Cities, schools fighting homestead exemption fraud

Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser: 450K homestead exemptions filed in county

MIAMI – Ten cities, along with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, announced Tuesday that they are training officers to identify homestead exemption fraudsters who try to take advantage of tax discounts homeowners get without living at the home.

Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera said homestead exemption fraud costs the county hundreds of thousands of dollars that would otherwise go toward law enforcement, fire departments, and public schools.

"We are increasing the number of bodies that are doing investigations and clearing these cases without increasing the cost to the taxpayers," he said.

"Every time somebody defaults through fraud or abuse, then the burden falls on somebody else, and in my case, the burden falls on depriving children and teachers from resources that in fact belong to them," added Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

Lopez-Cantera said there are 450,000 homestead exemptions filed in Miami-Dade County, and that police departments have more than 2,900 leads to follow.

While campaigning, Lopez-Cantera said he would root out homeowners who take advantage of homestead exemptions.

"I spent weeks on the phone, calling each of the cities up personally," he added.

Lopez-Cantera's office has already filed $10 million in liens on homestead fraudsters across the county.

Yolene Francois was on the list to be cited. She said she lives above her shop in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood.

"It's my business, it's my property, and I live here, too," said Francois, who declined to show Local 10 her apartment.

Cities involved include Miami, Miami Springs, Miami Gardens, Coral Gables, and Sweetwater.

"The amount of money in homestead exemption fraud, just for the city of Miami, I believe he had estimated at half a million dollars, so to allocate the resources of one police officer or two to be trained by his office to stamp out this fraud is something that provides the city of Miami a tremendous return on investments," said Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez.