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Ting to San Francisco Homeowners: Ask Me for a Tax Break

San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting
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San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting
Assessor, who is running for mayor, has been criticized for raising assessments and delaying refunds

San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting has come under fire for his office’s handling of property tax refunds and for raising assessments in 2009, when housing values in the area as a whole actually declined.

Due to provisions of Proposition 13, property tax assessments can be increased only 2 percent each year, or by the rate of inflation, whichever is less. But a less-famous provision, Proposition 8, says that in instances of a decrease in property values, properties are supposed to be assessed at a lower rate and, as a result, get a lower tax bill.

On Wednesday, Ting, who is running for mayor, held an event at City Hall to announce he is encouraging all residential property owners in the city to apply to his office for a decreased tax bill. Last week, Ting encouraged San Franciscans to revolt against the city's high parking-ticket levies.

To win a decrease, a homeowner must generally show that the market value of his or her property has dipped below what Ting’s office says it is worth. This can be done by providing examples of sales of comparable nearby properties. 

Property owners have until March 31 to file the necessary paperwork, which is available at sfassessor.org. The form can be completed online and e-mailed directly to to InformalReviewRP@sfgov.org.

Ting’s office granted a record 17,800 temporary residential property tax reductions last year. The neighborhoods with the greatest volume of reductions were downtown, the Tenderloin, Russian Hill and the area around the Civic Center. 

About 10,000 of those 17,800 reductions were initiated by Ting's office, as his staff reviewed properties bought in the boom years and acknowledged proactively that values had decreased.

Nearly 4,200 residents who did not receive proactively reduced bills petitioned Ting's office for a reduction last year. Of those, about 40 percent were successful in getting their bills reduced. 

In an interview Wednesday, Ting said that he thinks the percentage of reductions that will be approved by his office in the coming year will decrease, despite his call for mass applications for reductions. He says that so many of the properties bought since 2003 have been reduced that the universe of eligible properties has shrunk considerably. 

"I feel like the people who are eligible for a reduction" have already received one, Ting said. 

Last year’s reductions diminished assessed property values in the city by $1.9 billion. That meant that taxpayers paid $21 million less to the city coffers. 

The average reduction was about $1,200.

Those who apply for reductions for the coming tax year will find out if their bid was successful when Ting’s office mails out tax bills in July. Those dissatisfied with the result can appeal to city’s Assessment Appeals Board between July 5 and Sept. 15. 

That leads to a hearing, at which the assessor’s office and the taxpayer face off in front of a mediator or the review board. It can take up to two years to get a hearing, and Ting’s office has been criticized (most notably by Bay Citizen columnist Scott James) for taking nearly a year to issue refunds if the appeals board rules in the taxpayer’s favor.

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