A person is entitled to a homestead exemption when they declare the property to be their permanent residence. They do not have to reside on the property year round, but they cannot receive a residency-based benefit on another property anywhere else.
Homestead 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 Highlands County, or who is not in good faith residing on the property on which he or she filed. Please remember that the status of a property on January 1 each year is used to determine the property’s value and exemption status for the entire year. That means if a property owner has Homestead Exemption and sells his property, his exemption will remain on the property for the entire calendar year, and will be removed as of January 1 of the next year. Although there will still be an exemption on the property after the sale, it is NOT the new owner’s exemption.
Pursuant to Sections 193.155 (10) 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.
Fraudulent homestead exemptions remove funds from the taxing authority coffers. This reduction can affects our law enforcement, schools, fire protect, EMS service and other services in Highlands County. To ensure the services continue, the burden of those tax dollars are shifted to the honest tax payers.
The Highlands County Property Appraiser's Office carefully verifies all information at the time an application for Homestead Exemption is filed. If an application is incomplete, or if we find that the applicant has a residency-based benefit on another property either in Florida or another state, the application is denied. This verification process has been in practice in our office for many years and has been upgraded recently with the addition of online research tools and dedicated staff. Even with these resources dedicated to preventing fraud, circumstances sometimes change for a homeowner. A homestead recipient who initially qualified for the exemption might fail to report a change in residency to our office and improperly retain the original homestead exemption.
If you know or suspect homestead fraud is taking place, please let us know about it through one of the following ways.
Contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact us in writing:
Contact us by phone: (863) 402-6659