Avoiding Costly Penalties
Most property owners provide information requested by the assessor and pay their property taxes on time. California law sets forth penalties for those property owners who fail to meet these obligations in a timely manner. There are two reasons for imposing penalties: first to be fair to those property owners who do follow the rules and, second, to insure compliance with the laws governing the assessment and taxation of property. Because the job of the assessor is to enroll fair assessments, not to collect revenue, our staff makes every effort to insure that property owners are given the opportunity to meet their reporting and taxpaying obligations.
The most common penalty is for late payment of secured property taxes (after the end of the grace periods Dec. 10th and April 10th of each year). The initial penalty is 10% of the installment amount due. If the second installment is late, a $10.00 cost is added per state law. If the payment is still outstanding by the beginning of the next fiscal year (July 1), then a one and one-half percent per month penalty begins to accrue until paid. For unsecured taxes, which are mailed in July, the penalty is 10% if received after August 31 and one and one- half percent per month if still unpaid 60 days after that. Supplemental bills also have similar penalties but the dates can vary. Administration of these penalties is the responsibility of the Treasurer-Tax Collector.
The next most frequent penalty is related to filing Business Property Statements, Aircraft Owner Reports and Reports for Vessels over $100,000 in value mailed by the Assessor to property owners. These reports are used to gather the most current information about the property so that an accurate and fair assessment can be enrolled. The law authorizes the assessor to enroll an estimated assessment, including a penalty of ten per cent of the value, when the statement or report is not filed, is not signed correctly or is filed late. It always pays to file a statement, even if late, so that the assessor can apply the correct factor to all the equipment. The penalty is included in the value shown on the tax bill which also carries a notice that a penalty has been applied.
California law requires parties transferring property or handling the estate of a person who owned real property in Napa County to file a Preliminary Change of Ownership Report (PCOR) or a Change of Ownership Statement with the assessor. Failure to file the statement within 90 days results in a penalty of ten per cent of the taxes based on the reappraised value not less than $100. To help the transferee avoid imposition of the penalty, the assessor mails transferees an original statement. If that statement is not filed within 30 days, a second notice is sent certified mail
Finally, persons who own and occupy a principal residence are entitled to a homeowner exemption of $7,000 in value. This exemption works out to approximately $71 in reduced taxes each year. The homeowner claim form only needs to be filed once for a given property. The law requires persons entitled to the homeowner exemption or their heirs to notify the assessor if their eligibility terminates prior to December 10 of year following termination. Reasons for termination can be converting the residence to a rental or the death of the claimant(s). If the assessor learns after the fact that an exemption should have been terminated, a penalty of 25%, which is an additional $18 in taxes, is added when the exemption is cancelled and bills are issued for the repayment of the taxes that should have been collected.