Cheat On Your Homestead Exemption In Escambia County? Here’s How The Property Appraiser Is Looking For You.

February 24, 2020

Cheating on your homestead exemption in Escambia County? Forgot to remove a homestead exemption that’s no longer valid? Escambia County Property Appraiser Chris Jones is looking to track you down and collect taxes reaching back up to a decade.

Jones has hired Louisiana-based Assessure Systems to comb through the tax rolls in Escambia County, using high-tech tools to track down invalid exemptions and collect what is rightfully due…plus penalties and interest. The program will begin with an audit of properties worth $100,000 or more.

“I have alway aggressively gone after homestead fraud,” he said. “It’s stealing from taxpayers, taking money out of our schools, projects and local coffers.”

Using two investigators and a floater, Escambia County’s local efforts currently uncover up to about a half million dollars per year revenue from fraudulent homestead exemptions, Jones said. With Assessure Systems, he expects that amount to easily double. Currently, about 40 percent of taxpayers identified with an invalid exemption come in and pay, while 60 percent move on to the lien process.

Once it is determined a homestead exemption is not valid, the tax appraiser can collect unpaid taxes from up to 10 years ago, plus a penalty of 50% of the unpaid taxes for each year, plus 15% annual interest. Assessure Systems will receive 28% of the collected  tax amount. They receive the 28% at the time of the lien satisfaction and will have mp claim on future revenues. The taxing authority will receive the remaining taxes, along with the penalties and interest.

Once a homestead exemption is identified by Assessure as a potential violation, the process moves to the Property Appraiser’s Office. The owner will receive a 30 days notice by certified mail to explain why exemption is valid. If not, the clock starts ticking on 30 days to pay before a lien is filed. All correspondence will be signed and mailed locally by Jones’ office. The property appraiser has 100% control of the final determination of an invalid exemption.

“It’s not just Assessure making determinations,” Jones said. “Think of it as leads that we are still going to go through and vet.”

There are 163,696 real estate parcels in Escambia County. Of those, there are 70,708 homesteaded properties and 1,559 homesteaded condo units.

The property appraiser believes a higher rate of homestead exemption fraud may exist with condominiums on Escambia County’s beaches where individuals from out of town establish a Florida residence to avoid income taxes in other states.

“I’m going to go after the taxes locally on that doctor or lawyer or whoever is intentionally defrauding, and I’m going to turn them in to Ohio or wherever they are from,” Jones said. “I might deny it for a year, but I’m probably not to prosecute in a case where grandma died and it’s still in her name. I might just deny it for a year while they get everything right.”

Assessure Systems has already completed a sample audit as a test on 1,000 account submitted by the Escambia County Tax Collector. There were 44, or 4.4%, returned as suspect and 12, or 1.2%, were found to be in violation.

Escambia County, the Escambia County School Board and the Town of Century have signed memorandums of understanding with the Property Appraiser’s Office agreeing to give up the 28% fee. The City of Pensacola will likely consider their MOU this week, and the Northwest Florida Water Management District will soon vote. The program will begin when all of the taxing authorities have signed on.

In the state of Florida, a $25,000 exemption is applied to the first $50,000 of your property’s assessed value if your property is your permanent residence and you owned the property on January 1 of the tax year. This exemption applies to all taxes, including school district taxes. An additional exemption of up to $25,000 will be applied if your property’s assessed value is between at least $50,000 and $75,000. This exemption is not applied to school district taxes.

Assessure was founded 10 years ago, has a documented successful track record and is being used by nine other Florida counties. The company has several ad valorem tax related patents pending for scoring algorithms, artificial intelligence and machine learning to audit and entire tax roll in the fraction of time compared to local staff, with a substantial increase in accuracy and returns.


8 Responses to “Cheat On Your Homestead Exemption In Escambia County? Here’s How The Property Appraiser Is Looking For You.”

  1. adam winkley on September 21st, 2020 12:57 pm

    Mr Jones filed a $109,000 homestead exemption fraud lien on home going back 10 years. because me ECUA water meter was broken by ECUA and the amount of my bill
    was exactly the same amount for 4 months. I submitted all documents requested by Mr. Jones and I have paid attorneys $5000 and counting. All to no avail . I am 82 years old. A 30% finder fee has lead to overzealous and arbitrary use of this law. The law provided no reimbursement of legal fees when the county has made a mistake.

  2. Florida logger on February 24th, 2020 6:30 pm

    He probably is cheating on his own homestead tax . Just saying

  3. James on February 24th, 2020 11:49 am

    Yeah, this is the same guy that re-appraised my property value +$30,000 at one go. Thought my homestead exemption would bring my mortgage down a $100 or so. Ended up paying $50 more WITH the exemption. This guy is working for the real estate industry, not the people.

  4. Tax Man on February 24th, 2020 11:23 am

    This news will make’m squirm

  5. Not impressed on February 24th, 2020 10:56 am

    So their sample size of 1000, 1.2% is 120 accounts that were found to be in violation. What was the recovered amount from these 120 accounts? Just throwing out numbers but even at $5000 an account that’s $600,000 assuming all accounts were brought up to date without further expenses on enforcement, which is highly unlikely to ever be the case. After Assensure’s cut that leaves $472,000.

    I think Chris Jones could do better by keeping it in house, and should be held to that by the people footing the bill for it. What are we taking financial advice from Century now?.

  6. M on February 24th, 2020 10:09 am

    There are 36,411 properties over $100K in Escambia County with homestead exemption. That’s ~52% of the 70,708 homesteaded properties cited above.

  7. Mr. Metoo on February 24th, 2020 9:16 am

    Maybe Mr. Jones considered the time and effort that has to be dedicated to tracking down the tax slicksters with the workload and staffing costs. That’s why some companies hire outside vendors who specialize in certain jobs. Also if the other agencies including Century don’t sign off then no money gets collected. 72 percent gained is better than 0 percent. Just my opinion in support of Property Appraiser Chris Jones. He’s earned my vote again.

  8. Oversight on February 24th, 2020 7:03 am

    Why doesn’t the property appraiser continue to do this himself out of his office? This way the county receives all the revenue. 28% give away of $1 Million… You do the math. Another surprising move is Century’s willingness to give up revenue by signing on. But then again, there’s only a hand full of properties valued at over $100k.