Why I’m claiming my senior exemption

By May 5, 2011

By Norman Roberts

I am happy that Measure A passed. Though I have no children or grandchildren in the Davis schools I receive benefits from the school system; good schools increase the value of my home.

But I didn’t vote for the measure; neither did I vote against it. It seemed wrong for me to help impose a tax on my neighbors, or defeat such tax, when I would claim and receive an exemption and not bear any of the burden of such tax.

What I should now do is either not claim the exemption or make a charitable donation to the Davis Joint Unified School District in the amount of the tax. But I won’t do either. My reason to claim the exemption is that the residents living in University Retirement Community in West Davis are exempt from that tax under state law and also from the bulk of local property tax.

The California Revenue and Taxation code classifies residences like URC as charities and exempt from taxes on property. In 2010, the exemption saved URC at least $639,718.67 in property tax, 1 percent of its assessed value.

There are two properties at Shasta and Covell, Shasta Point Apartments and URC. Shasta Point is for low-income persons, and probably deserves an exemption to keep rents low for them. URC is for high middle-income and higher-income persons and couples; people like me, healthy when they enter and with enough assets and income to pay a six-figure entrance charge and $3,000 to $4,000 a month for maintenance, meals and services. The $639,718.67 exemption is the amount URC saves; Shasta Point is a separate property.

URC is one of many continuing care elderly communities in California exempted by Revenue and Taxation Code Section 214 as “charitable.” They have been exempted as charities since 1960. In 1960, the California Appellate Court decided a claim for tax exemption made by Fifield Manors, which operated three “life care” facilities in the Los Angeles area. The exemption was denied by the assessor and affirmed by the Superior Court, but the Court of Appeal reversed.

The judge in the Superior Court wrote that a person able to pay the amounts charged by the Manors “cannot by any commonly accepted meaning of the word be considered an object of charity” and then added, “Charity is a two-way deal, it is from somebody and to somebody, and that which you do for yourself is not charity.”

The Court of Appeal reversed and said charity “is not confined to the relief of the poor, and may extend to the rich in areas where they are not able to care for themselves.”

In 1984, the Legislature changed the law giving exemption to elderly housing. New language said the exemption was for housing for “low- and moderate-income elderly.” But that change lasted only one year. In 1985, the law was again changed and legislative counsel said the exemption would be granted “irrespective of whether the property is occupied by low- and moderate-income persons.” And it has remained that way ever since.

Meanwhile, places like URC in Oregon were trying to obtain property tax exemption. They did not succeed. The Oregon Supreme Court held in 1966 that “in order to cloak property with the charitable exemption, it is essential that the property be donated by others and not purchased by the users of the property in consideration of being granted such use.”And so in Oregon there is no exemption for housing for rich old people.

Rogue Valley Manors in Medford, Ore., owned by Pacific Retirement Services, the parent corporation of URC, pays property tax based on its land value and building construction cost

A few years ago, I wrote to Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, to state Sen. Lois Wolk, to members of the Davis City Council, to members of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and to members of the Davis Board of Education. I gave them a paper I had written that explained the history and law on this subject. I have never heard a word of comment about the matter, except from one councilman who, after I asked what comment he had to my paper, replied “not a word.”

The lesson I have learned from this lack of action is that our elected officials approve of people like me, older, but able to physically care for themselves and financially comfortable, not contributing to the costs of their community. Their apparent approval of tax exemption for URC and for other continuing care retirement communities tells me I can claim my exemptions from school parcel taxes and not feel guilty about doing so.

And I will continue to claim the exemption and not donate to our schools until such time, if ever, that the Legislature and the governor require people like me, but residing in senior housing throughout California — in every affluent county — to pay the property taxes we other older able-bodied and affluent persons pay.

— Norman Roberts is a Davis resident.

Special to The Enterprise

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