Animal Law

Recent Court Case Might Not Be Just for the Birds

By Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A.

Q: I raise wild birds for sale as pets on my property.  Can I qualify for an agricultural tax exemption for my property?

 A:  In McLendon v. Nikolits, the 4th District Court of Appeal (DCA) recently held that a property owner who engages in aviculture – raising wild birds for sale as pets – can qualify for an agricultural tax classification for the part of their property used for aviculture.  The 4th DCA’s decision may also perhaps be applied to other types of pet breeding, such as dog breeding, and the agricultural tax exemption if they qualify.

Todd and Shire McLendon own a 5-acre parcel located in Palm Beach County, and the McLendons have used the property for aviculture since 2006.  From 2006 through 2012, the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser granted an agricultural tax classification for 4.5 of their acres because of its dual uses for aviculture and cattle grazing.

In 2012, the Property Appraiser denied the agricultural tax classification for the McLendons’ 4.5 acres and issued the tax classification for only 2.25 acres.  The McLendons appealed, and the Value Adjustment Board (VAB) held that 4.5 acres should be given the agricultural classification.

In 2013, the Property Appraiser again denied the agricultural tax classification for the part of the property devoted to aviculture.  The McLendons appealed again, and a special magistrate appointed by the VAB found in favor of the McLendons.  The Property Appraiser appealed to the circuit court, and the Property Appraiser also denied the agricultural classification for 2014.

The Property Appraiser argued that the legislature intended to limit agricultural activities to only those listed in the statute because the legislature included only “poultry” and not “aviculture” in the list of activities that constitute “agricultural purposes” in the statute.

However, the McLendons argued that the legislature did not intend for the list to be exclusive or exhaustive because the legislature used “includes, but is not limited to” in the statute.

The trial court concluded that aviculture was intentionally left out of the statute and that bird-related activities qualifying as agriculture were limited to “poultry.”  The trial court also indicated that allowing the breeding of pets, and birds in particular, to qualify for an agricultural exemption, would open the floodgates and allow many landowners to claim the agricultural exemption for various types of pet breeding thus in turn leading to abuse of the system.

On appeal, the 4th DCA found that “includes, but is not limited to” is not ambiguous, and the 4th DCA found that the term “farm product” is defined in Fla. Stat. § 823.14(3) as “any…animal…useful to humans” under the Florida Right to Farm Act.

Through the use of expert witness affidavits at trial, the McLendons were able to convince the court that aviculture is useful to humans for reasons such as companionship, concern for endangered species, entertainment, education, and scientific purposes.

Accordingly, the 4th DCA reversed the trial court’s decision and held that the McLendons’ portion of the property used for aviculture qualifies for an agricultural tax exemption.  It will be interesting to see how the Polk County Property Appraiser reacts to this recent decision, and unless the Florida legislature closes this loophole, this might be a case for the 2nd DCA and perhaps Florida Supreme Court to decide if there is a conflict between DCA’s.

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