June 13, 2018 at 1:39 pm PST | by Jeffrey Prang
Equality in property taxation

Jeffrey Prang is the LA County assessor. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Editor’s note: Often LGBT voters ignore non-partisan offices such as LA County Assessor. But as this op-ed underscores, having an astute, out officeholder can correct past injustices and advance equality. Shockingly, despite his years of experience and modernizing the Assessor’s office, Prang did not automatically win 50+1% because a rival candidate brazenly changed his name to John “Lower Taxes” Loew for the ballot to seduce GOP voters.)

Since the first domestic partnership legislation was adopted in 1999 and until marriage equality was finally legalized in 2015, same-sex couples were compelled to rely upon a confusing variety of alternatives to add legal status to their relationships. Some cities, such as West Hollywood, adopted a local domestic partnership registry. Later, Los Angeles County and then the State of California created legal domestic partnership registration. Many same-sex couples were often registered with a variety of agencies; for example, my husband Ray and I were registered in West Hollywood, the County of Los Angeles, and the State of California at one point, simultaneously.

Following the legalization of marriage equality, same-sex couples in California were then required to be married, as opposed to just domestic partners, to enjoy many of the benefits and responsibilities afforded married couples.

One important benefit of marriage is the right to transfer properties between spouses without a reassessment, which would otherwise result in an increase in property taxes. However, since 2015, some domestic partner couples that enjoyed a lower tax base for many years suddenly discovered that their property taxes increase dramatically when they made changes in the ownership of their joint property. Married couples are exempt from reassessment and property tax increases resulting from a change in ownership.

Regrettably, not all same-sex couples got the news of the “marriage only” requirement as it relates to property assessment. Couples that made a good faith effort to register their relationships with the state or local jurisdictions, but didn’t get married, never got the message and many were hit with huge tax increases when they transferred or changed ownership to their property.

Assembly Bill 2663 (Friedman) is proposed legislation that will address this inequity and treat domestic partners, who registered during this transitionary period, as though they were married couples as it relates to a change in ownership for property tax purposes.

This bill came about as the result the case of Kim Dingle and Aude Charles, longtime domestic partners, who brought this issue to my attention. I then solicited the support of Assembly member Laura Friedman, who drafted the legislation, co-sponsored by me and San Francisco County Assessor Carmen Chu. AB 2663 is an effort to recognize the chaotic legal relationship structure that existed from the time of the first domestic partnership legislation in the 1990s and marriage equality, and to provide what is in essence a form of amnesty to those who overlooked the new requirement of marriage in order to take advantage of the inter-spousal property tax exemption.

The need for this legislation was made clear from the example of Kim and Aude’s case. They have been in a long-term relationship and were registered with the State as domestic partners. The home they shared was originally purchased by one of the partners and owned in her name for many years. When they decided to put the home into a trust for estate planning purposes, the names of both partners were included in the trust. This triggered a “change in ownership” reassessment and resulted in a dramatic property tax increase.

However, it is my belief that same-sex couples who made a good-faith effort to legalize their relationships through domestic partnerships should not be penalized for not being up to date on the array of local and state laws that changed frequently between 1999 and 2015. This bill extends the period of time for couples, who were registered as domestic partners through the state or local agency between 2000 and 2015, to take advantage of the exemption from property tax re-assessments.

While there likely will not be a huge number of couples benefitting from this legislation, for those who had their property reassessed resulting from the confusion it may mean the difference between keeping or losing their homes.

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