Homestead exemption can save a homeowner money. But does fraud within the system fly under the radar?
"Homestead is not a right. It's a privilege," said Kathy Waterbury from the Mississippi State Tax Commission.
Each county is responsible for granting the exemptions but the applications are also examined by the State Tax Commission.
"Do you owe any back income taxes? That's a qualification. You can't owe any income taxes to the state of Mississippi or you don't have your car tagged in the appropriate county. So those are some things we can look at for the counties," said Waterbury.
Still, there's concern for cheating the system.
"I think it's millions of dollars missing in Mississippi's county and city and school revenue that comes from homestead fraud," explained Madison County Tax Assessor Gerald Barber.
Madison County has gone so far as to request utility records to prove fraud. Entergy refused to release the information and the case is now before the state Supreme Court. Meanwhile, tax assessor Gerald Barber says the credits and tax breaks often continue without warrant.
"It's increased during the recent recession and the housing crisis because a lot of people were not able to sell their house and decided to rent it but they didn't bother to tell the tax assessor they were renting their property," said Barber.
But there are multiple ways homeowners can commit the crime.
"Some people think it's an innocent thing. Well, my mother passed away, I'm going to rent her house. It's sometimes treated as passive, as if maybe if I get away with it, I'm going to do it," said Barber.
Yet applicants sign off that they are being forthcoming about their records. And investigations into the fraud can lead to felony prosecutions.
Madison County says they have already collected over a quarter of a million dollars this year from homestead exemption fraud cases.
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