By Marwan Saqr  |  Manager - Real Estate  |  Los Angeles, CA

This is the question that should be on the mind of California commercial property owners as they struggle to hold on to their properties while vacancies, expenses, and rent losses mount due to the Coronavirus Pandemic and its effect on the local, national and international economies. The need for immediate assistance from State and Local counties is urgent and will be crucial to the survival of a large segment of commercial property owners.

The State of California and its counties can help commercial property owners NOW by alleviating some of the current financial pressures they are facing this year from certain expected and quantifiable losses. This can be achieved simply by adapting and using an already available and effective relief system that addresses current market conditions and provides fast relief under Section 170 of the Revenue & Taxation Code. Namely the application for “Reassessment of Property Damaged or Destroyed by Misfortune or Calamity”.

Definition of calamity

1a disastrous event marked by great loss and lasting distress and suffering calamities of nature and economic calamity
2a state of deep distress or misery caused by major misfortune or loss

The application applies directly to the current situation. The California Revenue & Taxation Code Section 170 provides “Disaster Relief” for properties damaged or destroyed by a misfortune or a calamity, and reads as follows:

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170. (a) Notwithstanding any other law, the board of supervisors, by ordinance, may provide that every assessee of any taxable property, or any person liable for the taxes thereon, whose property was damaged or destroyed without his or her fault, may apply for reassessment of that property as provided in this section. The ordinance may also specify that the assessor may initiate the reassessment where the assessor determines that within the preceding 12 months taxable property located in the county was damaged or destroyed. To be eligible for reassessment the damage or destruction to the property shall have been caused by any of the following:

(1) A major misfortune or calamity, in an area or region subsequently proclaimed by the Governor to be in a state of disaster, if that property was damaged or destroyed by the major misfortune or calamity that caused the Governor to proclaim the area or region to be in a state of disaster. As used in this paragraph, “damage" includes a diminution in the value of property as a result of restricted access to the property where that restricted access was caused by the major misfortune or calamity.

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Also, Property Tax Annotation 360.030 states:

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Misfortune or Calamity. For purposes of applying Revenue and Taxation Code section 51(c), which provides for disaster relief pursuant to Revenue and Taxation Code section 170, "misfortune or calamity" requires a sudden, distinct occurrence of damage or destruction. Similarly, damage or destruction resulting from a "misfortune or calamity" within the meaning of Revenue and Taxation Code section 70(c) requires causation from a sudden event. C 4/24/2000.

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By any definition, the sudden halt of the economy due to the rapid spread of the virus, the Governor’s Emergency Declaration, and the “Shelter in Place/Stay at Home” orders would surely be considered a misfortune AND a calamity, a causation from a sudden event, that caused unforeseen “Economic Damage" to almost every commercial property in California due to the restricted access to their properties, at no fault of the property owner. The current state of affairs hits all the requirements of the provisions laid out in Section 170.

It is however unclear whether Economic Damage is a valid definition of “Damage” under the provisions of Section 170 even though a commercial property shut-down by the Governor’s order renders it useless just as in the case of an earthquake, flood or a fire.

Most California Assessors’ requirements to file a calamity application are as follows. One important thing to note is that there are no requirement that the damage be specifically physical in nature:

  1. Ownership as of January 1st
  2. Damage at no fault of the owner
  3. In a disaster declared area
  4. At least $10,000 in damage
  5. Application must be filed within 12 months of the misfortune or calamity

We are urging the California State Legislators to provide immediate financial aid to local commercial property owners by adopting such legislation allowing counties to use the “Calamity” application, and property owners to seek relief for the 2020 tax year due to the hardships faced by the Coronavirus market downturn.

The need for relief is urgent, waiting a year or more for a resolution of a 2021 tax year “Decline in Value” (Prop. 8) appeal may prove to be too late. Immediate relief can be provided, now, by simply using available means and resources.

At Invoke Tax Partners, our commitment is to provide our clients with the lowest tax obligation possible by advocating on their behalf to urge the applicable taxing jurisdictions to provide relief when it is most needed. For more information contact me directly at 951.260.0957 or marwan.saqr@invoke.tax.