Voters can halt property tax ‘moving penalty’

A view of San Francisco's iconic row houses. (Photo: Natasha Kramskaya)

California has long been a state that has made a priority of protecting seniors, people with disabilities and victims of natural disasters. Regardless of the challenge, Californians always rise up to support one another.

The latest example of this is the signature-gathering process for a measure that, when enacted, will protect people aged 55 and older, the disabled and victims of natural disasters from facing a “moving penalty” or property tax spike should they need to relocate.

The Property Tax Fairness Initiative would eliminate the moving penalty by allowing seniors, the disabled, and disaster victims to take their existing property tax

Supporters of the Property Tax Fairness Initiative have submitted nearly one million voter signatures to county election offices across California and to the Secretary of State’s office to qualify for the Nov. 6 General Election ballot. That number ensures the measure will have the requisite 565,000 valid signatures needed for qualification, and demonstrates strong support for a measure to fix a major problem that we cannot afford to ignore.

Here’s the problem.

Many seniors live in homes that no longer fit their needs because their homes are now too big or too far away from their families. If they want to downsize or move closer to their children, they could face property tax increases of 100%, 200%, or even 300%.

Similarly, severely disabled people may live in homes that are no longer safe or practical for them. Buying a more suitable home is often impossible because they face significant property tax increases when they move, even if they move to a less expensive home.

Finally, disaster victims like those affected by the massive northern California wildfires and Santa Barbara mudslides have arbitrary and limited protections. Disaster victims, too, face a moving penalty if they choose to move outside of their disaster-torn county.

That’s where the Property Tax Fairness Initiative comes in. It would eliminate the moving penalty by allowing seniors, the disabled, and disaster victims to take their existing property tax assessment with them when they move.The measure was carefully written to include safeguards to ensure that homeowners pay their fair share of property taxes.

Passing this measure reforms a confusing and inconsistent approach to property taxation that varies from county to county.

Today, senior homeowners can keep their existing tax base when they move, but only one time and only when moving to a home of equal or lower price within their current county of residence, or in 11 counties that allow an exemption. Moving to a high cost part of California is nearly impossible, regardless of circumstance.

The initiative fixes these issues, allowing these homeowners to move anywhere in California. It also adjusts their property taxes up if their new home is more expensive and allows people to move more than once, as circumstances may require.

In short, it is the right thing to do for people who are already paying their fair share in property taxes. They shouldn’t be penalized due to their life circumstances. That’s not right. Not in California.

Passing the Property Tax Fairness Initiative will provide other important benefits. More single family homes will go on the market, easing the current shortage while revitalizing neighborhoods and school districts as young families move in. The change also will generate other economic activity including investments on renovations, household furnishings and other associated costs.

California has a long-standing tradition of supporting tax reform that is rooted in fairness and justice.  Given the moving penalty and how it hurts so many Californians, it’s time, once again, for voters to stand up for California and fix a system that prevents seniors and others from having the freedom to move as they see fit.

We are excited for the opportunity to bring the Property Tax Fairness Initiative forward and to work with a broad, diverse, bipartisan coalition of seniors, advocates for the disabled and victims of natural disaster to earn voter approval this November.

Ed’s Note: Steve White is the president of the 190,000-member California Association of Realtors.


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