Owning property can be difficult; in most cases, you’re required to maintain it. But, does anyone really check up on your property? According to a Miami Herald article, nearly 100 individuals have been cited for property problems, and we aren’t talking about ugly flowers – we are talking about fraud.
Florida has had its fair share of problems with fraud in government programs. Unfortunately for fraudsters, Miami-Dade County officials have caught on to the latest scam: homestead exemption fraud. (If your state has a homestead exemption or something similar like school tax relief, the chances are that the counties are being defrauded.) The Miami-Dade Property Appraiser’s Office cited 200 Assisted Living Facilities (ALFs) that had claimed homestead exemptions resulting in a property tax discount. As part of the law, ALFs are eligible for homestead exemptions, if the owner of the ALF lives on the property. An investigation allegedly discovered 98 of those 200 homes did not have the property owner living on the property, meaning they were no longer eligible for homestead exemption. Remove the tax discounts and problem solved, right? Wrong.
What sparked an investigation of ALFs receiving homestead exemptions? A Miami-Dade property appraiser explained the investigations were warranted after the office received multiple complaints from constituents while he was a member of the state House of Representatives. (He only did a small sampling of 200 ALFs – think of what a large scale, state-wide cross check of ALFs receiving homestead exemption could turn up?) Under Florida law, violations of the homestead statute are assessed for back taxes with a 50 percent penalty and 15 percent interest. (Why don’t we add jail time into the violation of the statute?) As if the discovery of the ineligible homes wasn’t enough, investigators revealed one ALF owner allegedly ran her facility while on house arrest after being charged with bilking cash from a hospital for creating “ghost employees.”
Not only might these owners be providing poor care for the elderly and those in need of assisted living, but they also may be lying about living on the facility property to save a couple hundred bucks in property taxes. I see where every penny is worth it; however, we need to flip this around and put every penny into putting an end to fraud.