Every week, Mansion Global poses a tax question to real estate tax attorneys. Here is this week’s question.
Q: My home in Santa Rosa, in Northern California’s Sonoma County, was destroyed in the recent wildfires. Will my property tax be prorated or delayed?
Normally, “property taxes will not be reduced, nor will the payment due date change,” unless you apply for a reassessment, said Betty J. Williams, managing shareholder of Law Office of Williams & Associates in Sacramento, California.
But “here, because of the wildfire, entire swaths of residences were totally consumed,” and the Sonoma County assessor has dispensed with the formality of applications, said H. Michael Soroy, principal at Law Offices of H. Michael Soroy in Los Angeles.
Mass reductions will occur on all properties affected. “People do not have to file any forms. We have a lot of data” about which properties were affected, including photographs and satellite imagery from local and state agencies, Sonoma County Assessor William Rousseau told Mansion Global.
However, homeowners who feel they are in an area that is hard to access or see by air can file for a calamity reassessment, Mr. Rousseau continued. They have up to a year after the calamity date to do so, he said.
The “Application for Reassessment of Property Damaged by Misfortune or Calamity” is available on the Sonoma County Assessor’s web site. On the form you should add the following: “Please treat this claim as a Property Tax Deferral Claim pursuant to California Revenue and Taxation Code Section 194.1,” Mr. Soroy said.
People whose properties sustained more than $10,000 in structural damage will get a corrected tax bill, Mr. Rousseau said. “They do not have to pay the original bill. It’s being canceled by Erick Roeser, our tax collector, and he will reissue new bills,” Mr. Rousseau said. The tax is due 30 days from the date the revised bill is mailed.
“Be proactive” and provide the county with an address where you can receive the revised bill, Ms. Williams suggested.
Tax bills for properties that were totally destroyed will have the value of the property removed. But tax on the land value is still payable, Mr. Rousseau said. “I’ve heard people say, ‘I don’t have to pay taxes.’ That’s not true.” They have to pay taxes on the property that existed for one-fourth of the year, and land value for the other three-fourths, he said.
New bills will begin to go out in December. “We anticipate that we will get some corrected bills out by Dec. 11, but not all of them,” Mr. Roeser said. The Sonoma County tax collector noted that more than 5,000 tax bills are involved.
What about just paying your original property tax bill in full and receiving a refund when the revised bill is out? If you know you’re eligible for a calamity adjustment, the “more reasonable approach” is to wait for the corrected bill with revised due dates, Mr. Roeser advised. However, if you have any doubts about your eligibility, “go ahead and pay the full [original tax] bill.”
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