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San Mateo Daily News


May 9, 2007


By Rebekah Gordon / MediaNews



Homeowner beware: Filing your property tax exemption is free



It's about that time of year, when the Property Tax Assessor Records Corp. pays a visit to homeowners' mailboxes.

For $25, its solicitation states, they'll help you determine if you qualify for a property tax exemption and file the paperwork.

But homeowners beware: The same service is provided by the San Mateo County Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder for free.

The dubious Chicago-based company has no phone number and a one-page Web site that contains nothing but an online form requesting your personal information so that a representative may contact you.

Still, the company has been legitimately registered to do business in California since 2003. Its previous registration, approved in 1991, was voluntarily surrendered sometime before 2003, according to the Web site of the Secretary of State.

"They're not doing anything illegal. They've actually found themselves a niche in the market," said Paula Cuneo, a county deputy assessor-county clerk-recorder. "But we've tried to inform people that the service is free."

Cuneo said residents have received solicitations from the company for years as the annual June deadline for creating the property tax assessment roll creeps up.

"It's not a new thing," she said. "It happens every year about this time."

Cuneo said that one year the assessor's office received as many as 500 inquiries from homeowners about the solicitation. Many of the inquiries were from homeowners erroneously sending the company's completed form - and a check for $25 - to her office.

Although the form states that it's not an official government form, Cuneo said, "It still looks like it."

The Homeowner Exemption is a property tax program that reduces the assessed value of an owner-occupied residence by a maximum of $7,000. Typically a homeowner can receive up to $70 in annual property tax savings. To qualify for the exemption, the owner must occupy a property as the principal place of residence on Jan. 1 or within 90 days after the date of acquisition. A dwelling does not qualify if it is intended to be rented, vacant or used as a vacation home.

The solicitation comes in the form of a letter addressed to the homeowner with a processing card, return envelope and an insert printed in eight languages. Homeowners are also offered additional market information services for a total charge of $49, and will be charged the additional fee unless they check a box on the form declining the services. Homeowners are also asked for their Social Security number and signature.

For confused homeowners who may have already sent their payment and form into the company, no refund can be procured, Cuneo said.