Seizure for Forfeiture of Real Estate

Under Florida Statute 893.12(2), a state or local law enforcement officer can attempt to seize for forfeiture the following types of property:

  • any non-homestead property and any improvements on real estate which is used or intended to be used in any manner or part to commit or to facilitate the commission of a violation of Florida Statute 893.03(1) or (2); or
  • real estate acquired with proceeds obtained in violation of Florida Statute 893.03(1) or (2).

Forfeitures of real estate are different from the forfeiture described under Florida Statute 932.701, which is limited to the forfeiture of property which has been or is being used to facilitate the commission of a felony.

Under Florida Statute 893.12(2), non-homestead real property may be forfeited if it was used or intended to be used in violation of any drug law involving a Schedule I or II drugs.

As a general rule, homesteaded real property may not be forfeited in Florida.

Attorney for the Seizure for Forfeiture of Real Estate in Florida

Contact a civil asset forfeiture attorney in Tampa, FL, to discuss your case. Our main office is in downtown Tampa, FL. Our second office is located in New Port Richey in Pasco County, FL.

Our civil asset forfeiture attorneys can help you demand an adversarial preliminary hearing within 15 days of the seizure for forfeiture. We can also help you file a motion for return of property.

The prohibition on “excessive fines” applied to state governments. Excessive forfeitures can damage officers’ relationships with residents while running counter to the community-oriented policing models adopted in a number of cities across the state of Florida.

When a federal law enforcement agency such as DEA or the FBI seizes real property under federal law, we can help you bypass the administrative proceedings for remission or mitigation by filing a claim to demand early judicial intervention or immediate court action.

We fight seizures and forfeitures of real estate in Tampa in Hillsborough, Brooksville in Hernando County, New Port Richey and Dade City in Pasco County, Bradenton in Manatee County and Bartow in Pasco County, FL.

Call 813-250-0500.

Seizures for Real Estate for Forfeiture under Federal Law

Under the 2009 Asset Forfeiture Policy Manual published by the U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Defense, Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, law enforcement officers should engage in pre-seizure planning questionnaires and documentation before seizure real estate for forfeiture.

For asset-specific net equity thresholds, guidelines set the minimum net equity levels that generally must be met, preferably before the property is seized and certainly before federal forfeiture actions are instituted.

Under these guidelines published by the DOJ’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, the net equity values are intended to decrease the number of federal seizures of real estate, thereby enhancing case quality and expediting the processing of the cases that are initiated.

The thresholds are also intended to encourage state and local law enforcement agencies to use state forfeiture laws.

As a general matter, the minimum net equity requirements for residential and commercial real property and vacant land—minimum net equity must be at least $30,000 or 20 percent of the appraised value, whichever amount is greater.

No property with net equity of less than $30,000 should be identified for forfeiture, although individual districts may set higher thresholds to account for local real estate markets.

When it comes to the net equity thresholds for the seizure for forfeiture of real estate under federal law, the established minimum net equity threshold for commercial/residential real property and vacant land is at least 20 percent of the appraised value, but in no circumstance less than $30,000.

The 2019 Asset Forfeiture Policy Manual provides that “[n]o property with a net equity of less than $30,000 should be considered for forfeiture, and individual districts may set higher thresholds to account for local real estate markets.”

Procedures for the Seizure of Real Property under Florida Law

Most law enforcement agencies in Florida follow strict rules for seizing real estate for forfeiture.

Before any real property is seized, the agency must determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the real property was used in violation of, or acquired with proceeds obtained in violation of, Sections 932.701-705 of the Florida Statutes, known as the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, or Section 893.12, Florida Statutes.

If no probable cause is found, then no seizure can occur. On the other hand, if probable cause is found, the agency can consider the following factors before deciding to seize real property:

  • whether the seizure is cost-effective or serves other law enforcement objectives;
  • the impact of forfeiture on the public health, safety, and welfare, particularly if the land is environmentally
  • the impact of the forfeiture on any innocent owners, lien holders, or other persons not involved in
    criminal activity;
  • the impact of forfeiture on targets of a criminal investigation;
  • the cost of pre-seizure planning and maintenance of property pending final disposition;
  • the potential for successful a forfeiture action that will be upheld by the court.

Under Florida law, the agency that is considering a forfeiture action against real estate should do the following:

  • Consult with the agency’s attorney regarding the investigation, seizure, and management of the real property under consideration for seizure;
  • Determine whether probable cause exists to support a real estate forfeiture and assess potential case difficulties;
  • Determine the impact of the real estate seizure or forfeiture on:
    • any criminal case;
    • the subject of the criminal investigation;
    • any owner of the property, particularly an innocent owner;
    • any party with a legal interest in the property;
    • any underlying crime problem;
    • other people in the community;
    • the agency considering the seizure for forfeiture;
    • other agencies or organizations; and
    • environmentally sensitive or protected lands.
  • Determine whether proposed real estate forfeiture is financially feasible based on the following factors:
    • the relative strength of the case
    • the value and equity of the property
    • the amount of the forfeiture proceeds due to the agency;
    • the amount of the forfeiture proceeds due to other agencies;
    • the current status of the deed, mortgage, or liens;
    • the condition of the property;
    • the local real estate market;
    • the property’s location;
    • the cost of security, maintenance, insurance, litigation, and property appraisals;
    • the cost of operating the business, if appropriate, taking into consideration whether illicit funds have been used to support the operation.

This article was last updated on Friday, June 19, 2020.