Just a few days after his surprise entry into the Orlando City Council race, Juan Lynum is defending himself from accusations he doesn't really live in Orlando.
The reason: His homestead exemption is in Sumter County and his family is in Tampa.
When he formally qualified to run for the council seat now held by his mother, Commissioner Daisy Lynum, he filled out paperwork declaring that he lives with her in the Rock Lake home where he grew up. It's an important detail, because city code requires that candidates live in the district for at least a year before qualifying.
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Lawanna Gelzer, a longtime critic of the Lynums, lodged a complaint with the City Clerk, questioning whether he truly lives in the city he hopes to represent. And Regina Hill, one of the other two candidates in the race, said residents of the West Orlando district are skeptical.
"I've been knocking on doors in the district today, and voters feel like this is a continuation of the Lynums' legacy of misinformation," Hill said.
Lynum denied living anywhere else: "I would plainly say it's absolutely false."
His residency is complicated.
Lynum, an attorney, insists he lives in Rock Lake, as the paperwork he filed indicates, and his law practice is based in Orlando. But he usually spends weekends in Tampa, where his wife and 2-year-old daughter live, he said. They live in different cities because that's where their jobs are, Lynum said, but his wife plans to move here next year.
"I'm in Orlando during the week," he said. "Regretfully, my family mainly sees me two days a week, except for Skype."
On top of that, he owns a house on a rural parcel in Wildwood in Sumter County, some 50 miles from Rock Lake house. He said he doesn't live there but claims a homestead exemption on the property. The house in Wildwood is the only property he owns, so he's entitled to claim a tax exemption there even if he doesn't live there, he said.
But the Florida Department of Revenue seems to indicate that's not allowed, noting on the agency's website that only someone "who owns and resides on" property and makes it "his or her permanent residence" qualifies for the exemption.
But it's not entirely clear. Sumter County Property Appraiser Joey Hooten consulted with the agency's attorney and agreed with Lynum, citing a 2012 Florida Supreme Court ruling.
"There's not a whole lot I'm going to be able to do about it. He has the option to pick one homestead," Hooten said. "There used to be a school of thought that you had to reside 180 days in a property, but that's not the case."
The house was built in the early 1980s by Lynum's father, Ed Lynum, a former Wildwood police chief. Commissioner Daisy Lynum ended up with the house after the two divorced, and the property was deeded to Juan Lynum in 2009. Though he owns it, it continues to be his father's primary residence, Juan Lynum said.
"Maybe once every two months, we'll stay the night there with our daughter," he said. "It's a wonderful place to visit — there are two ponds with catfish, bream and bass; there are cows and pigs."
Tax exemption aside, city code requires candidates to provide documentation proving their residency. On Friday, Lynum provided his driver's license, voter registration and utility bills, all bearing the address of the Rock Lake house.
Given the complaint, City Clerk Alana Brenner asked for additional documentation on Tuesday. Lynum turned over a vehicle registration and car insurance policy. Brenner said there was no mechanism to review Lynum's residency further.
Lynum was dismissive of the notion that he doesn't live in Orlando.
"It's silly to suggest I would live in that home [in Sumter County] and not where I live in Orlando, or even in Tampa with my family."
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