What is Homestead Exemption Fraud?

Source: Escambia County Property Appraiser

What is Homestead Fraud? Homestead fraud occurs when a person (or persons) who has filed for and has been granted homestead exemption is not actually a permanent resident of Escambia County; is not in good faith residing on the property on which he or she filed; or is claiming a residence benefit somewhere else at the same time as claiming homestead exemption on the property on which he or she filed.

What is the law? Florida Statute 196.131(2) provides that “any person who knowingly and willfully gives false information for the purpose of claiming homestead exemption is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 1 year or a fine not exceeding $5,000 or both.”

Florida Statute 196.161(1)(b) further states that ‘”upon determination by the property appraiser that for any year or years within the prior 10 years a person who was not entitled to a homestead exemption was granted a homestead exemption from ad valorem taxes, it shall be the duty of the property appraiser making such determination to serve upon the owner a notice of intent to record in the public records of the county a notice of tax lien against any property owned by that person in the county, and such property shall be identified in the notice of tax lien. Such property which is situated in this state shall be subject to the taxes exempted thereby, plus a penalty of 50 percent of the unpaid taxes for each year and 15 percent interest per annum.”

How does this affect me? Unfortunately, some property owners claim exemptions for which they are not entitled – such as those on rental or vacant property, second homes or other properties where they do not reside.  The penalties may appear stiff but it’s important to remember that anyone who claims an exemption to which he or she is not entitled forces the rest of Escambia County’s taxpayers to make up the difference in taxes. Particularly since the inception of Amendment 10 and its homestead exemption-linked assessment cap, those fraudulently claiming homestead have the potential to significantly steal from our law enforcement, our schools and our quality of life as citizens of this county. As a result, the Escambia County Property Appraiser investigates homestead fraud very aggressively.

What can I do to help? If you are aware of anyone who is claiming an exemption on a property that he or she is not permanently residing in, is rented, vacant or is merely a vacation home, we urge you to make a report to our office.  You can notify the Escambia County Property Appraiser’s Office CONFIDENTIALLY by either calling our Homestead Fraud Department at (850) 434-2735 or by completing the following form that will be submitted to our office for review. Each report will be investigated by this office. Where homestead fraud can be substantiated using the criteria set forth by Florida law, this office will take action.

Florida Statute 196.011, section 5 states that the applicant for Homestead Exemption must “affirm that the use of the property and his or her status as a permanent resident have not changed since the initial application.” Section 9a states that it is “the duty of the owner” to notify the Property Appraiser “promptly whenever the use of the property or the status or condition of the owner changes.” Failure to do so, means property owner illegally claims or improperly retains tax exemption(s) for which they are not entitled under Florida law, and the penalties are stiff.