New suspicions are swirling that freshman state Rep. Daisy Baez could face fraud charges both for living outside her district and for homestead exemption fraud for declaring multiple exemptions on properties she doesn’t actually live at, according to records.
The Miami Herald reported last week that Baez is currently not living inside her district, which already violates the Florida constitution, but with multiple homestead exemptions under her belt, lawyers are asking new questions over whether Baez is double-dipping into the state's tax break system and committing fraud elsewhere, too.
According to the Miami Dade Property Appraiser’s website, Baez is declaring a homestead exemption in House District 114, the area the Miami Democrat represents but has acknowledged she doesn’t actually live in.
Baez is also declaring a homestead exemption for one of her residences in HD 112 as well. State law says homeowners can only have one primary residence -- but in this case, Baez has two.
Homestead exemptions, which are essentially large tax breaks, are designed to protect homeowners by prohibiting increases more than three percent per year on the assessed value of homestead properties.
There are some caveats, though, and not every property is eligible for the tax break.
In order to receive a homestead exemption, state law requires Floridians actually live in the houses, be registered to vote at only that address and homeowners cannot rent out those property to anyone else while declaring the exemption, since renting is considered legal abandonment of a property.
Baez is also not registered to vote in HD 114, and a “For Rent” sign just popped up at her residence in HD 112 -- which some say also could violate Florida homestead exemption law.
“You either live in your homestead or you don’t,” State Chair of Republican National Lawyers Association Jesus Suarez told Sunshine State News Monday morning. “She is either lying to taxpayers and her voters saying she lives in her district when she doesn’t, or she is committing homestead fraud.”
Suarez says Baez’s shifty actions make her guilty of homestead exemption fraud, which is a first degree misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of one year in prison or a fine of $5,000.
“We all wonder [where she actually lives,] but the point is she’s either lied to the Division of Elections or she is lying to the Property Appraiser’s office,” Suarez said. “She has certainly lied to the citizens of the state of Florida who have paid her to go to Tallahassee and represent their interests when she is constitutionally unqualified for that office.”
Baez’s trouble began last week when the Miami Herald uncovered she had been living outside of her House district, violating Florida law.
Miami blogger Elaine de Valle reported that Baez seemingly acknowledged she sleeps outside her district in her Malaga Avenue house in HD 112, but Baez said she was on the hunt for a house inside HD 114 boundary lines -- nearly seven months after being elected to the Florida House of Representatives.
“Right now, I’m sleeping at that house, yes. But I think I don’t want to talk about the situation any more,” she told de Valle. “I’m trying to correct the situation. I made an offer on a property today.”
Florida requires lawmakers to live and vote in the districts they represent by Election Day.
Election records found Baez had done a last-minute voter registration change to a Coral Gables apartment in HD 114 boundaries Nov. 2, just six days before Election Day. Baez allegedly rents out that residence and does not live in the apartment building listed on records.
The allegations led to a domino effect for Baez, who was running as a Democrat for a newly-vacated Miami-Dade Senate seat. After the Herald story got out, Baez dropped out of the race, where Democrats had already largely paved the way for her to sweep the primary nomination.
Things have changed quickly for Baez. By Monday morning, protesters were standing outside her HD 112 residence, requesting she resign.
SSN contacted both the Miami Dade State Attorney’s Office and the Miami Property Appraiser’s office to determine whether an investigation would be launched into Baez’s possible homestead exemption fraud.
The State Attorney would neither confirm nor deny there was an investigation into Baez’s possible carpetbagging.
"Every single day of the week there are hardworking people in Dade County that make mistakes and are held to account by the State Attorney and Property Appraiser's office and have to respond to having broken the law," Suarez told SSN. "This person goes up to Tallahassee to represent our interests and is violating state law. How can we have trust in our legislators if they [are breaking the law] and aren't even even qualifying correctly?"
The Property Appraiser's office had not returned SSN's calls by the time of this article's publication.
SSN contacted Rep. Baez for comment but had not received a response at the time of this article’s release.