Property taxes are still due April 10 despite COVID-19, but tax collector could waive penalty

San Diego County Treasurer/Tax Collector Dan McAllister mailed nearly 1 million property tax bills.
San Diego County Treasurer/Tax Collector Dan McAllister mailed nearly 1 million property tax bills.

Despite COVID-19 creating serious health fears and financial obstacles for millions of Californians, property taxes will not be postponed and are still due April 10.

However, residents in some counties, including San Diego County, may be able to avoid incurring late or penalty fees if the effects of the pandemic or quarantines leave them unable to pay on time.

Under state law, tax collectors are able to cancel late penalties under certain circumstances. The San Diego County Treasurer-Tax Collector’s Office is encouraging taxpayers to file a penalty cancellation request if they feel COVID-19 has interfered with their ability to pay the second installment of their property taxes on April 10.

These requests — which should include documentation from residents showing how the virus impacted their ability to pay — will be reviewed after the April 10 deadline. In the weeks after the deadline, residents will be notified about whether their request has been granted or rejected, along with an explanation.

Residents can get the request forms online on the county tax collector’s website or in the mail by calling the Treasurer-Tax Collector’s Office: (877) 829-4732.

Traditionally a high percentage of San Diego County taxpayers pay property taxes on time. The county has a 99 percent collection rate for the last five years.

This year more than 31 percent of residents have already paid their second installment of property taxes. Another 34 percent have paid property taxes through their banks, although banks won’t transfer those payments to the county until next week.

“We like to think people will continue to pay on time,” said Treasurer-Tax Collector Dan McAllister, “but we understand these are trying and difficult times and it is important to recognize the plight of people who may ... need to ask for a waiver. We have to be thoughtful and rigorous in our efforts to accommodate taxpayers with the issues related to what we are going through.”

Residents throughout San Diego County and California have been advocating for a postponement of the property tax payment deadline, which is set by the state tax code.

In San Diego, residents have criticized the Treasurer-Tax Collector’s Office for ads that promote paying taxes online while the Treasurer-Tax Collector’s physical office locations are closed due to COVID-19.

“‘Stay at home and pay your taxes?’” wrote one commentator on Facebook. “The more appropriate campaign should be, ‘San Diego Community we’re supporting you. You can delay your 2nd property tax payment for 90 days.’”

Despite residents’ concerns, it seems unlikely the state will postpone the deadline.

The Legislature will not reconvene until April 13 — three days after the deadline — and Gov. Gavin Newsom has given little indication he’s considering a postponement.

The Governor’s Office did not respond to an inquiry from the Union-Tribune.

Some state and local officials are hesitant to postpone the property tax deadline because those tax payments provide critical revenue for local governments.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office has projected that many cities and schools do not have enough cash on hand to survive even a two-month delay of the deadline, said Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins in a statement.

She noted that property taxes are distributed immediately to communities, unlike other funding sources.

“April property tax payments are vital to local communities’ ability to keep hospitals open and first responders on the job,” Atkins said, “and will help our schools as they continue dealing with distance learning and preparing for their eventual re-openings, so postponing the April 10 due date could cause severe difficulties throughout California.”

The Democratic senator from San Diego did advocate for California’s county tax collectors to use their existing authority to waive penalties and interest related to the deadline.

“This is a step that can be taken quickly, it’s a reasonable response to a complex issue in this unprecedented time, and it provides relief without triggering widespread disruption,” Atkins said.

— Charles T. Clark is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune