Real Estate

Message from the president: Fun facts on fire fees

By From page HS5 | September 20, 2013

I have learned about some interesting situations from clients who have received bills from the Franchise Tax Board. These bills are not actually levied on the property; they are levied on the individual who owns the property on July 1. The state uses the information obtained from the Assessor’s records. These bills, if unpaid, achieve the status of a “State Tax Lien.” You cannot hide from the Franchise Tax Board, so don’t even try.  (This is not a challenge).

Legislation states that the owner of record on July 1 is responsible for the bill. The assessment roll on which the bills are prepared contains the owner as of the lien date Jan. 1. That means the data in these bills is 20 months old. Some of the mailing addresses may have been corrected and others are being computer matched by outside entities to locate property owners who have not paid outstanding bills. Errors are made and it is up to humans to make corrections.

One error was brought to my attention by a friend who retired out of California after I sold her house five years ago. She received a bill for a property she never owned. Her former name matched the name of the current owner of this property (only in reverse) and the computer “determined” this was her bill to pay.

I have a new friend at the Assessor’s Office. El Dorado County Assessor Karl Wieland has been most helpful in finding solutions for these quirky issues and contacting key people to help with these billing problems. The Assessors Office, 530-621-5757, is the first point of contact, so call if you have issues.

Here is the rule: The person responsible for paying the fee for the 2011-12 fiscal year is the owner of record as of July 1, 2011, on the county Assessor rolls, or as recorded in the records of the California Department of Housing and Community Development. This is the case, regardless of whether the owner of record at that time is still the property owner now,  The July 1 date is used because that is the same date used for the issuance of property tax bills. If you no longer own the property, you will not be subject to this fee for that particular property in future years. If a property is transferred after July 1, the old owner is still responsible for the bill. This is not something that can be ignored because the property sold. The penalties are brutal.

Realtor Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do consider Cal Fire bills when representing the seller. The bills are in the name of the person who owned the property on July 1. Even though the issuance of the bill may be months away, making your client aware that they are responsible in the eyes of the state gets the issue on the table for discussion. If the bills go unpaid, they have the status of a “perfected state tax lien.”
  • Do inform your buyer about the general nature of the bills so they won’t be surprised when the bill show up.
  • Do remember that the county assessor or other departments can help research and resolve billing questions.


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