Laws, Regulations & Annotations

Property Taxes Law Guide – Revision 2017

Revenue and Taxation Code

Property Taxation

Part 9. Corrections, Cancellations, and Refunds

Chapter 5. Refunds

Article 1. Refunds Generally

Section 5096

5096. Refunds permissible. Any taxes paid before or after delinquency shall be refunded if they were:

(a) Paid more than once.

(b) Erroneously or illegally collected.

(c) Illegally assessed or levied.

(d) Paid on an assessment in excess of the ratio of assessed value to the full value of the property as provided in Section 401 by reason of the assessor's clerical error or excessive or improper assessments attributable to erroneous property information supplied by the assessee.

(e) Paid on an assessment of improvements when the improvements did not exist on the lien date.

(f) Paid on an assessment in excess of the value of the property as determined pursuant to Section 1614 by the county assessment appeals board.

(g) Paid on an assessment in excess of the value of the property as determined by the assessor pursuant to Section 469.

History.—Stats. 1941, p. 2114, in effect September 13, 1941, deleted reference to penalties and costs and substituted "paid before or after delinquency" for "heretofore or hereafter paid." Stats. 1963, p. 4343, in effect September 20, 1963, added subsection (e). Stats. 1966, p. 682 (First Extra Session), in effect October 6, 1966, substituted "ratio of assessed value to the cash value of the property as provided in Section 401" for "cash value of the property" and added to subsection (c) last clause beginning with "or excessive"; and in subsection (e), deleted "cash" and "or a tax appeals board", and added "Section 1611 or." Stats. 1974, Ch. 311, p. 618, in effect January 1, 1975, substituted "full value" for "cash value" in subsection (c). Stats. 1976, Ch. 499, p. 1239, in effect January 1, 1977, relettered the former subsections (c), (d), and (e) as subsections (d), (e), and (f), respectively, and added subsection (c). Stats. 1977, Ch. 246, in effect January 1, 1978, substituted "1630" for "1611 or Section 1760" in subsection (f). Stats. 1977, Ch. 921, in effect January 1, 1978, substituted "Section 1613" for Section "1630". Stats. 1978, Ch. 732, in effective January 1, 1979, added subdivision (g). Stats. 1991, Ch. 532, in effect January 1, 1992, substituted "Any" for "On order of the board of supervisors, any" before "taxes" in the first paragraph. Stats. 1992, Ch. 427, in effect January 1, 1993, added "the" after "supplied by" in subdivision (d). Stats. 2011, Ch. 352 (SB 948), in effect January 1, 2012, deleted "equalized" after "excess of the", substituted "1614" for "1613" after "to Section", and substituted "assessment appeals board" for "board of equalization" after "the county" in the first sentence of subdivision (f).

Note.—Section 15 of Stats. 1976, Ch. 499, p. 1244, provided that the provisions of this act shall be operative with respect to taxes which become due and payable on or after the lien date in 1977.

Construction.—In general.—This section is remedial and should be liberally construed to carry out its intent and object of preventing the inequitable retention by the county of money which has been improperly collected. Hayes v. Los Angeles County, 99 Cal. 74; Pacific Coast Co. v. Wells, 134 Cal. 471; Midstate Theatres, Inc. v. Board of Supervisors, 46 Cal.App.3d 204; Focus Cable of Oakland, Inc. v. Alameda County, 173 Cal.App.3d 519. It is applicable regardless of whether the taxes were paid involuntarily or under protest. Stewart Law & Collection Co. v. Alameda County, 142 Cal. 660. The remedies given by this and by the following article are cumulative. Birch v. Orange County, 186 Cal. 736.

This section does not require that to justify a refund the taxes must be erroneous or illegal, but only that they have been "erroneously or illegally collected" and consequently personal property taxes which were legally due, but improperly exacted of a claimant as a condition to redemption of real property owned by him, were recoverable under this section. Evans v. San Joaquin County, 67 Cal.App.2d 452. Although a valuation dispute was presented when the assessor entered an escape assessment, after the assessor conducted a new audit and appraisal and the parties agreed upon the true value of the taxpayer's property, no dispute existed and thus, it was proper for the board of supervisors to refund an overpayment of tax pursuant to this section. Focus Cable of Oakland, Inc. v. Alameda County, 173 Cal.App.3d 519.

Division 1, Part 9, Chapter 5, of this code applies only to the recovery of property taxes and not to license taxes or fines. Bainbridge v. Riverside County, 167 Cal.App.2d 418.

This section does not apply to delinquency penalties. People ex rel. Strumpfer v. Westoaks Inv. #27, 139 Cal.App.4th 1038.

Public Utility Company.—A public utility company with real property in several counties seeking to reduce the assessment of such property can choose a target forum and, in the event that it receives a favorable judgment, can obtain refunds from the remaining counties under this section. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. v. State Board of Equalization, 27 Cal.3d 277.

Mandamus.—The action of the board of supervisors under this section is judicial and therefore, the decision of the board may not be controlled by mandamus. Younger v. Board of Supervisors, 68 Cal. 241. When a claim has been properly allowed by the board of supervisors, mandamus will lie against the auditor to compel payment. Pacific Coast Co. v. Wells, supra. If, however, the order of the supervisors is improper because a claim was not filed within the time required by law, it is the duty of the auditor to disregard it. Perrin v. Honeycutt, 144 Cal. 87; Murphy v. Bondshu, 2 Cal.App. 249.

A taxpayer may obtain a writ of mandate to compel a county board of supervisors to formally reject or otherwise act upon its claim for refund of property taxes paid. Signal Oil & Gas Co. v. Bradbury, et al., 183 Cal.App.2d 40.

Failure to act is a rejection.—The nonaction of the board for a period exceeding six months following the filing of a claim under this article amounts to a rejection and authorizes an action to recover the amount of the claim. Otis v. San Francisco, 170 Cal. 98.

Revenue districts.—Parties defendant.—In actions to enforce rights under this section the county is authorized to appear and defend on behalf of the entities whose taxing functions have been consolidated with those of the county, and it is not necessary that such entities be made parties defendant. It is doubtful if the foregoing rule can be affected by a municipal ordinance providing that all suits for the refund of city taxes must be brought against the city and be defended by the city attorney. Los Angeles County v. Superior Court, 17 Cal.2d 707.

Claim not barred by application to county board of equalization.—The fact that an owner files an application for a reduction in an assessment does not bar a claim for refund on the ground that the property in question is exempt from taxation, at least when the refund claim is filed prior to the appearance before the board. Pasadena Playhouse Assn. v. Los Angeles County, 69 Cal.App.2d 611.

Other recoverable payments.—Delinquent special assessments paid after all outstanding improvements bonds were purchased by the county and delivered to the special assessment district for cancellation pursuant to legislation enacted for the relief of property owners in distressed assessment districts may be recovered under this section. S. Siwel Co. v. County of Los Angeles, 27 Cal.2d 724; Himes v. Los Angeles County, 27 Cal.2d 891.

Refund Action after Denial of Claim.—The Legislature has enacted a specific statutory refund procedure for taxpayers whose property has been improperly assessed. Revenue and Taxation Code section 5096 provides for the refund of taxes paid before or after delinquency if they were erroneously or illegally collected. Revenue and Taxation Code section 5097 requires that this refund be based on a claim that is verified by the person who paid the tax. If a refund claim filed pursuant to Section 5097 is denied, Revenue and Taxation Code section 5140 authorizes an action for refund of the taxes paid. Chevron USA, Inc., et al. v. County of Kern (2014) 230 Cal.App.4th 1315.

Subdivision A

Double payment.—If a tax sale is void because the taxes had been paid by the owner, the amount paid by the purchaser may be recovered under this section. Hayes v. Los Angeles County, 99 Cal. 74.

Subdivision B

Excessive valuation.—Overpayments of tax resulting from an excessive assessment are not recoverable under this section. The property owner's only remedy in such cases is by application to the county board of equalization, even though the property is entirely without taxable value. Los Angeles etc., Corp. v. Los Angeles County, 22 Cal.App.2d 418. Taxes on solvent credits are not "erroneously or illegally collected" within the meaning of this section by reason of the refusal of the assessor to allow the entire deduction due on account of debts. Such a situation presents merely a case of overvaluation. Southern California Hardwood, etc. Co. v. Los Angeles County, 49 Cal.App. 712.

On the other hand, a recovery will be allowed if the over-assessment results from an error in the property statement furnished the assessor. Pacific Coast Co. v. Wells, 134 Cal. 471; Associated Oil Co. v. Orange County, 4 Cal.App.2d 5.

Furthermore, a tax is "illegally collected" within the meaning of this section if the property owner's application to the board of equalization is heard by less than a majority of the board or if the denial of the application is based on evidence taken out of his presence. Bandini Estate Co. v. Los Angeles County, 28 Cal.App.2d 224.

Other recoverable payments.—Taxes paid by a city upon lands annexed by it (City of Long Beach v. Board of Supervisors, 50 Cal.2d 674); overpayments resulting from a excessive and illegal tax rate (Connelly v. San Francisco, 164 Cal. 101, and Otis v. Los Angeles County, 9 Cal.2d 366); penalties illegally exacted from a redemptioner (Palomares Land Co. v. Los Angeles County, 146 Cal. 530); and taxes erroneously paid by the holder of a certificate of purchase of lieu lands (Slade v. Butte County, 14 Cal.App. 453) may be recovered under this section.

Void tax sales.—This section confers no rights upon the purchaser at a void tax sale except in cases covered by the previous subdivision. In other cases the purchaser must proceed in accordance with Section 3729. See Brooks v. Tulare County, 117 Cal. 465.

Voluntary Payment.—A person paying tax on land he does not own is a volunteer and is not entitled to a refund under this section. Erroneous collection does not include erroneous payment. Sierra Investment Corp. v. Sacramento County, 252 Cal.App.2d 339.

Assessorís map differs from parcel map.—Taxpayers are not entitled to a property tax refund when taxes are paid for a lot that appears only on the assessor's map, and is clearly identifiable but does not correspond to the parcel map, because this distinction is irrelevant and does not render the tax erroneously or illegally collected under Revenue and Taxation Code Section 5096, subdivision (b). Cafferkey v. City and County of San Francisco (2015) 236 Cal.App.4th 858.

Subdivision C

Clerical error.—A clerical error results from an incorrect figure or word inadvertently used, and not from the erroneous exercise of judgment or discretion. Thus, an overpayment resulting from the deliberate and intentional use by the assessor of an erroneous figure or method of valuation presents merely a case of overvaluation, the remedy for which is by application to the board of equalization. Kuhlemeier v. Los Angeles County, 2 Cal.2d 257; Los Angeles etc. Corp. v. Los Angeles County 22 Cal.App.2d 418.

The term "actual cash value" as used in former Political Code Section 3804 and determined by county assessor to be 50 percent of appraised value, did not mean something greater than "full cash value" as used in former Political Code Section 3627. Thus, where property was assessed in excess of its full cash value due to clerical error, refund could not be withheld on the ground that the assessment was not in excess of the actual cash value. Orpheum Circuit, Inc. v. Los Angeles County, 12 Cal.App.2d 257.