasting equipment that it abandoned on its former Doral headquarters when it changed spaces in 2013. The property appraiser determined the assessed value at $1.48 million. Univision also wants to overturn back assessments for 2015, 2016 and 2017 in the amounts of $2.7 million, $2.3 million and $1.8 million, respectively.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Brian Sharpe’s viewpoint and the number of days property owners have to file their appeals.