Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Carmel on the Case: Tax Exemptions for the Dead
You've probably heard of dead people voting, but dead people getting tax exemptions? It turns out, that's been going on here in South Florida for decades. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is On the Case.
WSVN -- From modest condos to pricey waterfront homes and everything in between, some owners are being accused of not paying their fair share of property taxes.
James Carr: "I'm with the Broward County Property Appraisers Office."
Officials are ringing doorbells and knocking on doors to find out who is living in homes like this one where the registered owner is dead and has been for 20 years.
Ron Cacciatore: "We've got about 40 deceased persons who have been deceased for quite some time that still have homestead exemption."
Ron Cacciatore runs the fraud department for the Broward County Property Appraiser's office. He came up with a computer program to determine if dead people were claiming property tax exemptions. The first test was based on records for the City of Fort Lauderdale.
Lori Parrish: "And in one day, it was a little over $1.2 million that go to the county and the City of Fort Lauderdale."
Property appraiser Lori Parrish says the homes were often inherited and family members never changed ownership. That means they saved on taxes through the save our homes program, which limits tax increases and provides tax exemptions.
Lori Parrish: "But we want everyone to pay his or her fair share. And if you cheat the system, we'll eventually find you and the law allows us to go back 10 years."
Ralph Doering learned that the hard way. He and his wife have been hit with a $180,000 bill for back taxes on the waterfront house they inherited when her mother passed away.
Ralph Doering: "My wife got the lawyer who handled everything and so it went on and on and now, we're going to remedy it and it will all be taken care of."
Carmel Cafiero: "The owner of this home was hit with a $2,200 bill. He says he was homeless when he inherited the house when his mother passed away six years ago. And says since then he has struggled to keep up costs."
Joe Higley claims the bill for back taxes will probably cost him his home.
Joe Higley: "My heart was broken. I knew my whole life was going to change and I felt like I was going to lose everything."
Every year, homeowners are sent a notice from the appraisers office asking if there has been a change in ownership.
Joe Higley: "I did not receive that. The only thing I received was the regular taxes for the house."
Doering doesn't think his wife got one either.
Carmel Cafiero: "What about those annual notices that say if anything changed with ownership?"
Ralph Doering: "I don't think she ever got any."
Lori Parrish says her office will work with property owners if there are extenuating circumstances. Otherwise the back taxes are due in 30 days and the money not being collected is money needed to support essential services.
Ron Cacciatore: "You got to remember Carmel, we got a thousand teachers getting ready to be laid off here."
The computer sweep was so successful that now all of Broward County is being checked if you haven't been paying your fair show. This could be a good time to straighten things out. Otherwise you could be facing back taxes plus 65 per cent in penalties and interest.
IF YOU HAVE A STORY FOR CARMEL TO INVESTIGATE:
Read more: http://www.wsvn.com/features/articles/carmelcase/MI91909/#ixzz1NzKr5AnK