Theft of Rental or Leased Property

Law enforcement agencies throughout the Tampa Bay area have special procedures for the reporting and investigation of theft cases involving rental or leased property.

Most of these cases really shouldn’t be criminally prosecuted at all because they are matters for civil court. Nevertheless, officers in these law enforcement agencies bend over backward to help these companies bring criminal prosecutions for any of the following offenses:

  • Hiring, Leasing, or Obtaining Personal Property with Intent to Defraud under Florida Statute § 812.014, § 812.155(1), and § 812.022(1); and
  • Failure to Redeliver Hired Vehicles under Florida Statute § 817.52(3);
  • Vehicles Stolen from Inventory under Florida Statute § 812.014;

Many of our clients call us after being told by the rental company that a warrant has been issued for their arrest. In some cases, we can convince the state attorney’s office to have the warrant withdrawn so that an arrest can be avoided.

In other cases, the state attorney’s office will initially go forward with the prosecution as long as their procedures were followed, but they might decide later to drop the charges after discovery is completed or a motion to dismiss is filed.

Proving these cases are trial is often difficult for the prosecutors. As a result, the criminal defense attorney’s goal is often getting the case dismised on the merits before trial or winning a “not guilty” verdict at trial. Important defenses exist in these cases that might lead to the dismissal of charges when:

  • the lessee didn’t fail to redeliver the vehicle by the listed date and time in the contract;
  • the contract doesn’t list a specific date or time for redelivery;
  • the rental agent orally agreed to extend the contract beyond the written expiration date;
  • the lessor gives the lessee permission to keep the vehicle beyond the return time;
  • the lessor and lessee materially altered the contract through other oral or written agreements to change the date or time by which the vehicle was to have been returned;
  • the complainant can’t positively identify the suspect or doesn’t have documentation of the suspect’s name, DOB, height, weight, driver’s license or other official identification bearing identification number, home address and telephone number, and business address and telephone number; or
  • the vehicle rental agency didn’t make a photocopy of the driver’s license or other official photograph bearing identification of the person who is renting a vehicle.

Additional defenses exist if the defendant did not willfully refuse to return the vehicle. Often, the failure to return the vehicle occurred because of something outside of the defendant’s control.

It is also a defense if the complainant did not either make personal contact and demanded the return of the vehicle or sent a certified letter that was refused or ignored.

Sometimes the complainant reports that he has rented a vehicle as a favor for a friend and has voluntarily given the car and keys and possibly the rental contract to the friend. If the friend has then failed to return the vehicle to the rental company, then the case is not normally classified as a “Fail to Redeliver.”

Instead, if the friend doesn’t return the vehicle after a written request, then the law enforcement officers will initiate a criminal investigation for grand theft auto.

Attorney for the Theft of Rental or Leased Property in Tampa, FL

If you are accused of a crime related to the theft of rental or leased property or the failure to return leased property, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at the Sammis Law Firm.

With offices in downtown Tampa and New Port Richey, FL, we represent clients throughout the greater Tampa Bay area. Each local law enforcement agency has its own procedures for dealing with the theft of rental or leased property.

The proper jurisdiction for prosecution requires determining where the lessee originally took possession of the rental vehicle or property, not where the contract was signed or payment made.

We fight these cases throughout the courthouses in Tampa and Plant City in Hillsborough County, New Port Richey and Dade City in Pasco County, St. Petersburg and Clearwater in Pinellas County, and Bartow and Winter Haven in Polk County, FL.

Contact us to find out how to fight an accusation that to steal rental or leased property from a company, including the failure to return a rental car.

Important defenses exist in these cases when you didn’t actually steal the property, you intended to return the property but were unable to do so because of circumstances outside of your control, or the company gave you permission to keep the property longer than was explained in the contract.

Call (813) 250-0500.

Investigations by the TPD Delayed Crimes Investigations Unit

At least in the City of Tampa, all of these investigations are funnelled to the Delayed Crimes Investigations Unit to originate any criminal incident reports arising from apparent violations of the following statutes:

  • Failing to Redeliver Hired or Leased Property or Equipment under F.S. §812.155(3) covers the leasing or renting of property using a true name and address, and subsequently failing to return the property.  This statute is very similar to the statute making a third degree felony to fail to return a rented vehicle.
  • Failure to Return Hired Vehicle under F.S. §817.52(3) makes it a felony of the third degree to rent a vehicle with the intent to defraud, abandon it, defy a demand for it, or fail to return it.  There are certain elements and circumstances, which must be present for the prosecution of a violation of this statute;
  • Hiring, Leasing, or Obtaining Personal Property or Equipment With Intent to Defraud under F.S. §812.155(1) and (2) makes it a crime to obtain property by trick or to rent or lease property and intentionally provide false information about name, address, or other material information (F.S. §812.022[1]);
  • Obtaining Vehicles with Intent to Defraud F.S. §817.52(1) covers the renting or leasing of a vehicle by one who willfully supplies the owner with a false name, false address, or other false material information.  The supplying party shall be guilty of a felony of the third degree.

In order to prevent any appearance that a law enforcement agency is exercising influence over a civil matter, the lessor will be required to comply with certain requirements. Additionally, the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office will often refuse to prosecute these cases when the lessor doesn’t obtain the required information or performs certain acts to assist in proving each element of the offense.

Depending on the facts of the case, those requirements for prosecution might include:

  • signing a False Report and Promise to Prosecute Affidavit;
  • agreeing that once an investigation is initiated or a warrant issued, the prosecution will go forward without regard to financial agreements between the complainant and the defendant;
  • filing a “Statement of Complaint for Failure to Return Hired Vehicle” which structures the information provided by the complainant and helps ensure that all information needed for successful investigation and prosecution is provided;
  • filing a “Statement of Complaint for Vehicle Stolen From Inventory” completed by the complaining witness making a report of someone stealing a vehicle from a new or used vehicle dealer’s sales or storage facility, a vehicle auction, or other business which owns a large number of vehicles when the stolen vehicle was being held as part of the business’s inventory of vehicles available for sale or rent;
  • a copy of the contract, which contains an agreement to redeliver the vehicle at a specific date and time; and
  • a copy of the certified letter, and a copy of the envelope depicting the result of the attempt by the post office to deliver the certified letter.

Special Problems with Vehicles Discovered to be Missing During an Inventory

When a vehicle is discovered to be missing during an inventory present a special problem.  These vehicles are often simply misplaced.  Therefore, any complainant who maintains an extensive inventory of vehicles will be required to take certain actions before the Tampa Police Department will originate a report and investigation.  The law enforcement agency might require the following conditions to be met before treating the case as a auto theft:

  • complete the “Statement of Complaint” swaring that the complainant has:
    • Conducted inventories of any additional storage properties, subsidiaries, branches, etc.;
    • Polled all employees who would use or remove vehicles from inventories; c. Reviewed all records and/or sales or rental transactions which would usually track vehicles in inventory; and
    • Checked any garage, detail shop, or other place usually used for maintenance of their inventory;
  • provide ownership papers demonstrating who owns the vehicle.

This article was last updated on Friday, October 7, 2022.