Property Tax Resources


Why Assisted Living Is The New Property Tax Frontier

"Like hotels, these facilities feature non-taxable intangibles."

Assisted living is moving to the forefront of the ongoing debate over the role of intangible assets in property taxation. Over the past 10 or more years, property tax professionals and the courts have focused discussions of intangible assets on hotel and resort properties, which tend to rely on brands, assembled workforces and other intangible assets in their operations.

Intangibles are exempt from property taxation in most states, so hospitality property owners have fought to exclude the value of those intangibles from their property assessments.

The courts have resolved the question of whether the value of intangibles can be included in the value of hospitality properties, establishing case law through key decisions such as those by California's Supreme Court and Court of Appeal in Elk Hills Power vs. Board of Equalization and SHC Half Moon Bay v. County of San Mateo.

In those cases, the courts have explained that assessors must remove the value of non-taxable intangible assets and rights from a property's value so that only real property is assessed for property tax purposes.

Owners should take page from hotel playbook

Now tax industry professionals are asking whether the principles used to exclude intangibles from hospitality property assessments can also apply to assisted living properties. The answer to that question might have been "no" just 15 years ago, prior to the explosion in the number and sophistication of assisted living communities. At that time, it would have been impossible to argue that there were significant intangible assets and rights involved in the operation of most assisted living facilities.

But assisted living operations have become more sophisticated in recent years, incorporating more valuable and more numerous intangibles. That trend has created opportunities to reduce property taxes in the same way that hospitality operators limit tax exposure for their properties.

Today's assisted living facility is much more than a building with a license to provide convalescent care. Top-rated facilities employ staffs with a variety of expertise in caring for the aged, including highly specialized skills to care for residents suffering from memory loss due to dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

Staff-to-resident ratios can be as high as 2-to-1. And the personal care for residents occurs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so the number of employees needed to operate an assisted living facility has greatly increased.

In addition, high-end assisted living facilities offer more services to their residents today than properties typically provided in the 1990s, making them increasingly similar to hospitality businesses. Nowadays, residents have full food and beverage services, often with a choice of several meal plans.

Assisted living facilities also offer hairdressing and barber services, laundry, housekeeping, transportation and, in some cases, staff-coordinated activities. The operator provides all of the services mentioned above in addition to any medical supervision, physical therapy or other healthcare offerings.

Nearly all of the recent improvements in assisted living reflect the increased number of intangible assets and rights that assisted living facilities must use in order to deliver the services that their residents require — and the residents' families demand.

Much like a high-end hotel or resort, the many services that upscale assisted living facilities provide to residents bear little relation to the building and location where the service delivery occurs. Rather, the trained workforce provides those services.

Generally speaking, only the building and land are subject to property taxation. Consequently, value created by the workforce and the services it provides is a non-taxable intangible asset, which must be excluded for property tax purposes.

To identify assisted living intangibles, first consider that the facility is an income-producing property. The income produced there derives from more than the rental of space. In fact, rent for residents' living space accounts for as little as one-quarter or one-third of the revenue an assisted living facility generates.

The balance of the income that assisted living facilities receive is payment for services that the workforce provides. In addition, some assisted living properties likely benefit from brand recognition or have accumulated business goodwill.

Three ways to remove intangibles from equation

Property tax practitioners have three primary ways of removing identifiable, non-taxable intangible assets and rights from the value of an assisted living enterprise.

1. Determine the cost of the land and buildings that the facility uses. This method directly values the "sticks and bricks" at the facility, and works well if the facility is fairly new so that there has been little physical deterioration. Some taxing authorities recommend this method, as does a textbook on the appraisal of assisted living facilities, published by the Appraisal Institute.

2. Identify facilities where an operator leases the land and buildings, so the rental payment only represents rent for use of the land and building. Similarly, professionals who appraise or value assisted living facilities for property tax purposes should seek sales of assisted living center land and buildings only for a proper comparison. Unfortunately, leases and sales of only land and buildings for assisted living tend to be elusive.

3. Value the specific intangible assets and rights in use and deduct the value of those intangibles from the full business enterprise value of the facility. This method applies to most assisted living facilities. Assessors already use this method for hospitality properties, so it is readily applied to assisted living.

Property taxes are a significant expense for assisted living operators. Fortunately, the hospitality industry has already blazed the path to tax relief. With some ingenuity, the taxpayer can borrow the same methods that help control hospitality property taxes and use them to reduce taxes on assisted living facilities as well.


CONeallCris K. O'Neall is a partner with Cahill, Davis & O'Neall LLP, the California member of American Property Tax Counsel. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Turning the Tide

Court Decision Promises to Reduce California Hospitality Property Taxes

A May 22, 2014, decision by the California Court of Appeal may be a game changer for hotel and hospitality property owners and operators. After many years of litigation before local boards of equalization and the courts, in SHC Half Moon Bay v. County of San Mateo, there now appears to be a definitive ruling on whether the "Rushmore approach" may be used to value hotel properties.

First championed by its creator, appraiser Stephen Rushmore, the Rushmore approach is a technique that appraisers use in valuing hotel properties that is intended to remove the value of intangible assets and rights used in hotel operations.

Intangibles, which are generally exempt from property taxation, include assets such as an assembled workforce, service contracts, and hotel management and franchise agreements. Removal of such intangibles is necessary in certain contexts, such as appraisals for property tax purposes. Intangible assets and rights used in the operation of hotels are often closely intertwined with the real property, land and buildings, which are also used in the hotel's operation.

Appraisers have used the Rushmore approach to value hospitality properties for years, and the method enjoys broad acceptance in some contexts, such as with lenders that require appraisals for financing purposes. Yet the Rushmore approach has been a constant source of controversy in the valuation of properties for ad valorem property tax purposes, primarily because the approach fails to remove the entire value (or in some cases any value) of intangibles.

Insufficient Deduction

Stated most simply, the Rushmore approach is supposed to remove the value of intangibles through the deduction of management and franchise fees as an expense when an appraiser or assessor values hospitality properties by capitalizing the revenues generated by such properties.

In its recent decision, the appellate court specifically held that "the deduction of the management and franchise fee from the hotel's projected revenue stream pursuant to the income approach did not—as required by California law—identify and exclude intangible assets" such as workforce and other intangibles. The court also said that the taxing authority had not explained how the deduction of the management and franchise fee captured the value of the intangible property.

Unfortunately, the court's decision upheld the use of the Rushmore approach to remove the value of goodwill for the hotel in the SHC Half Moon Bay case. The court made the decision because the local board of equalization received insufficient evidence on the issue. Because the hotel's goodwill basically represented the value of its franchise, or flag, the court's decision left in place the assessment of that nontaxable intangible.

Fortunately, the appellate court provided a road map for other taxpayers to remove the value of their hotel's franchise value in the future. To achieve that result, taxpayers will have to provide more specific evidence for the value of their hotel franchise or flag, or for other significant hotel intangibles.

Savvy hospitality property owners will find several silver linings in the SHC Half Moon Bay decision. For one, although the ruling came down from a California court, its reasoning has application nationwide.

In addition, the case supports California's general standard for addressing intangibles, which is to identify, value and deduct. For hospitality properties, this means pointing out to the taxing authorities the specific intangibles used in conjunction with the real property and then obtaining an independent appraisal of each identified intangible. The appraised values for all the identified intangibles should then be added together and deducted from the overall value for the hotel, the overall value being calculated from total hotel revenues.

Franchise Value

Also, the taxpayer in the case sought to remove the intangible value of the hotel's franchise using an accounting analysis that was intended for use in financial reporting and which assigned all residual value to goodwill. Careful reading of the Court of Appeal's decision shows that had the hotel separately valued the franchise, as it did for the workforce and other identified intangibles, the outcome might have been very different.

The SHC Half Moon Bay decision has one other benefit in that it confirms that failure by a taxing authority to remove an identified intangible is a legal issue entitled to de novo review by the courts. De novo enables the court to review the case afresh, without reference to previous reviews or assumptions by lower courts or boards. In California, such review is rarely available in judicial appeals of decisions by local boards of equalization, which are difficult to reverse in the courts.

Hospitality property owners should show the SHC Half Moon Bay case to their local assessors and follow the decision by presenting valuations for all of the intangible assets and rights used in their property's operations. If the assessor declines to remove the intangibles in accordance with the appellate court's decision, the owner should pursue their rights before the county board of equalization and in the courts.

CONeallCris K. O'Neall is a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of Cahill, Davis & O'Neall LLP, the California member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Mr. O'Neall can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Bay Area Real Estate Recovery Bolsters Proposition 13

The recovery of the Bay Area's real estate markets has muted the public outcry to change Proposition 13's restrictions on assessed value increases. Passed in 1978, Proposition 13 has come under fire for fostering unequal tax burdens.

The reasons that tax-reform fervor is weakening are twofold. First, as the recovery spurs real estate sales, properties will be reassessed at higher market values under Proposition 13's acquisition value system. Second, recent sales are also likely to increase real estate values generally, which will permit assessors to raise the assessments of other property owners. These trends have increased the values of property tax rolls and tax revenues.

Acquisition value system increases tax revenues

One under-appreciated aspect of Proposition 13 is its requirement that assessed values for property tax purposes be equated to acquisition values or sales prices. Critics of Proposition 13 contend that the law keeps values too low and reduces the amount of taxes going to government agencies. But in an active real estate market where properties are held for as little as five years, the opposite is true. In such markets, sales prices are usually climbing, assessed values increase, property tax collections rise, and local governments receive more revenues.

The recent up-tick in Bay Area real estate sales is proving the benefits of Proposition 13 because the values of tax assessment rolls have increased for all counties. For example, the 2013-2014 tax year assessment rolls increased over the previous year by 8.3 percent in Santa Clara County, by 6.0 percent in San Mateo County, by 5.0 percent in Alameda County, and by 4.5 percent in San Francisco. Statewide, assessed values increased by $191.5 billion or 4.3 percent over the prior year.

Recent sales affect assessments

The increase in real estate sales activity doesn't just impact the assessed values and taxes on properties that have sold. It can also affect the values and property taxes for real estate held by investors. Here's why.

Under Proposition 8, the bookend to Proposition 13, assessors can and have reduced real estate assessments in recent years to reflect across-the-board declines in market values. In some cases, the reductions have been considerable, well in excess of the 2 percent annual adjustments that are permitted under Proposition 13.

As real estate markets recover, the Proposition 8 reductions that assessors made in prior years to reflect market downturns usually are reversed. The Proposition 8 values of prior years can shoot up much faster than 2 percent per year for properties that are assessed below their trended Proposition 13 values, depending on where current sales show market values to be. As Proposition 8 values are reversed and values return to Proposition 13 levels, the property taxes on those assets also rise, thereby increasing tax revenues to local governments.

Split roll unnecessary

One of the changes currently advocated by opponents of Proposition 13 is to create a split tax roll which would tax commercial properties differently from residential ones, either by requiring commercial properties to be reassessed annually instead of upon acquisition, or by increasing the tax rates for commercial properties.

However, as described above, such changes are unneeded so long as there is an active market for commercial properties, and so long as sales prices generated by that market tend to increase over time, which is usually the case. When these conditions are present, assessed values will increase and property tax revenues will rise.

As markets continue to recover and assessed values rise, property owners should take stock of their assessed values. Local assessors will begin to set assessed values for the 2014-2015 tax year in January 2014. In some cases, values reduced under Proposition 8 in prior years will be restored to Proposition 13 levels. Taxpayers should ask whether those restored values represent market values, and if a value appears excessive, the property owner should file an appeal.

CONeallCris K. O'Neall is a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of Cahill, Davis & O'Neall LLP, the California member of American Property Tax Counsel (APTC), the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Mr. O'Neall can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Supreme Court Rulings Help, Hurt Property Taxpayers

Two recent rulings by the California Supreme Court may have significant effects on the state's property taxpayers. These effects may be both good and bad, depending on your situation.

"The rule in question had watered down Proposition 13's cap on assessment increases by directly offsetting such increases against depreciation on machinery and equipment..."

The California Supreme Court issued two decisions in early August relating to property taxes that will significantly impact owners of commercial and industrial properties in Southern California.

Decision #1: Ruling Clarifies Tax Exemption for Intangibles

The first decision, Elk Hills Power vs. State Board of Equalization, broadly affirmed the exemption of intangible assets and rights from property taxation. County assessors had previously been assessing intangibles that businesses use in conjunction with real property as part of the real property's value. In other words, property owners were paying property tax on the value of the intangibles associated with operating businesses at a property, as well as on the value of the real estate.

The Elk Hills Power decision changes that by prohibiting assessors from including intangibles in the taxable value of the real property. Moreover, if a taxpayer identifies an intangible to the county assessor and shows the value of the intangible, the assessor must review it. So what are the intangibles that are exempted from taxation? The Supreme Court's decision lists several, including franchises, contracts, assembled workforce, customer base and goodwill.

That list is not comprehensive, however, and nearly all intangibles used in the operation of a business are arguably included. So how should property owners respond to the Supreme Court's taxpayer-friendly decision? First, identify the intangibles used in operating any business at the property and, if possible, attempt to value those intangibles.

Next, report the identified intangibles with associated values to the county assessor. This is especially important if the real property was recently acquired, which allows local assessors to establish new Proposition 13 base year values. If discussions with the assessor fail to result in exclusion and exemption of intangible values from the property tax assessment, the property owner should file and pursue an appeal before the county assessment appeals board.

Decision #2: Court Weakens Proposition 13's Cap on Tax Increases

The Supreme Court's second decision, Western States Petroleum Association vs. State Board of Equalization, involved the legality of a new rule issued by the State Board of Equalization for the taxation of petroleum refineries. The question before the court concerned a rule affecting Proposition 13, a law that essentially limits increases on the assessed value of land to no more than 2 percent annually.

The rule in question had watered down Proposition 13's cap on assessment increases by directly offsetting such increases against depreciation on machinery and equipment. For fixtureintensive properties like refineries, food processing facilities and power plants, the impact can be significant The Court struck down the rule, finding the Board had issued an inadequate economic impact report, and thereby failed to adhere to the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act. In the same decision, however, the Court also ruled that the Board's reasons for adopting the rule were sound.

In fact, in a concurring opinion, one of the Court's justices essentially invited the Board to reissue the rule as long as it followed the procedures for doing so. It appears that the Board may be preparing to do just that. But this time the rule may be much broader in scope, sweeping in all types of properties that are operated with large amounts of machinery and equipment, which assessors refer to as "fixtures."

If the Board issues a more broad-ranging rule, commercial and industrial properties that use large amounts of fixtures will experience noticeable increases in property taxes. In essence, the Supreme Court's decision in Western States mounts to another attack on Proposition 13, much like the "split-roll" attacks that have sought to apply a tax rate to commercial properties that is different from the rate applied to residential properties. While it is possible that the Board will decline to revisit the matter, the current political and economic situation in California suggests it will enact another rule.

CONeallCris K. O'Neall, partner, Cahill, Davis & O'Neall LLP in Los Angeles. The law firm is the California member of American Property Tax Counsel. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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Scandal Fallout Threatens Los Angeles Property Tax System

The response to alleged improprieties by Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez has hurt taxpayers in ways that were unforeseeable when Noguez took office more than two years ago, or when the investigation into those improprieties started last year.

Prosecutors filed dozens of new charges on April 23 in relation to a corruption probe that began more than a year ago. Prosecutors have alleged that Noguez accepted bribes to illegally lower assessments on a number of properties represented by tax consultant Ramin Salari, and named Mark McNeil, one of Noguez's aides, in the charges as well. Prosecutors contend that the scheme cost taxpayers at least $9.8 million in lost tax revenue.

As if the scandal alone weren't enough, the response by the Los Angeles County Assessor's Office to those improprieties has impaired taxpayers' ability to communicate with the assessor's office to resolve property tax appeals. This new communication breakdown, in turn, has increased the cost and time required to process appeals.

New policies

After Noguez took a leave of absence in mid-2012, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors appointed an interim assessor who launched an internal investigation of the assessor's office. The temporary assessor published a "First 100 Days" report in October 2012, establishing two policy initiatives that have significantly damaged the property assessment system's function and efficiency. One measure assigns new personnel to represent the assessor's office before the county's assessment appeals board; the second institutes higher assessed value approval thresholds for settlement of cases pending before the board.

The latter initiative was instituted after a former appraiser in the assessor's office unilaterally changed assessed values for wealthy property owners without management approval. Requiring approval from upper management has reduced the number of cases settled prior to hearing, and either forces more property tax appeals to go to hearing (a surge which has overwhelmed the appeals board's limited resources) or necessitates postponement (which adds to the backlog of pending cases).

Report by independent auditors

The investigation of Noguez also prompted the county's board of supervisors to retain independent auditors to evaluate the assessor's management practices. In late 2012, those auditors issued a comprehensive report which included specific recommendations for the handling of property tax assessment appeals. For example, the auditors recommended that the assessment appeals board force appeals to hearing by not granting more than one hearing postponement to taxpayers.

The assessor's office and the appeals board agreed with some of the auditors' suggestions: The assessor adopted a suggestion that the assessor's office not share case data informally with taxpayers prior to appeals board hearings, and the appeals board concurred with the suggestion that a fee be charged to file assessment appeals.

The changes suggested by the independent auditors, particularly prohibiting informal pre-hearing information exchanges with taxpayers, reduces the possibility of resolving cases short of hearing. The auditors' recommendation that the appeals board avoid granting taxpayers postponements is unrealistic because, in many cases, the assessor is the party asking for more time.

Registration of property tax agents

Another recommendation by the independent auditors was to require persons who represent taxpayers to register as "tax agents." As of this writing, the board of supervisors is considering a registration program that will require people who appear before the assessment appeals board or have contact with the assessor's office, tax collector's office or auditor-controller's office to register as tax agents and pay an annual fee of $250. The program will cover in-house company tax representatives, attorneys and enrolled agents. Registrants would have to follow an 11-point code of ethics and report all political contributions made to any public official in Los Angeles County. Individuals who fail to comply with the registration program would be fined and their names would be listed on the county's website. The California Legislature has also introduced a bill with provisions similar to the proposed Los Angeles County ordinance.

The policy changes described above have slowed the assessment appeal process in Los Angeles County at a time when the system can least afford it. In 2012, assessment appeal filings in the county increased to more than 40,000, a four-fold increase since 2007. The changes in personnel representing the assessor at the appeals boards, new limits on staff authority to settle cases prior to hearings, the recommendation to limit postponements coupled with a restriction on informal information exchanges with taxpayers before hearings, and the requirement that taxpayers' agents register with the county, all work against the speedy resolution of assessment appeals.

The county's assessment appeal system was intended to promote informal and rapid resolutions of property tax appeals. The changes recently implemented or to be implemented by the county and its assessor will thwart those aims, hampering taxpayers' ability to obtain speedy redress of their claims and undermining the effectiveness of the assessment appeal process.

CONeallCris K. O'Neall specializes in property and local tax matters as a partner in the law firm of Cahill, Davis & O'Neall LLP, the California member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Bay Area Real Estate Recovery Creates Property Tax Appeal Opportunities

The uneven recovery of the Bay Area real estate market over the past year has created opportunities for real estate owners to challenge their property tax assessments. Areas that have experienced the strongest growth, as well as markets in which the recovery is lagging, may be ripe for challenges to property tax assessments.

By Cris K. O'Neall, as published by National Real Estate Investor - Online, October 2012

Pregnant propositions

Under California's Proposition 13, property taxes are based on the purchase price paid for a property or on the cost of constructing the property. Thereafter, Proposition 13 caps value increases (and property tax increases) at 2 percent annually.When property values decline, Proposition 8, the bookend to Proposition 13, requires county assessors to reduce taxable property values below Proposition 13 value caps to reflect current market conditions. As real estate values recover following a downturn, assessors restore taxable values back to Proposition 13 levels.

Over the past year or so, core Bay Area markets (primarily San Francisco and the Silicon Valley) have experienced strong growth in market rents and declines in capitalization rates, particularly as compared to other Bay Area real estate markets. Because of the brisk recovery in core markets, county assessors have aggressively moved to restore 2012 values, determined as of Jan. 1, 2012, back to Proposition 13 levels. Such value restorations can bring major increases in assessments and taxes.


Assessors exercise value judgment

In order to restore property values to Proposition 13 levels, California requires county assessors to evaluate market sales and rental information. In so doing, assessors consider ranges of information on sales and rentals, and exercise their judgment as to whether values should fall in the top, middle or bottom of a range.
While assessors generally determine values for residential properties using computerized mass appraisal techniques, commercial properties tend to be more complex and require individual attention by assessor staff.

This year, the assessors in San Francisco and Santa Clara County have restored property values and assessments to levels at or near Proposition 13 amounts, which, in some cases, has dramatically increased tax bills as compared to 2011. In doing so, assessors may have justified assessments using more recent rental rates or cap rates, rather than using average rates during the 12 months prior to Jan. 1, which tends to accelerate value increases.

In 2012, most Bay Area counties announced increases in their property tax rolls.
The 2012 roll increases are due, at least in part, to increasing sales and leasing activity, which tend to be reflected in higher property tax values and assessments. However, these increases also reflect Proposition 13 value restorations described previously, and highlight those counties which merit increased consideration as far as whether to review and appeal property tax assessments.

Property tax appeal opportunities

The current situation presents several types of property tax appeal opportunities. First, for properties in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, it is possible that assessors have been overly aggressive in restoring values to Proposition 13 levels. Taxpayers should request backup information supporting full or partial restoration of Proposition 13 levels and if the assumptions appear excessive, file an appeal.

This same advice goes for properties in secondary and tertiary markets, particularly where there have been Proposition 13 value restorations. Properties in these markets should also be reviewed, however, to determine whether they have participated in the economic recovery that San Francisco and the Silicon Valley have experienced. Economic recovery among Bay Area counties has been uneven, and hasn't benefited every city within a county consistently. In San Mateo County, for example, property values in Atherton have increased significantly, but values in East Palo Alto have continued to decline. Similarly, in Contra Costa County, values in five cities increased while in the county's remaining 14 cities values generally declined.

Finally, property owners should not assume that a "no change" assessment or that a lower assessment by the local assessor is correct. Values in some areas declined during 2011, which means that market values as of Jan. 1, 2012 may be lower than 2011 values, and should not reflect value increases that have occurred during the first nine months of 2012.

CONeall Cris K. O'Neall specializes in property and local tax matters as a partner in the law firm of Cahill, Davis & O'Neall LLP, the California member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Bay Area Governments Expand the Use of Transfer Taxes to Boost Collections

"Lately, cities and counties have been seeking ways to collect transfer tax from these legal entity transfers. For guidance, they have looked to California's property tax regime, which generally reassesses property when legal entity transfers occur..."

By Cris O'Neall, as published by National Real Estate Investor, November 2011

Property owners in and around San Francisco face an increasing tax burden as local governments attempt to bolster their struggling budgets by expanding the scope of transfer tax laws. In recent years, the cities of San Francisco and Oakland as well as Santa Clara County have gone beyond just collecting transfer tax when a deed is recorded, and now collect the tax for real property ownership changes that occur when one company buys or takes over another. The new laws may be working, as transfer tax revenues in all three jurisdictions have recently risen. From the time of its first implementation in the 1960s until recently, local governments only levied documentary or real property transfer taxes when a deed or other legal instrument was recorded based upon a transfer of "realty sold." The amount usually ranged from $0.55 cents to $3 for each increment in the reported price paid for the property.

However, the advent of new types of legal entities which are readily bought and sold has altered the way properties transfer now. As a result, the traditional system for collecting transfer tax via recorded deeds cannot always keep up with today's transactions.

For example, owners frequently transfer single-member limited liability companies and limited partnership interests to other owners. When these legal entities own real property, tracking real estate transfers can be difficult: While a deed is recorded when Company A sells real estate to Company B, no deed recording occurs when Company A buys a controlling interest in Company B, which owns real estate and continues to operate. Because the change in control of a legal entity that owns real property does not require a deed to be recorded, transfer tax is not collected when such legal entity transfers occur. Until now, that is.

New Implementation

Lately, cities and counties have been seeking ways to collect transfer tax from these legal entity transfers. For guidance, they have looked to California's property tax regime, which generally reassesses property when legal entity transfers occur. Amending their transfer tax laws to follow California's property tax system, jurisdictions have adopted ordinances that expand the scope of the transfer tax to include legal entity transfers. Santa Clara County was the first Bay Area jurisdiction to enact a transfer tax on legal entity transfers. The county's law imposes transfer tax whenever a legal entity that holds real property experiences a change in control, either directly or indirectly.

CONeall NREINNov2011

San Francisco adopted an easier approach. It simply redefined the term "realty sold" in the 1960s transfer tax statute to mean a change in ownership control for a legal entity that holds real property. Oakland followed suit, amending its law to include language similar to that in San Francisco's ordinance.

The amendments to these three Bay Area jurisdictions' laws were intended, at least in part, to close a perceived loophole in the transfer tax and thereby increase the amount of tax collected. For instance, when Oakland amended its transfer tax law, it expected to increase transfer tax revenues by $550,000 each year.

Amounts rising

The strategy may be working. In the past one to two years, the amount of transfer tax collected by San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Clara County has been on the rise. By far, the largest rise was in San Francisco where collections have shot up by more than 160 percent over the past two years, while Oakland and Santa Clara County experienced modest gains in transfer tax revenues.

The reason for the increase is less clear. Obviously, a higher number of transactions due to the recovery of the Bay Area real estate market drove some of the surge. And in San Francisco, transfer tax revenues also rose because the city raised tax rates to 2 percent for transactions valued at more than $5 million and to 2.5 percent for transactions million or more, up from 1.5 percent previously.

For comparison, the amounts of transfer tax collected by Berkeley, the City of San Mateo and Contra Costa County—none of which collect transfer tax on legal entity transfers—have been flat in recent years. The experience of these other jurisdictions may be an indication that the expansion of transfer tax laws by San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Clara County to capture legal entity transfers is indeed having the intended effect.

To combat transfer taxes, property buyers should structure transactions to fall under one of the exceptions in California's transfer tax law. If an exception is not available, buyers should timely advise tax authorities of their transaction to avoid costly non-reporting penalties.

CONeallCris K. O'Neall specializes in property and local tax matters as a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of Cahill, Davis & O'Neall LLP. His firm is the California member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Cost Approach Used to Determine Value of Taxable Property in Assisted Living Facilities Transaction

By Cris K. O'Neall, Esq., and Michael T. Lebeau, Esq.1, as published by IPT May 2011 Tax Report, May 2011

On January 6, 2011, the Assessment Appeals Board in Orange County, California issued a significant decision for owners and operators of assisted-living facilities, particularly facilities dedicated to providing "memory care" services. In a nutshell, the Board found that a significant portion of the assessed values enrolled by the Orange County Assessor's Office for memory care facilities acquired in 2007 included the value of non-taxable intangible assets and rights.2 The Board's decision not only demonstrated the correct handling of intangibles under California's property tax statutes, case law and State Board of Equalization guidance document, but also found that the cost approach should be used to extract non-taxable intangibles from business enterprise purchase prices in order to arrive at values for taxable real and personal property.

The Nature of Memory Care Facilities

Memory care is one of the fastest growing segments of the assisted-living care industry. Memory care facilities specialize in the housing and treatment of persons suffering from senile dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and similar "memory loss" maladies. Persons with these conditions typically suffer from moderate to severe memory loss. Consequently, the nature of the facilities that house persons with these conditions and the operation of those facilities differ from most other types of assisted-living facilities and operations.

In order to protect patients or residents from leaving the facility unattended or unescorted, memory care facilities incorporate design features which are not typically found in other types of assisted-living or even convalescent care facilities. The facilities must be laid out so that residents can be observed continually, and so that they do not wander away from the facility by themselves. Points of egress must be limited in number and must be designed to allow electronic monitoring at all times. Despite these severe design restrictions, the families of residents housed in memory care facilities usually want such facilities to have the ambience of a residential or home setting.

The operation of memory care facilities also requires significantly more staffing than the typical assisted living care facility. This includes additional nursing staff as well as staff to observe and work with residents.

There must be sufficient staff to monitor residents at all times in order to insure that they do not leave the facility unattended. In addition, because residents are typically ambulatory, a variety of planned on-site and off-site activities are usually provided to them, which requires a larger number of employees. This higher level of service requires a resident-to-staff ratio that is up to twice that for general assisted-living facilities, and a more skilled, better trained, and more highly paid management and employee staff than is typically found in other assisted-living situations.

Treatment of Intangibles under California's Acquisition-Based Property Tax Regime

California's Proposition 13 made acquisition prices the touchstone for taxable value in many instances. However, Proposition 13 did not explain what to do in those situations where an acquisition price includes a business enterprise comprised of real property, personal property and intangible assets and rights. Fortunately, California Revenue and Taxation Code sections 110(d)-(f) and 212(c) explain that intangible assets and rights are not taxable, and the values of identified intangibles must be excluded from the value allocated to a business enterprise in order to arrive at the value of taxable real and personal property. This is confirmed by published appellate court decisions such as GTE Sprint Communications Corp. v. County of Alameda (1994) 26 Cal.AppAth 992 as well as by the California State Board of Equalization's guidance in Assessors' Handbook Section 502, "Advanced Appraisal" (1998), Chapter 6, pages 150-165 ("Treatment of Intangible Assets and Rights"). Similarly, California Property Tax Rule 8(e) (18 Cal. Code Regs., § 8(e» requires that where a property is valued using the income approach, "sufficient income shall be excluded to provide a return on ... nontaxable operating assets."

Purchase Transaction Created Challenges for Purchaser

In early 2007, a number of memory care facilities and operations in several states, including four facilities and related operations in Orange County, California, were acquired by a large assisted-living facility operator.

The acquisition included not only the real and personal property at the four Orange County locations, but also the government-issued facility operating license, existing workforce, and business operating at each site. While the real and personal property were subject to property taxation, the purchaser contended that the facility operating licenses, workforce and other business-related assets (contracts, relationships, etc.) were not taxable under California law.

The transaction documents for the 2007 transaction did not assign a specific value to the various categories of assets (real property, personal property, and intangibles) for each of the Orange County locations. Fortunately, the seller of the properties had commissioned an appraisal for each of the properties.

Those appraisals were provided to the buyer, however, they were of limited utility in the property tax context because they were "going concern" appraisals which determined a business enterprise value for each facility and, therefore, included a value for all property at each of the Orange County facilities that encapsulated real and personal property as well as non-taxable intangibles. Furthermore, the buyer had used the going concern values shown in the appraisals as the basis for reporting the acquisitions to the Orange

County Assessor's Office and the Assessor's Office had simply enrolled the reported values as the taxable value for each property. Thus, there was a clear "chain" of documentation showing that the Assessor's Office had enrolled the value of all property, including intangible assets and rights, as the taxable value of the property at each facility.

The situation was further complicated by the fact that the purchaser had acquired the intangible assets (namely the operating licenses) through a saleleaseback arrangement and not through the purchase and sale agreement by which the real and personal property were transferred. This was done because a considerable amount of time is usually needed to transfer memory care facility licenses to a new owner, and waiting for the licenses to be transferred would have delayed the transaction for a year or more. Use of the sale-leaseback arrangement was typical in the industry, and had facilitated the transaction. The buyer's representative testified at the Assessment Appeals Board hearing that the buyer would not have acquired the four Orange County properties without the facility operating licenses as it would have taken too long to go through the process of obtaining new licenses. However, because the licenses had not transferred with the purchase and sale agreement, it created an impression that the buyer had not acquired the licenses, which were perhaps the most significant intangible asset in the transaction. On a positive note, the purchaser was helped by the fact that the seller's purchase appraisals exhibited the extreme disparities between the assessed values enrolled by the Assessor's Office (based on the income approach values) and the purchaser's values which relied on the cost approach: the Assessor's values were as high as $500 per square foot, several times the buyer's values for real property; the Assessor's values were also more than twice the cost new without depreciation for the improvements; and the Assessor's values were based on net income figures the majority of which were unrelated to the real estate at each location. All of this served to demonstrate that the Assessor's values subsumed the value of non-taxable intangible assets and rights in violation of California property tax law.

Cost Approach the Key to Taxable Values

The purchaser used the cost approach as the basis for proving the value of the taxable real and personal property. The purchaser retained the seller's appraiser, who had prepared the appraisals used to establish and allocate the total purchase price paid for all of the acquired facilities, to testify at the Assessment Appeals Board hearing. The appraiser explained that the appraisals were going concern appraisals, and for that reason the income and sales comparison approach values in those appraisals represented business enterprise values or the values of the going concern operating at each location.

The buyer's appraiser also testified that only the cost approach conclusions in the appraisals would represent the value of the taxable real and personal property. In support of this, the appraiser relied upon the Appraisal Institute's text The Appraisal of Nursing Facilities (J. Tellatin, 2009), particularly the portions of that text stating that "property tax assessments should exclude the value of intangible assets" and identifying intangible assets to include operating licenses and assembled workforce (pages 37, 40, 314, 315). The appraiser also focused the Board's attention on two key passages from the Appraisal Institute's text: The greatest usefulness of the cost approach could be in allocating the total assets of the business to real estate, tangible personal property, and intangible personal property assets under the theory that the value of an asset cannot exceed the cost to replace it in a timely manner, less reasonable amounts of depreciation. (Page 284)

When the depreciated cost of the tangible assets and the land are less than the overall business enterprise value, the cost approach can be a proxy for real estate value. (Page 315) These conclusions were supported by portions of the California State Board of Equalization's Assessors' Handbook Section 502 at page 159, note 126, and page 163: "The cost approach does not typically capture the value of intangible assets and rights because the appraisal unit only includes the subject property." With this background, the purchaser's appraiser demonstrated that the cost approach values in his appraisal report for each of the four facilities represented solely the values of the taxable tangible real and personal property.

The Assessment Appeals Board's Decision

The Orange County Assessment Appeals Board upheld the buyer's values, with adjustments for increased land values and minor increases in construction costs to account for inflation. The Board supported the buyer's position that the intangible assets and rights, particularly the operating licenses, had transferred along with the real and personal property as part of the same transaction: 42. The Board finds that the purchase agreement, the master lease, the sublease and a financing agreement that were all part of the same transaction, within the meaning of California Civil Code section 1642, and the purchase price did reflect and include intangible assets which are not subject to taxation.

Critical to this finding was testimony by the purchaser's representative that the payments under the lease agreements were not based on market rates, but were related to financing the transaction. In fact, evidence presented to the Board showed that the amount of each facility's lease payment exceeded or nearly exceeded the total revenue generated by each facility. Civil Code section 1642 provides that "several contracts relating to the same matters, between the same parties, and made as parts of substantially one transaction, are to be taken together."

The Board also ruled that the cost approach was the proper method for valuing the properties because it excluded the value of intangible assets and rights: 43. The Board finds that the cost approach is the most accurate measure of accurate [sic] value since the comparable sales approach and the income approach both captured the value of the property as a going concern and that it includes the value attributable to nontaxable assets and rights. Hence, the Board utilized the [cost approach portions of the] appraisals submitted by the Applicants as a starting point for its valuation analysis.

The Orange County Assessment Appeals Board's decision to use the cost approach, and to reject the income approach and sales comparison approach values from the buyer's going concern appraisals, affirmed Assessors' Handbook Section 502's counsel to avoid use of going concern appraisals (page 157) and to rely upon the cost approach when other approaches cannot segregate the value of taxable real and personal property from the value of intangible assets and rights. The Board's decision is a clear statement of the correct approach to be applied in the multi-facility purchase context in order to exclude the value of intangible property and determine the value of taxable real and personal property.

1. The authors acknowledge Max Row of Complex Property Advisors Corporation in Southlake, Texas and David H. Fryday of Tellatin, Short & Hansen, Inc. in Salem, Oregon for their comments and input to this article.

2. The facilities are owned by NorthStar Realty Finance.

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Tax Law Changes Threaten California Property Owners

"In recent years, state and local governments have become more aggressive in their efforts to identify ownership changes in entities holding real property..."

By Cris K. O'Neall, Esq., as published by National Real Estate Investor City Reviews, February 2011

As California struggles through its economic downturn, local tax authorities are looking for ways to increase tax revenues. And property owners may not be aware of the tough penalties they could face if they fail to quickly report changes in ownership.

Most California property owners know that changes in ownership result in property tax reassessment under Proposition 13, and such reassessments are typically triggered when a transfer deed is recorded.

What may surprise some taxpayers is that changing the ownership of a legal entity that holds the real property may also trigger a reassessment. This occurs even if the property-owning entity, such as a corporation, remains the recorded owner of the underlying real property.

Legal entity transfers have long been a concern for California tax authorities. Real property transfers caused by a change in an entity's ownership are not documented by a recorded deed, which is the normal manner in which tax assessors learn of property ownership changes. In this circumstance, tax authorities must look to state franchise tax returns and business property filings to discover ownership changes affecting real property.

In recent years, state and local governments have become more aggressive in their efforts to identify ownership changes in entities holding real property.

Previously, it was up to the tax authorities to identify those changes and provide taxpayers with the appropriate reporting forms. Last year, tax authorities upped the ante considerably — giving property owners the job of reporting legal entity transfers within strict deadlines and removing the tardy reporting "grace" period.

Delays in reporting can trigger consequences

Now owners who fail to report transfers quickly are subject to significant penalties on all of their California properties, even if only one property changed ownership as a result of a legal entity transfer.

Additionally, the revised law requires reporting of ownership changes even in cases where the transfer falls under a change of ownership exception. Those exceptions include transfers of less than a controlling interest in a legal entity, and transfers in which the type of entity changes, say from a corporation to a limited partnership, but the owners and their ownership percentages remain the same.

In effect, the revised law penalizes the failure to file the requisite reporting form, regardless of whether there has been a change in ownership of the underlying real property.

More tax liability?

If the above did not already cause enough headaches, local tax authorities have added to property owners' burdens by attempting to expand another California tax — the documentary transfer tax (DTT) — to include legal entity transfers.

Traditionally, the DTT has only been collected upon the recording of a deed or similar instrument transferring a property's ownership. In fact, the DTT is usually understood to be an excise tax on the right to transfer property and use county recorder services.

This view has recently changed as Los Angeles County and other local jurisdictions seek to bring legal entity transfers where no document is recorded within the purview of the transfer tax law. They have been aided in their discovery of such transfers by statutory changes which give county recorders access to the records of county assessors' offices.

As a result, county recorders' offices now have access to legal entity transfer information which was once only available to county assessors. Armed with this new information, counties and cities are seeking to charge transfer taxes on entity transfers where no deed has been recorded.

Fortunately, property owners can repel attempts by county recorders and city clerks to collect transfer tax. Most counties and cities have ordinances adopting California's statewide statute regulating the issue.

That statute, with one limited exception relating to dissolution of partnerships through a legal entity transfer, only permits collection of DTT when a deed or other instrument is recorded. Property owners confronted with a request for payment of the tax for a legal entity transfer need only point to the local ordinance in order to parry the unlawful attack.

So long as California remains in its economic downturn, the local tax authorities will continue to be vigilant in looking for ways to increase tax revenues. And real property owners would do well to report legal entity transfers promptly to avoid draconian penalties.

Fortunately, efforts are under way to eliminate the harsh effects brought about by the recent changes in legal entity transfer reporting. As for the documentary transfer tax, property owners should only pay that tax on transfers made by a recorded document. And, as with every transfer of real property in California, property owners should consider whether their transfer falls under one of the exceptions to a change in ownership in order to avoid reassessment.


CONeallCris K. O'Neall specializes in ad valorem property tax matters as a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of Cahill Davis & O'Neall LLP, the California member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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When Rent is Not Rent?

"Paying attention to what rent includes can result in lower tax bills..."

By Cris K. O'Neall , as published by Commercial Property Executive Blog - June 2010

Rental income has always been the touchstone for calculating real property values and is a key element in determining taxable value for ad valorem property taxes. Because it plays such a crucial role in the property tax valuation, paying attention to what rent includes can result in lower tax bills.

Rental income for properties such as multi-family residential is closely associated with real estate usage and is easily capitalized into an indication of taxable value. That is not the case, however, for properties used by service-oriented businesses, such as full-service hotels or stores in high-end retail malls. In those situations, the stream of income generated by the facility may represent both a return to the real property as well as to franchises, branding, or a trained and assembled workforce.

In most states, these non-realty rights and assets are not subject to property tax. If local tax assessors calculate assessments using income that includes a return on non-realty elements, the property owner will overpay property taxes.

Similarly, in those situations where landlords participate in their tenants' revenues through percentage rent, taxpayers should determine whether those rents represent a return solely to real property or if they also allow the landlord to share in profits that the tenant generates from customer services and branding. This situation frequently arises when private companies operate in government-owned facilities, such as public airports with privately run concessions.

So, what should investment property owners do? First, determine whether service-oriented businesses are operating in the property or whether percentage-rent arrangements are in effect. If either is the case, contact the local tax assessor and learn the basis for the property's tax valuation. If the assessed value is based on property income, the property tax may be based in part on non-taxable income. In that case, the property should receive a reduction in taxes.

CONeallCris K. O'Neall specializes in ad valorem property tax matters as a partner in the Los Angeles law firm of Cahill, Davis & O'Neall, LLP. His firm is the California member of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Mr. O'Neall can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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