Fire Fee Q & A
South Tahoe Association of REALTORS®
Hayley Williamson, Government Affairs Director
September 24, 2012
Q. What is the Fire Fee?
On July 7, 2011 the State Responsibility Area Fire (SRA) Prevention Benefit Fee (“Fire Fee”) was signed into law. The Legislature has said that the fee is for fire prevention, not for fighting fires. The fee will help prevent fires by allowing more brush clearing and forest health management.
Q. Who does the Fee apply to?
The fire fee applies to anyone living in a State Responsibility Area (SRA), which are rural areas in the state that are not federally owned.
Q. What is the State Responsibility Area?
The State Responsibility Area (SRA) is the area of the state where the State of California is financially responsible for the prevention and suppression of wildfires.
SRA does not include lands within city boundaries or in federal ownership. To see if a parcel is within the SRA enter in the parcel address in the State Responsibility Area Viewer, available at:
Q. How much is the Fire Fee?
The fee is levied at the rate of $150 per habitable structure, which is defined as a building that can be occupied for residential use. Owners of habitable structures who are also within the boundaries of a local fire protection agency will receive a reduction of $35 per habitable structure.
It is unclear whether the fee will remain at $150, or will increase or decrease in coming years. The current billing cycle is the only one for which the $150 fee is established, the fee is allowed to be changed after this billing cycle.
The fee is charged per Assessor’s Parcel Number (APN):
* Owners of condominiums pay $150 per unit.
* Owners of multi-family dwellings (including apartment buildings) pay only $150 for the entire complex. Thus, the owner of a duplex pays one $150 fee whether it’s two cabins on one lot or two units in one building.
* Owners of a vacant parcel, however, are not assessed a fee.
Q. Is the Fire Fee assessed in arrears (in the past)?
Yes. Since the fee was signed into law in 2011, homeowners can and will be billed for the 2011-2012 fiscal year (July 1-June 30).
CAL FIRE is mandated to annually transmit to the Board of Equalization (BOE) a list of the appropriate name and address of each person who is responsible for the SRA Fire Prevention Fee and the amount of the fee to be assessed.
The major implementation dates for the SRA Fire Prevention Fee are:
* BOE Begins Sending Fiscal Year 11/12 Bills to Homeowners: August 2012
* BOE Begins Sending Fiscal Year 12/13 Bills to Homeowners: March 2013 (est)
Q. Who is challenging the Fire Fee?
Many people are unhappy about the fire fee. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has stated that they will file suit against the fee, now that the first round of fire fee bills have gone out. The Association is claiming that the fee is unconstitutional because it is actually a tax, and will file suit on this ground.
On August 21, 2012, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors sent an official letter to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association saying that the County Board “adamantly opposes” the fire fee, and that the County Board pledges any type of support the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association needs in filing a lawsuit against the fee. The County Board also said it will be filing a friend of the court brief against the fire fee when the suit is initiated.
On August 20, 2012 the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors also sent an official letter to the Board of Equalization asking the BOE to halt the fire fee. The County Board stated that the fire fee is unfair, has been sprung too quickly on the residents of El Dorado County, and is inaccurate. The County Board told the BOE that the County Board would be pursuing legal options to stop the fire fee.
Q. Does a homeowner have to pay the Fire Fee?
YES. Homeowners MUST pay the fire fee, even if they are attempting to appeal their fee or even if a lawsuit later determines that the fee is unconstitutional (in which case the court would probably issue a refund to all homeowners who paid the fee). Not paying the fee can also result in a lien on a property. The lien will follow the person, so even if a person does not own the property anymore, he/she must pay the fee or face a lien on any currently owned property.
Q. How long do homeowners have to pay the Fee after receiving it?
The fee payment deadline is a very small window– homeowners have 30 fays to pay the fee after receiving the bill.
Q. Is there a penalty for paying the Fee late?
Yes. Late penalties up to 20% of the fee may be assessed if the payment is late.
Not paying the fee can result in a lien on the property, and penalties. The lien will follow the person, so even if a person does not own the property anymore, he/she must pay the fee or face a lien.
Q. Where should a homeowner send the Fire Fee Payment?
Fees should be sent to (if homeowners do not want to appeal or challenge the fee):
Board of Equalization
P.O. Box 942879
Sacramento, CA 94279
Q. Is there a way to appeal the Fee?
Yes. If homeowners want to appeal the fee, they must submit with their fire fee payment a Petition for Redetermination, located at: www.firepreventionfee.org.
Fees with petitions for redetermination should be sent to:
Board of Equalization
P.O. Box 942879
Sacramento, CA 94279
AND a copy of the petition for redetermination with a copy of the fee check should be sent to:
Fire Prevention Petitions
P.O. Box 2254
Suisun City, CA 94585
Q. Is not owning the home anymore a defense for not having to pay the Fire Fee?
NO. If the homeowner owned the home at any point during the fiscal year for which the Fire Fee is assessed, the homeowner must pay the fee.
Q. What are the defenses available for not having to pay the Fire Fee?
The listed defenses are:
* The habitable structures on the property are not located in the SRA
* The property was charged for more habitable structures than actually exist on the property
* The property did not receive a $35 exemption per habitable structure, but the $35 exemption should apply because the property is located within the boundaries of a local fire protection agency
Q. As a REALTOR®, do I have to inform my client about the Fire Fee?
Yes. The Fire Fee information is contained in the Statewide Buyer and Seller Advisory (SBSA), paragraph 15 which says “Buyer and Seller are advised that fires annually cause the destruction of thousands of homes…If the property is located within a State Fire Responsibility Area or a Very High fire Hazard Zone, generally Seller must disclose that fact to Buyer…If Buyer wants more information, Broker recommends that, during Buyer’s inspection contingency period, Buyer contact the local fire department and Buyer’s insurance agent regarding the risk of fire.” If you are using the SBSA, you have made this disclosure to your client.
Q. Can my client buyer or seller negotiate the Fire Fee?
The buyer and seller may negotiate between themselves if one party wants the other party to cover some or all of a fire fee assessed on a property.
Q. Are Title Companies involved in the Fire Fee?
No, since this is a fee and not a tax, it is not a Title Company’s Responsibility to monitor the Fire Fee.
Q. What is the California Association of REALTORS® doing about the Fire Fee?
C.A.R.’s Board of Directors has directed C.A.R. to support legislation which repeals the fire fee. Legislation was introduced this year, AB 1506 (Jeffries), which would have repealed the fee and C.A.R. did come out in support. This measure, however, failed to pass out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee due to the budgetary hole the absence of these funds would cause. The legislature has adjourned for the year so a new bill would not be possible until next session.
Q. Where can I find more information?
More information is available online at www.firepreventionfee.org. Additionally, local fire districts and local politicians have information and statements about the Fire Fee.
– The South Tahoe Association of REALTORS Staff
South Tahoe Association of REALTORS