LA Assessor Explains New Law & Impact on LGBT Property Tax
By Jeffrey Prang LA County Assessor
No one should be at risk of losing their home because they are in a same-sex relationship. Despite good faith efforts, many registered domestic partners have not been treated equally under California’s property tax laws.
With the Governor’s signing of Assembly Bill 2663 on Sept. 29, 2018, bills passed by the State Legislature in 2005 and 2007 will include domestic partners registered on the local as well as state level. Domestic partners registered only on the local level had been left out of the previous expansion.
LGBT couples who had previously registered at the local level but not with the State beginning in 2000, and whose homes were unfairly re-assessed from 2000 to 2015, may soon file for a reversal of these re-assessments and receive prospective tax relief. The deadline to submit the “Claim for Reassessment Reversal for Local Registered Domestic Partners” to the County Assessor is June 30, 2022.
Domestic Partner Registries
In the earlier days of the struggle for marriage equality, progressive cities and counties were the only governmental bodies that recognized same-sex partnerships and created domestic partner registries. In 1985, West Hollywood enacted the first such registry, with San Francisco following suit in 1989. When the State eventually offered its own registry in 2000, it was unclear to many whether those couples who had already registered with local governments would be automatically recognized at the State level.
Consequently, many couples who had registered at the local level did not register again with the State. Similar questions had arisen when same-sex marriage first became legal statewide in 2008, and then again in 2013–particularly because some states had announced they would automatically convert domestic partnerships into marriages.
Property Tax Exclusion Extended
In 2005 and 2007, the State Legislature passed bills extending to domestic partners the property tax exclusion that had only applied to married couples; this exclusion allows a family home to be transferred between spouses without re-assessment. It is particularly important in the event of the death of a spouse, where the surviving spouse inherits the family home. Because assessed value is the sole determining factor of property taxes in California, re-assessment can result in significantly higher property taxes. And for an elderly individual living on a fixed income, this could mean the difference between keeping the home and being forced out.
Even well-meaning legislators were not always able to keep up with the confusions resulting from this unpredictable progress towards marriage equality. The 2005/2007 expansion of the interspousal exclusion only benefited same-sex couples registered at the state level beginning in 2000, overlooking those who had registered locally beginning as early as 1985 but had not re-registered with the State.
With the Governor’s signing of Assembly Bill 2663 on Sept. 29, this tax exclusion will also apply to those who had been left out of the previous expansion.
The challenge with something like the interspousal exclusion from property tax re-assessment is that it is an obscure element of a complex system of laws and regulations. An honest effort was made by the State Legislature to increase equality in the 2005/2007 policy changes, but it remains unfair that a benefit that is available to heterosexual couples regardless of whether they fully understand it, or even know of its existence, is not available to same-sex couples for exactly those same reasons. It is these types of double standards that we must seek to correct.
Although my role as County Assessor is predominantly administrative, it has provided me with insight into what needed to be corrected. My own experience showed how a couple could find themselves in this position only too easily, and I was inspired to rally support for new legislation. Thanks to the dedication of Assemblymember Laura Friedman, San Francisco Assessor Carmen Chu, and Equality California, the bill has now been enacted into law.
Again, the deadline to submit the “Claim for Reassessment Reversal for Local Registered Domestic Partners” to the Los Angeles County Assessor is June 30, 2022.
The inequalities of the past will never be fully erased. But by finding and remedying yet overlooked and unintended consequences of past discrimination, we will continue to move towards that truly fair and equal society for which we strive.
Source: Jeffrey Prang is the Assessor of Los Angeles County. This article appeared on Oct. 11 “National Coming Out Day.”