Change in Ownership
With the passage of Proposition 13 in June 1978, the world of both property owners and California’s fifty-eight county assessors changed drastically. Prior to the passage of Proposition 13 county assessors had reviewed approximately one-quarter of the properties in their jurisdiction each year on a four-year cycle. The assessments of entire neighborhoods were adjusted, usually upward, based on recent sales within that area. Proposition 13 put an end to quadrennial reappraisals and mandated that properties be revalued only when there was a “change in ownership” or “new construction” which establishes a new base year value as of that date. Properties that have not changed ownership nor undergone new construction retain their old “base year value” with an annual adjustment for inflation not to exceed two percent.
Change in ownership means more than just buying a home; it includes gifts, exchanges, inheritances, foreclosures, leases of more than 35 years duration including options and any other method by which title to property changes hands. All documents, usually deeds, transferring ownership must be accompanied by a preliminary change of ownership report (PCOR) at time of recording. An unwary property owner can subject herself to reappraisal, and consequently higher property taxes, unknowingly and unnecessarily if a transaction which might otherwise be excluded from change in ownership is not done correctly. As county assessor I want people to understand the intricacies of the change in ownership rules so that they can avoid paying higher property taxes.
There are a number of exclusions from reappraisal upon change in ownership of which the major ones are interspousal, parent-to-child, certain transfers between individuals and legal entities (partnerships, corporations, etc.) and the purchase of a replacement dwelling by a person over 55 years of age. We will be discussing these exclusions in more detail in future columns.
Using the interspousal exclusion as an example: if a woman is engaged to be married and decides to put her fiancé on title to the home she already owns prior to the wedding as to an undivided one-half interest, that deed will trigger a fifty percent reappraisal of the property, even if no money changed hands, because at the time of the transfer they were unrelated parties. If she had waited until after the wedding, the transfer would be excluded as “interspousal.”
Partnership or Corporation
Putting property into a partnership or corporation for federal income or estate tax purposes may have unintended California property tax consequences if the parties are not aware of the intricacies of Proposition 13’s change in ownership provisions. Changes in certain joint tenancies, tenancies in common and trusts can sometimes also trigger reappraisal. If you have any questions about the potential property tax impacts of a title change, please contact your legal advisor or our office.