Laws, Regulations & Annotations

Property Taxes Law Guide – Revision 2017

Revenue and Taxation Code

Property Taxation

Part 2. Assessment

Chapter 3. Assessment Generally

Article 1. General Requirements

Section 405

405. Assessee. (a) Annually, the assessor shall assess all the taxable property in his county, except state-assessed property, to the persons owning, claiming, possessing, or controlling it on the lien date.

The assessor may assess the property on the secured roll to the person owning, claiming, possessing or controlling it for the ensuing fiscal year.

(b) The assessor may assess all taxable property in his county on the unsecured roll jointly to both the lessee and lessor of such property.

(c) Notices of assessment and tax bills relating to jointly assessed property on the unsecured roll shall be mailed to both the lessee and the lessor at their latest addresses known to the assessor.

History.—Stats. 1941, p. 3111, in effect September 13, 1941, revised wording. Stats. 1966, p. 659 (First Extra Session), in effect October 6, 1966, first operative for the 1967–68 assessment year, substituted "on the lien date" for "at 12 o'clock meridian of the first Monday in March" and deleted "The assessor shall ascertain such property between the first Mondays in March and July." Stats. 1973, Ch. 786, p. 1405, in effect January 1, 1974, added the subdivision letters and subdivisions (b) and (c). Stats. 1981, Ch. 261, in effect January 1, 1982, added the second paragraph to subdivision (a).

Construction.—This section specifically permits assessment of all the taxable property to the persons owning, claiming, possessing, or controlling it on the lien date and does not limit the assessment to the fee owner. Thus, while the uniform practice of assessors in California has been to make but one assessment of land covering the value of all interests and estates in that land, such practice is only a general rule, and the section clearly authorizes assessors to assess otherwise. Cox Cable San Diego, Inc. v. San Diego County, 185 Cal.App.3d 368.

Assessment date.—This section and Section 8 of Article XIII of the Constitution fix the taxable status of property as of the first Monday in March, and property which is not taxable on that day is not taxable for the year. Dodge v. Nevada National Bank, 109 F. 726. See also East Bay Municipal Utility District v. Garrison, 191 Cal. 680, 692.

Duty of payment.—Primarily the duty of paying taxes rests upon the person who holds the legal title. Three G Distillery Corp. v. Los Angeles County, 46 Cal.App.2d 498. Cf, Purkieser v. Fogler, 11 Cal.App.2d 144, holding that a vendee of real estate in possession under an executory contract of sale making no provision for the payment of taxes may not compel the vendor to pay the taxes.

Assessment to claimant, possessor, etc.—Property in a warehouse is not assessable to the warehouseman as the person in possession. In such a case, if the owner is not known, the property should be assessed to unknown owners and the tax collected by seizure and sale. Weyse v. Crawford, 85 Cal. 196. An assessment to the legal owner of an automobile registered in the name of another person is likewise invalid. San Diego County v. Davis, 1 Cal.2d 145. An assessment of personal property to a consignee for sale (S. & G. Gump Co. v. San Francisco, 18 Cal.2d 129), conditional vendee (Houser etc. Mfg. Co. v. Hargrove, 129 Cal. 90), surviving partner in possession of the property (Thompson v. Board of Supervisors, 13 Cal.App.2d 134), lessee in possession (RCA Photophone Inc. v. Huffman, 5 Cal.App.2d 401), or escrow holder (Title Guaranty, etc., Co. v. Los Angeles County, 3 Cal.App. 619) is valid.

Minor components of installed burglar alarm systems were taxable to the installer, even though they were fixtures permanently attached to subscribers' premises, where the installer owned or controlled them and also owned the major components of the systems. And since the major and minor components of the systems were not severable for ad valorem property taxation purposes, the values of the entire systems were taxable to the installer as real property under subdivision (a). Morse Signal Devices v. Los Angeles County, 161 Cal.App.3d 570.

An assessment of the value of the possessory right in leased land, owned by the state to the sublessee in possession is valid. Tilden v. Orange County, 89 Cal.App.2d 586.

Component parts of a steam boiler plant purchased by a contractor from manufacturers in accordance with its contract to construct the plant for a city and delivered directly to the city-owned jobsite were not assessable to the contractor notwithstanding that on the assessment date the parts were not attached to the boiler structure, where, under a reasonable construction of the contract beneficial possession and complete control was in the city and the contractor had no interest in the parts other than the obligation to assemble them. C. C. Moore & Co. v. Quinn, 149 Cal.App.2d 666.

Canning machinery and equipment under agreement to sell was assessed to the seller where the risk or loss remained in the seller until closing and where the consideration had not passed and certain conditions had not been performed as of the lien date. Francis H. Leggett & Co. v. Los Angeles County, 235 Cal.App.2d 752. Vessel under agreement to sell was assessed to the seller where entire consideration had not passed and certain conditions had not been performed as of the lien date. In Re Western States Wire Corp., 490 F.2d 1065.

No provision is made for declaring or assessing a possessory interest in tax-exempt personal property. General Dynamics Corp. v. Los Angeles County, 51 Cal.2d 59.

An assessment of improvements to the lessee in possession and control was not erroneous even though the land was assessed to the landlord and he owned the improvements. Valley Fair Fashions, Inc. v. Valley Fair, 245 Cal.App.2d 614.

Lessee-bank owning trade fixtures attached to landlord's realty was proper assessee. Ventura County v. Channel Islands State Bank, 251 Cal.App.2d 240.

A permanently affixed interior household connection to a cable television system installed by the system owner who neither owns nor controls the connection constitutes a fixture and is assessable to the owner of the realty rather than to the system owner. Tele-Vue Systems, Inc. v. Contra Costa County, 25 Cal.App.3d 340.

Extent of assessor's duty.—In ascertaining the taxable property in the county the assessor's duties are limited to those prescribed in the succeeding article, and he is not required to search the records for the purpose of discovering property that has escaped assessment. Consequently, the supervisors may properly engage a private individual to perform such work. Skidmore v. Amador County, 7 Cal.2d 37.

Where the board of supervisors entered into a contract to have a third party perform a valuation of assessable property within the county, which the assessor is legally bound to do, and where the valuation is not to assist the board of supervisors but to afford the assessor additional compensation during his term in office other than that provided by law, the contract is void. Tax Factors, Inc. v. Marin County, 20 Cal.App.2d 79. See also Forward v. San Diego County, 189 Cal. 704.

A county assessor must give school districts information of the value of tax-assessed property within districts by May 15, as required by Education Code Section 20811, although information regarding property assessed by the State Board of Equalization is unavailable by reason of the board not being required to complete its work thereon until the first Monday of August and although taxpayers may file property statements upon which property assessments are partially based between the first Monday of March and the last Monday in May. Board of Education v. Watson, 63 Cal.2d 829.

Assessor's refusal to assess contiguous parcels separately when so assessing similar nearby property is within discretion of assessor and does not deprive taxpayer of equal protection of the law. Millbrook Farm v. Watson, 264 Cal.App.2d 512.

Extent of assessor's rights.—The county assessor is a tax official of the state within the meaning of section 19286 of this code and may inspect income tax returns to assist him in assessing taxpayer's property. Lyons v. Estes, 6 Cal.App.3d 979.

Description.—A failure to change the description or valuation of a lot after a conveyance of a portion thereof justifies a holding that the assessment is invalid. Mallman v. Kneeben, 11 Cal.App.2d 484.

Gas and oil rights.—While gas and oil rights held in separate ownership may be separately assessed, the inclusion of their value in the assessment to the owners of the balance of the fee does not render the assessment invalid. When there is no separate assessment to such rights and the assessments of the balance of the fee show no reduction because of such separate ownership, it must be presumed that their value has been included in the assessments of the balance of the fee, and a tax deed based on such an assessment includes the gas and oil rights. McCracken v. Hummel, 43 Cal.App.2d 302.

Easements.—The law does not require an appurtenant easement to be separately assessed. McMorris v. Pagano, 63 Cal.App.2d 446.

Aircraft.—An airplane which was purchased by an interstate air carrier for the exclusive purpose of adding it to its fleet of aircraft flying in interstate commerce, was delivered to and accepted by the air carrier in this state, and on the first Monday in March had not made a flight in interstate commerce but was engaged in "shakedown and crew familiarization" flights preparatory thereto, was properly assessable as part of the air carrier's fleet on an apportionment basis and not as a separate item of property. Slick Airways, Inc. v. Los Angeles County, 140 Cal.App.2d 311.

An airplane under a levy of attachment by the county sheriff before and on the tax lien date was properly assessable to the owner of the airplane and not to the sheriff. United States Overseas Airlines v. Alameda County, 235 Cal.App.2d 348.