Can You Go to Prison If You Don’t Return Your Rental Car on Time?

By Lowry Law Firm | Posted on June 26, 2015

If you’re like most people who rent vehicles, your biggest concern about returning a vehicle is avoiding late fees. But while the late fees charged by rental companies can be quite expensive, failing to return a rented vehicle on time can lead to much harsher consequences than just paying a fine. In Florida, there is a law against failure to redeliver a hired vehicle – and violating it is a third degree felony.

Understanding the Statute

Florida Statute 817.52 is called “Obtaining Vehicles with Intent to Defraud, Failure to Return Hired Vehicle, or Tampering with Mileage Device of Hired Vehicle.” It deals with lesser known forms of motor vehicle theft, as opposed to a typical case of someone breaking into a car and stealing it.

The statute defines failure to return a hired vehicle as the act of, after hiring a car or other motor vehicle under an agreement, intentionally abandoning or refusing to redeliver the car to its rightful owner once the period of rental is up. As mentioned above, violation of this is a third degree felony. Under Florida Statute 775.082, a third degree felony is punishable by up to five years in prison.

So what happens if you can’t return the car on the day your rental agreement ends because you had an emergency, or because you just got stuck in traffic and couldn’t get to the rental office on time? It’s unlikely the police are going to show up at your door immediately. But you could easily face criminal charges if you return the car late, and fail to pay the late fees.

Other Offenses Under 817.52

Statute 817.52 deals with three other types of offenses related to motor vehicles, in addition to failure to return a hired vehicle. These are:

  • Obtaining by Trick, False Representation, etc. (This is just what it sounds like – the act of obtaining custody of a motor vehicle by fraud, deceit, or false representation. This offense is regarded as a felony in the third degree.)
  • Hiring With Intent to Defraud. (This is when someone rents a vehicle with the intention of defrauding the person who’s renting it out. This is also a third-degree felony.)
  • Tampering with Mileage Device. (This is when someone rents a vehicle, and attempts to remove, tamper with, or otherwise interfere with its odometer – or any other device that registers distance. This offense is a second-degree misdemeanor.)
What to Do if You’ve Been Charged

There are defenses to all of the offenses described above. For example, even if you fail to return a rental vehicle on time, a possible defense is that you did not actually intend to violate the rental agreement. A skilled lawyer, such as Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney Mark S. Lowry, will be familiar with these defenses, and can provide you with the representation you deserve. You can schedule a consultation with Mr. Lowry today by calling or emailing his office.