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Residents of some countries must soon register real estate with Florida or face penalties

Chris Day
Fresh Take Florida

If residents of countries including Cuba, Venezuela and China don’t register properties by the Jan. 31 deadline, they can be hit with $1,000 per day in property liens — or potentially have their property seized.

Citizens of Cuba, China, Venezuela, Russia, Syria, North Korea and Iran have until the end of January to register certain real estate with the Florida Department of Commerce, under a law passed this year.

The consequences of not registering include steep penalties — $1,000 per day — and even property seizure.

The law only applies to citizens of “countries of concern” who do not have a permanent residency or citizenship in the U.S. Companies and government entities from the listed countries are included.

“Protecting Floridians and Florida’s infrastructure from agents like the Chinese Communist Party and other foreign adversaries is important to our state’s security,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement last month when the portal for registering properties was launched.

“I am proud to have signed the strongest legislation in the nation to fight back against foreign malign influence.”

Any agricultural land must be registered with the state under the law, even if the citizen or business entity from the “country of concern” owns just a minority stake. Future purchases of agricultural land is banned almost entirely in the new law, with certain exceptions for diplomatic or federally approved purposes.

Other real estate owned by a “foreign principal” from one of the listed countries must be registered with the Florida Department of Commerce if it falls within 10 miles of any military installation or “critical infrastructure” in the state.

In a region like South Florida, almost the entire populated area falls within those boundaries. Airports, seaports, Army Corps of Engineer flood control infrastructure and military bases are all included in the criteria.

The most onerous restrictions for owning real estate apply to Chinese nationals.

Opposition to the sweeping law has sparked street protests in Miami. Top real estate groups have vowed to pressure the state government to roll the law back, fearing it will hurt the real estate industry and foreign investment, particularly from China. Bloomberg Law recently reported at least two major construction projects were halted due to the law because they were receiving Chinese capital to fund the projects.

The Chinese Communist Party official propaganda newspaper China Daily has characterized the law as part of “anti-Chinese” sentiment in Florida, citing another law about the Florida university system that is just going into effect.

“I’m grateful for the governor’s leadership on this issue that is critical to both our national security and the security of Florida’s economy,” Florida Secretary of Commerce J. Alex Kelly said in a statement.

The law was passed with a strong majority in both the Florida House and Senate. A handful of Democrats in both bodies voted against the measure.

If an individual or a company acquired affected real estate before July 31, that property must be registered by Dec. 31. But it is only considered late if it is not registered by Jan. 31.

If residents of the listed countries don’t register properties with the state by the Jan. 31 deadline, they can be hit with $1,000 per day in property liens, according to the law. The law even allows the state to seize properties it deems are owned in violation of the law.

The portal for registering properties can be accessed here. An FAQ about who needs to register — and what needs to be registered — can be found here.

Copyright 2023 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Daniel Rivero is a reporter and producer for WLRN, covering Latino and criminal justice issues. Before joining the team, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion.