Can I Face Criminal Sanctions for Failing to Return a Rental Car on Time?

March 27, 2022 Criminal Defense

Renting a car while in Florida may seem like an easy task but failing to abide by the rules and procedures under Florida law can land you in some serious trouble. This blog will discuss exactly what legal repercussions a defendant who fails to return a rental car, or any rented leased or rented property, will face, as well as what the prosecution must prove to obtain a conviction.

Relevant Law

Under Section 812.155 of the Florida Statutes:

Whoever, after hiring or leasing personal property or equipment under an agreement to return the personal property to the person letting the personal property or equipment or his or her agent at the termination of the period for which it was let, shall, without the consent of the person or persons knowingly abandon or refuse to return the personal property or equipment as agreed, commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.

A second-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to 60 days in jail, six months of probation, and a $500 fine. However, if the value of the personal property or equipment that has not been returned has a value of $300 or more, the person commits a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and 5 years of probation. Therefore, the punishment you potentially face is entirely dependent on the value of the rented or leased property you still have in your possession.

Broken down, in order to obtain a conviction, the prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant hired, rented, or leased the personal property or equipment
  • There was an agreement for the hiring, renting, or leasing of the personal property or equipment that stated when it should be returned
  • The defendant knowingly abandoned or refused to return the personal property or equipment as agreed upon
  • The defendant’s abandonment or refusal to return the personal property or equipment was not consented to by the property owner.

Demanding Return of Property

So, how much time must elapse for the personal property or equipment to be considered abandoned or not returned? Under Section 812.155, only five days. Specifically

Failure to redeliver the property or equipment within 5 days after receiving the demand for return from a courier service with tracking capability or by certified mail, return receipt requested, or within 5 days after delivery by the courier service or return receipt from the certified mailing of the demand for return, is prima facie evidence of abandonment or refusal to redeliver the property or equipment. Notice mailed by certified mail, return receipt requested, or delivery by courier with tracking capability to the address given by the renter at the time of rental is sufficient and equivalent to notice having been received by the renter, should the notice be returned undelivered.

Further, failure to pay any amount due which is incurred as the result of the failure to redeliver property or equipment after the rental period expires, and after the demand for return is made, is prima facie evidence of abandonment or refusal to redeliver the property or equipment. Amounts due may include unpaid rental fees for the time period during which the property or equipment was not returned and include the lesser of the cost of repairing or replacing the property or equipment if it has been damaged. Demand for return of overdue property or equipment and for payment of amounts due may be made by the owner of such property or equipment in person, by hand delivery, by certified mail, return receipt requested, or by courier service with tracking capability, addressed to the lessee’s address shown in the rental contract.

Notice Prerequisite

In order for a defendant to be prosecuted under Section 812.155, the owner or person lawfully possessing the rented property or equipment must have included the following notice in their agreement, or in the addendum to that agreement, and the statement must have been initialed by the person renting the property or equipment:

Failure to return rental property or equipment upon expiration of the rental period and failure to pay all amounts due (including costs for damage to the property or equipment) are evidence of abandonment or refusal to redeliver the property, punishable in accordance with section 812.155, Florida Statutes.

Possible Defenses

The possible defenses that may be explored when a defendant is charged with failing to return or redeliver hired, leased, or rented property include, but are not limited to:

  • The property or equipment owner consented, either impliedly or expressly, to the defendant’s failure to return it
  • The property or equipment owner failed to include the required notice in the agreement or addendum to the agreement
  • The property in question was lost or stolen
  • The terms in the agreement were ambiguous or conflicting
  • The property was taken by a third party without the defendant’s consent

Interesting Case

Charles Doucette, a pharmacy and healthcare consultant from New Hampshire, was arrested in February on a cruise ship in a Florida port. Hertz, a rental car company with locations around the world, filed a false police report that Doucette had stolen a car. Doucette was being held without Bond in Brevard County jail and faces a felony charge – an experience he says is the most horrific of his life. Doucette says he’s a frequent Hertz customer, has spent more than $15,000 with the rental giant from 2020-2021, and is an elite President’s Circle Member. He stated that when he rented the car in question for business in 2020, he correctly extended the rental more than once. However, he then had a run-in with Arizona police who informed him the car had been reported stolen, so they towed the car, and he was charged in full for the amount of the rental on his credit card, which he paid.

But this case isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, there are hundreds of incidents that include Hertz customers being wrongfully stopped and sometimes even arrested for driving Hertz cars that the company falsely reported as stolen. In 2021, more than 180 Hertz customers sued the company in bankruptcy court, seeking damages of just under 529.7 million.  The problem has continued over many years and is so widespread that last month, a federal judge in Delaware ordered Hertz to unseal data “showing the depth and breadth of its policy of reported rented vehicles stolen and shows the number of police reports filed and the number of those reports found to be inaccurate.”

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been accused of failing to return leased or rented property, contact an experienced Tallahassee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to ensure that all defenses are properly explored in your favor. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience and will fight zealously for your freedom. Contact us today at (850) 681 – 7777 or send an online message today to discuss your legal matter during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

Written by Sarah Kamide

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