Ryan McDonald

Los Angeles County property taxes still due, but owners can seek delays

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by Ryan McDonald

The April 10 deadline to submit property tax payments still holds for Los Angeles County land owners, but those struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic can apply for a waiver of late fees.

Officials from various branches of California’s complex property tax apparatus said Thursday that they measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 had negatively impacted not just businesses and workers, but the owners of the properties where they reside. Owners will be able to apply with the county Treasurer and Tax Collector’s office for a reprieve from the penalties that typically attach to late property tax payments, but officials urged those who are able to pay to do so, noting that property taxes provide the largest source of funds for local governments attempting to contain the crisis.

“The message that the county has been releasing is, If you can pay, we urge you to pay,” Los Angeles County Assessor Jeffrey Prang said in a video conference call. Prang noted that property tax dollars are especially important given that sales taxes, the other primary source of revenue for local governments, had plummeted because of widespread business closures mandated by public health authorities.

 “We need those resources to pay for the public health professionals, the hospitals that are in such urgent need right now,” Prang said.

Officials recognized that the economic slow-down from shuttered business was impacting property owners, including many landlords who may have tenants unable to pay rent. Elizabeth Ginsberg, operations chief of the treasurer-tax collector’s office, urged property owners to make even partial payments if they were able. But she said that property owners, if unable to make the payment, could apply on the agency’s website starting April 11 to request the cancellation of the penalty that usually attaches to late payment of taxes, which can be upwards of five percent of the amount owed.

“We will review each case for individual circumstances,” Ginsberg said. She said that, when applying, property owners should indicate how the coronavirus pandemic had prevented them from being able to make payments. 

For some, the inability to pay may come from a loss of rental income from tenants who have been impacted by the measures designed to slow the peak in COVD-19 cases. State and local governments, including those in the South Bay, have passed a variety of temporary relief provisions for renters, including a moratorium on evictions for those suffering loss of income as a result of the crisis. Many property owners, however, have complained that they were still on the hook for a variety of expenses.

“There’s this assumption that just because you’re a landlord you’re in a better financial health situation,” Laura Peña, a landlord in Hermosa Beach, said when Hemrosa passed an emergency eviction moratorium on March 24. 

The actual burden property owners face varies considerably. Cities including Hermosa have passed ordinances prohibiting foreclosures during the state of emergency created by the pandemic, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has negotiated a 90-day forbearance on mortgage payments with almost all lenders for borrowers who can show they have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. (The exception is Bank of America, which has committed to only 30 days, but says it may work to extend the forbearance up to 90 days on a case-by-case basis.) Additionally, “triple net” lease arrangements — in which the tenant is responsible for property taxes, along with maintenance and insurance, as well as rent and utilities — are widespread in commercial property. 

State Sen. Ben Allen, a Democrat who represents the South Bay, said that renter protection provisions are necessary during the crisis. But he urged those tenants whose jobs had been unaffected by the virus to continue paying rent as normal. Small landlords, he said, often have no other source of revenue. 

“I recognize there are a lot of mom-and-pop landlords who really do rely on that income to stay in business,” Allen said.

Ginsberg, of the county tax collector’s office, said there was no need at this time for landlords facing a loss of rent to collect documentation from tenants. Her office would be reviewing the requests for waiver of the late fee, and would probably not be in touch with applicants for at least 45 days because the coronavirus has limited operations. 

Prang said his office had been flooded with inquiries from property owners asking about the looming deadline. But, underlining the complexity of the state’s tax scheme, the decision of a delay is not up to his office, which is responsible for determining the value of parcels for tax purposes. Under state law, the due date for property taxes may only be extended if a county’s board of supervisors votes to shut down the county government. Three counties in California — Kern, San Francisco and San Mateo — have done so, and thus have been able to delay the due date for property tax payments. In Los Angeles and the state’s other 54 counties, the taxes  remain due on April 10.

Tony Vasquez is a board member representing Los Angeles County on the State Board of Equalization, which oversees assessors’ offices. He said that the the pandemic had exposed nuances of the state’s tax system that even elected officials like himself hadn’t realized, and that might need to be “cleaned up” in the future.

“There are certain things here at the BOE that we thought we had authority on, but that have to go to the governor or to the legislature,” he said.

Those wishing to apply for a cancellation of the penalty attached to late payment of property taxes should go to: ttc.lacounty.gov

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