Thousands of California homeowners can cut their property tax bill. Here's how

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 20: View of LA General Medical Center. The historic building on the left was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake and now houses a wellness center. A new 600-bed replacement hospital was built to the right. Photographed in Los Angeles, CA on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
California homeowners can reduce their assessments by $7,000 by claiming a homeowners exemption, but almost a third in Los Angeles County do not. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

With property tax bills as high as they are in Southern California, you'd think that homeowners would sign up for every break they could get.

You would be wrong.

Since 1974, the state of California has offered to reduce the assessed value of any owner-occupied home by $7,000. That, in turn, reduces the home's annual tax bill. You just have to apply once, and the "homeowners exemption" will be applied automatically to your assessment until you move out or sell.

According to Los Angeles County Assessor Jeff Prang, however, nearly one-third of county homeowners do not sign up for the exemption. That translates to $30 million in extra tax payments by roughly 435,000 households.

Read more: Storm damage? You could qualify for lower L.A. County property taxes

Granted, that's not a huge amount of money per household; with property tax rates generally set at 1% of assessed value, the $7,000 exemption saves $70 per year. But after a few years, that would be enough for a bigger TV set in your living room.

And signing up for the exemption is especially important for homeowners hoping to take advantage of 2020's Proposition 19, Prang's office said in a press release Wednesday. The ballot measure allows people to transfer their homes to one or more of their children without it being reassessed for property tax purposes, potentially shielding their offspring from an enormous increase in taxes. But to qualify for this benefit, the recipient of the house must apply for a homeowner's exemption or disabled veteran's exemption within one year of the transfer.

If you lived in your current abode as of Jan. 1 but haven't claimed a homeowners exemption, you have until Feb. 15 to apply to receive the full $7,000 reduction. After that, the reduction will be prorated, Prang's office said.

To claim the exemption, download a form from https://assessor.lacounty.gov/homeowners/homeowner-exemption. Then fill it out with information about yourself, any co-owner and your property, and return it to the assessor's office.

Forms are available in English and Spanish. For more information, visit the assessor's website or call (213) 974-3211.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.