What You Should Know About Property Tax Caps in California

by Niz Brown 06/28/2020

Photo by Edar via Pixabay

Property taxes in California have been a much-debated issue in the state. Communities want to raise money for schools, community spaces, and infrastructure projects, but lawmakers also don't want to drive away homebuyers and investors, either. The state does have property tax caps to protect owners, but there's a little more to the story than that. 

The History of Proposition 13

Before June of 1978, the average tax rate in the state was slightly less than 3% of the market value of the property. If the assessed value of the home increased, there were no limits placed on the tax exacted from the owner. It explains why Prop 13 was passed by around 67% of California voters in an effort to curb the cost of property taxes.

How Prop 13 Works

Prop 13 froze property values at the 1976 assessment and set limits on future taxes. Assessment values were capped at 1% of the full cash value at the time of acquisition. All done, Prop 13 lowered the taxes of commercial, residential, and farmland property by about 57%. Prop 13 has helped protect owners of every variety for several decades now, especially considering the meteoric rise in real estate since the 1970s. 

What That Means for You

Property tax caps give you a way to set a realistic budget from year to year. If your home triples in value in a year, you won't have to worry about paying property taxes based on the increased amount. Similarly, if you decide to invest in your home to improve its market value, you won't have to worry about how that will affect your taxes either. However, the property tax paid can still vary widely depending on the block in which you purchase their home.

Variations in Local Government 

Property tax caps still allow for flexibility based on the financial priorities of local lawmakers. San Francisco charges a little more for property taxes, Orange County charges a little less. In 1982, Mello Roos laws were created in the state as a way to skirt around the property tax caps. These regulations essentially permit local officials to charge a separate tax for homeowners that functions much the same as a property tax does for the community. This controversial loophole is not observed by many communities though, so you may need to do some digging to find out if it applies to you.

Property taxes are a matter of public record, so you can research the average amount in a given area either online or through the county registrar. You can also talk to a real estate agent to learn more about the politics and regulations that affect your preferred neighborhoods.

About the Author

Niz Brown

Born in San Pedro, California, as a first generation Croatian, I graduated from California State University at Long Beach with a degree in Mathematics and Chemistry and then earned a teaching credential from San Francisco State University. In 1960 I married native San Franciscan Jim Brown. Jim, was a high school teacher before becoming the owner/chef of La Lanterna Restaurant in Kentfield from 1985-1992. He is now retired. I combined substitute teaching in Marin County with the rearing of our four children, all of whom are grown and have settled in Marin. I became intrigued with the world of homes when we acted as the general contractors in building our own home in Woodacre and another home in the San Geronimo Valley. I began to work the carpet business, and became licensed to sell real estate in 1976. I was an associate realtor with other companies before becoming an independent broker and opening my own office in downtown Larkspur in 1991.