Thursday, August 8, 2013

Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser Ups Ante In Pursuit Of Property Tax Cheats Making Fraudulent Homestead Exemption Claims

In Miami, Florida, The Miami Herald reports:

  • Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera is enlisting the aid of cities and Miami-Dade Public Schools to investigate property-tax cheats in a bid to collect more revenue.

    Cheating on your property taxes in Miami-Dade County is getting riskier.

    Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera is enlisting the help of police officers from at least 10 cities and the school district to investigate homestead-exemption fraud.

    Hungry for revenue, the cities and school district plan to deploy at least one police officer each to investigate what by many accounts is a pervasive problem: improper claims of homestead exemption.

    Those participating include Miami-Dade Public Schools and the cities of Miami, Hialeah, Coral Gables, South Miami, Pinecrest, Key Biscayne, West Miami, Miami Springs, Miami Gardens, and Sweetwater.

    “I believe this is a win-win for all involved,” Lopez-Cantera said of the cooperative effort. “We will continue to be aggressive to find cost-effective ways to identify tax cheats.”

    Miami-Dade plans to hold a training program this week to brief police in techniques for identifying and proving homestead-exemption violations, which include property owners who have more than one homestead exemption and those who rent out a property while still declaring it a primary residence.

    Lopez-Cantera, the 39-year-old former majority leader of the Florida House who took office as property appraiser in January, had vowed to go after homestead-exemption cheats during his election campaign last year against incumbent Pedro J. Garcia, 79.

    The Miami-Dade Police Department has six detectives assigned full-time to investigating homestead-exemption fraud and the property appraiser has seven employees focused on the task.

    Even so, Miami-Dade has a backlog of 2,917 leads, and Lopez-Cantera contends that adding police manpower will generate tax revenue for the county and other taxing authorities.

    Investigators use various techniques to ferret out improper homestead claims, including looking for those with more than one homestead exemption (in Miami-Dade or elsewhere) and crosschecking exemptions with utility bills and drivers licenses and a host of other publicly available data that would generate a red flag.

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