Failure to Return Leased Property
With the surge of rent-to-own stores where consumers can rent furniture, electronics, and appliances, there are more and more people today renting property from these types of businesses. But what if I told you that this debt to the leaseholder could land you with a misdemeanor or even a felony on your record if you are unable to pay and don’t return the property? Yes, this is sadly true. Florida law allows criminal prosecution for failure to return rented property at the end of the rental period or for defaulting on payments on rent to own items. To fully understand this statute, let’s look into it a little deeper.
Under Section 812.155(3) of the Florida Statutes, a charge for Failure to Return Leased Property occurs when a defendant knowingly refuses to return personal property at the end of the agreed lease period without the consent of the property owner and in violation of the rental or lease agreement.
A charge for Failure to Return Leased Property is not a certain conviction. In order to obtain a conviction in court for this charge, there are certain elements of proof that the prosecution is required to meet. First, the defendant must have hired, rented, or leased personal property or equipment. Second, the hiring, renting or leasing must have been pursuant to an agreement to return the property or equipment to the person or his or her agent or employee at the termination of the lease period for which it was leased, third, the defendant must have knowingly abandoned the property at the termination of the lease period and finally the defendant’s abandonment or refusal to return the property must occur without the consent of the property owner or his or her agent or employee. This burden of proof must be met in its entirety pursuant to Florida Standard Jury Instructions (Criminal) 14.10.
The level of the criminal penalty a defendant faces if convicted of Failure to Return Leased Property is dependent upon the value of the property that was allegedly not returned or abandoned. If the value of the property in question is $300 or less the offense will be classified as a second-degree misdemeanor which is punishable by 60 days in jail or six months probation and a fine of $500. However, if the value of the property in question is over $300 then the offense will be classified as a third-degree felony which is punishable by up to 5 years in prison or 5 years probation and a fine of $5,000.
Pursuant to 812.155(4)(b), if a defendant fails to return the subject property to the owner within five days of the owner’s written demand through certified mail for return of the property is evidence that the defendant either abandoned the property or knowingly refused to make a return. This language creates a permissive interference of a knowing refusal which may be disputed with contrary evidence.