Tax relief available for wildfire survivors

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When a disaster strikes, California State Board of Equalization member Fiona Ma, CPA, reassures survivors there are a number of resources available to help individuals and business owners.

“I am stunned and heartbroken by the level of damage caused by these wildfires as they rage across California,” said Ma. “State agencies, nonprofit organizations, companies and constituents throughout California are joining together to provide assistance to the survivors of wildfires ravaging California. We stand ready to help.”

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration offers a number of ways to receive tax assistance, including tax extension to file returns, relief from penalties or interest from some taxes and fees and replacing copies of records lost to damage.

The Franchise Tax Board (FTB) offers a disaster loss deduction, through which victims can claim a disaster loss in either the year the disaster occurred or in the prior tax year, if a disaster is declared by the governor. Taxpayers claiming the disaster loss should write the name of the disaster in red ink at the top of the tax return to alert FTB to expedite the refund. If taxpayers are e-filing, they should follow the software instructions to enter disaster information.

Taxpayers who need copies of lost or damaged state tax returns should complete FTB Form 3516. FTB is also allowing special tax relief for fire survivors. The automatic extension for affected taxpayers to file 2016 California tax returns has been extended to Jan. 31. FTB’s Disaster Loss Publication 1034 has additional information and the most recent list of declared disasters.

The IRS has also granted disaster relief to individuals and businesses in several counties affected by the wildfires. This relief applies to various tax filing and payment deadlines that occurred starting Oct. 8. The Governor's Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) has information on what you should know before applying for federal individual assistance.

Individuals or businesses with taxable property damaged or destroyed by disasters declared as ‘state of emergencies’ may be eligible for property tax relief. In many cases, the damaged property can be reappraised in its current condition, with some taxes refunded to the property owner. If rebuilt in a like or similar manner, the property will retain its prior value (Proposition 13) for tax purposes.

To qualify for property tax relief, you must file a claim with your county assessor's office within the time specified. The loss estimate must be at least $10,000 of current market value to qualify. Owners of eligible property may also apply for deferral of the next property tax installment on the regular secured roll or tax payments on the supplemental roll, without penalties or interest.

“As the clean-up process begins from the onslaught of wildfires, and people return to burned areas to rebuild their lives and businesses, we need to provide information and assistance to help speed the recovery process,” said Ma.

Claims for property tax relief and applications for deferral of property taxes must be filed with county assessors' offices. You can contact your county assessor for assistance.

For further information on property tax disaster relief, visit For a list of additional resources, including Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) assistance, Federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), Disaster Distress Helpline or advice for salvaging damaged family treasures, visit