Just say NO to Exemption Fraud!

Just say NO to Exemption Fraud!

What is Homestead Fraud?

Homestead non-compliance or fraud occurs when a person who has filed for homestead exemption or is currently receiving homestead exemption is determined not to be a permanent resident of Lee County. Residency is determined by many factors such as Florida Driver’s License, Lee County voter registration or Declaration of Domicile, Florida vehicle registration, place of employment, location where children are enrolled in school….and the list goes on…..(refer to FS 196).

Check your important documents to be sure that you have transferred all information necessary to correctly reflect your permanent/primary residence.
Your Florida driver’s license must be updated any time there is a name or address change – make sure your address is current. (FS 322.19). Your driver’s license residence address must be the same as your homestead site address in order to qualify for exemption in Lee County. If you are a registered voter, you must register to vote in Lee County and your voter registration residence address must be the same as your homestead site address. Non-voters are required to complete and record a Declaration of Domicile - available at the appraiser's office. If you claim homestead exemption in Lee County and file a state income tax return in another state indicating you are a permanent resident of that state, you do not qualify for homestead in Lee County Florida.

Don’t be misinformed – you cannot rent your property for a few months every year and continue to qualify for homestead. Property owners who claim homestead exemption and then rent out the homestead property (seasonally or annually) do not qualify for homestead (Section 196.061 Florida Statutes). You can own another home and spend time vacationing there, you can travel in your motor home for months at a time - there is no requirement that you reside in Lee County for 6 months and one day. You MUST, however, in good faith reside on the property and it must be your primary, permanent residence. If you are married – you and your spouse can claim only one location for purposes of homestead exemption, tax credit or roll-back. Even though each spouse may individually own separate properties (individually, jointly in Trust, etc), each spouse cannot claim a separate homestead for purposes of tax exemption. There are certain circumstances where married persons would each be able to claim separate dwellings as homestead exempt properties and in order to qualify under those circumstances, they would need to prove a “separation of the family unit” as pursuant to Article VII S 6(b), Florida Constitution, Florida Administrative Code 12D-7.007(7). Contact the appraiser’s office for more information.

Some states refer to residency based exemptions as homestead, tax credits, roll-backs and other titles – it’s up to each taxpayer to be sure they are not receiving any of these benefits while claiming the exemption in Lee County – it’s against the law!

It is the responsibility of each taxpayer receiving the homestead exemption in Lee County to be sure that they are not receiving an exemption, tax credit or roll-back in any other state – call the assessor’s office to make sure you aren’t breaking the law. If it is determined that you received a residency based exemption benefit elsewhere while claiming same in Lee County, at the very least, you are subject to back taxes with penalties and interest. Most importantly, 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. (FS 196.131(12). Don’t hesitate - if you have questions about what constitutes non-compliance or fraud – contact our office immediately.

What is Agriculture Classification Fraud?
Agriculture classification fraud occurs when evidence is fabricated in support of obtaining an agricultural classification due to land being used for agricultural purposes. Section 193.461 of the Florida Statutes describes in detail what constitutes bona fide agricultural use of a property and the process for applying for this classification.
What does the law say?
Pursuant to Sections 193.155 (9) and 196.161 of the Florida Statutes, property owners who intentionally cheat on their homestead exemption will have a tax lien placed against their properties, be back taxed for up to 10 years (as applicable), be required to pay a sizable penalty (50% of the unpaid taxes for each year), and pay interest at a rate of 15% per year.
How does this affect me?
Fraudulent exemptions steal from our law enforcement, our schools, our libraries, and lower our quality of life in Lee County. Those tax dollars have to be made up somewhere, and the honest tax payers get stuck making up the difference.
What can I do to help?
If you know or suspect exemption fraud or non-compliance is taking place, let us know about it. You are not required to provide your name when reporting suspected fraud. Any identifying information provided by you becomes part of the public record and is subject to disclosure upon request. If you wish to remain anonymous and do not want your e-mail address, contact or other identifying information released in response to a public-records request, do not include that information in your correspondence. Please complete the form below or you may call (239) 533-6240 to report Homestead non-compliance or fraud or (239) 533-6162 to report Agriculture Classification non-compliance or fraud.

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