Florida law makes it a third-degree felony to fail to return a hired vehicle. In other words, it is a theft crime - commonly associated and even charged as grand theft auto - to fail to return a rental car after the terms of your contract require that it be returned.
Florida Statutes section 817.52(3) describes the circumstances under which a person can be charged with failure to return a hired vehicle.
This crime can be viewed one of two ways. On one hand, it can be deemed a theft crime if you rent the property of another and then purposefully fail to return it. But what if you forget to return the car?
Many people visiting the South Florida area on business will rent cars for extended periods of time. Weeks, maybe even months. What if you simply forget to return it?
Since this crime is a theft crime, intent must be proven, right? However, the statute does say that if one "abandons" their responsibility to return the car, they can be charged.
The most important thing about these failure to return a hired vehicle cases is getting the car company their money back. Whether you rented from Hertz, Enterprise, Budget, or whoever, they just want their money. Restitution in these cases can be expensive because you must factor in the time the car was in the defendant's possession (per day) and the time when the car could no be rented to other customers. Restitution in these cases is often in the thousands.
Penalties for this crime can vary depending on the priors of the accused.