A house with an assessed value of $200,000, minus a $7,000 homeowners exemption, normally would pay about $2,400 a year in property taxes. But the amount of earthquake relief that owners can expect will vary widely depending on whether they purchased in recent years or longer ago.
For owners who filed a claim with the assessor, a house purchased in 1993 that suffered $30,000 in earthquake damage should get a $30,000 reduction in its assessed value, officials said. For the owner, that would mean a tax savings of about $375 a year until repairs are made.
But the same damage to a house bought in 1978 would yield only a $15,000 value reduction and a $187 annual tax savings. The county is using the sliding scale for tax relief because under Proposition 13 recent purchasers have higher assessed values and corresponding tax burdens.
The figures on damage and potential devaluations are only estimates for now based on an early sampling of earthquake relief filings. The assessor's office, with its new staff on board, is only now beginning to wade into processing the tens of thousands of tax relief requests.
The new workers are being divided among the assessor's Downtown Los Angeles, Van Nuys and Newhall offices, where they soon will begin telephoning owners who filed requests, seeking to verify damage information and sometimes obtain documentation.
The task is an unprecedented one in the county, officials said, surpassing tax changes made after the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, the Los Angeles riots and other disasters over the years. The assessor's office hopes to complete the bulk of the changes before tax bills are mailed this fall.
In other wrinkles, about 21,000 owners with earthquake damage who met a separate April 10 deadline to defer their spring tax payment will not have to pay until they get a revised assessment. Other owners who have sought relief, but must prepay taxes through impound accounts, can expect refunds this fall.
Then there is another level of tax relief. Under Proposition 8, passed by state voters in 1978, owners who believe their property is being assessed by the county at a higher amount than its market value can seek to reduce their assessed value and corresponding property tax burden.
Those decline-in-value petitions have accounted for most of the increase in filings to the county assessment appeals boards, which hit a record nearly 58,000 parcels in the current fiscal year, five times the historic average. That case backlog now is about 65,000 parcels.
Although they had no firm count, county officials said they expect many earthquake damage victims may also seek future decline-in-value reductions. This year, those and other appeals boards cases accounted for an estimated $11.6 billion in valuation declines countywide.