11 May Appraiser collects on largest homestead fraud case
By Josh Salman
A Siesta Key investor, who had fraudulently claimed a homestead tax break on rental property, has paid more than $235,000 to satisfy government liens.
It was the largest lien for homestead exemption fraud ever processed by the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office, the agency said Friday.
The lien was accumulated from 2003 through 2010, filed after officials learned the Siesta Key property was being rented out, which violated Florida statutes that only allow for homestead exemptions on primary residences, not investment property.
The Property Appraiser’s Office said Friday it recovered the improperly exempted taxes, as well as a penalty of 50 percent and interest of 15 percent for each year dating back up to a decade.
Since 1991, the Property Appraiser’s Office has recovered $5.1 million toward the tax rolls from going after homestead fraud.
But the agency recently further stepped up those efforts, hiring an independent research firm to crack down on homestead exemption fraud in 2014.
With the move, Sarasota County became the first in Florida to hire Charlotte, North Carolina-based Tax Management Associates to audit its property rolls and find tax evaders. The property appraiser historically relied on complaints from residents to catch homestead fraud.
The homestead exemption gives Florida homeowners a break on the property taxes levied against a house’s first $50,000 in value if it is used as a primary residence. Some additional discounts are offered to military veterans, seniors and homeowners with disabilities.
Following the Great Recession, officials say the number of area residents fraudulently claiming the break has exploded.
“It is my mission to provide residents of the county with a fair, accurate and equitable tax roll,” Sarasota County Property Appraiser Bill Furst said in a statement. “To that end, my office is working on implementing additional tools to help us identify and investigate exemption fraud in Sarasota County on a large scale.”