(Disclaimer: I am not a tax professional, accountant, or attorney. Please consult your own tax specialist for information pertaining to your individual circumstances.)
In my article last month, I referenced taxes in D.C. and promised you more information at another time. Well, this is the time.
Now, I’m not talking about income taxes (which, incidentally, are due next week) but about property taxes.
In D.C., the new tax year begins on Oct. 1 and we pay property taxes every six months, in March and September. Our taxes are paid in arrears, meaning that those coming due on Sept. 15, 2020 cover the six-month period beginning on June 1, 2020.
The method of assessing tax value of homes in D.C. has always been a mystery to me. In many states, reassessments are conducted annually or when the property changes hands. You hear horror stories about taxes in Chicago, New York, or even Florida that vastly exceed the current maximum deductible amount.
Even though I have owned four houses and two condominiums in D.C., only twice have I been asked to complete a tax assessment questionnaire. And when I asked around, nobody else knew what I was talking about.
The D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR) has four different classifications and there are so many permutations within them that it can leave your head spinning.
Class 1 is defined as “Residential real property, including multifamily.” This applies to your detached home, rowhouse, condominium, or cooperative. The base tax rate for a Class 1 property is currently 85 cents per $100 of the property’s assessed value, but that may not be what you pay at all.
For example, if you occupy the property as your principal residence, then you are entitled to a Homestead Exemption, which allows you to exclude $75,700 of the assessed value of your home for an annual property tax savings of $643.45.
In addition to the Homestead Exemption, if you are 65 or older (or disabled), own 50% or more of your property and have a household adjusted gross income less than $134,550, you can apply to have the OTR reduce your property tax by 50%. Sound confusing? Here’s an example.
An assessment of $500,000 would yield an annual property tax of $4250. A Homestead Exemption would reduce that to $3606. Applying the Senior Citizen or Disabled rate would further reduce your tax to $1803 annually.
And then there’s the cap – the saving grace of D.C.’s property tax system. Once you own your home, your assessment cannot go up more than 10% per year (or 5% per year if you’re paying the Senior Citizen or Disabled rate).
Some people can apply for a tax abatement and not pay any property tax at all for up to five years. The Tax Abatement program has income limits based on the size of your household (currently $74,520 for a party of two) as well as a purchase price limit of $479,066.
If you own commercial property, you will be taxed under Class 2, with three different rates depending on the assessed value of the building.
Class 3 covers vacant properties and the charge is $5.00 per $100 of assessed value, so using the example of our $500,000 assessment, you would pay $25,000 per year in property tax. Luckily, there is an application for an exemption for up to 18 months if you are selling your house (and if it takes me 18 months to sell your house in this market, just shoot me now).
Class 4 gives me nosebleeds. This is the blighted property class, for homes that are not only vacant but also uncared for, abandoned, boarded up, falling down, fire damaged and/or a draw for unwanted critters or vagrants. A whopping $10.00 per $100 in our example will cost $50,000 per year. What an incentive to clean up your property!
There can be other consequences as well. Late payment of property taxes, for example, can result in a charge of 10% of the tax and interest at the rate of 1.5% per month. The District might also place a lien on your home and require you to pay the balance owed when you sell it, eating into your equity or profit. Worse yet, your property could be put up for tax sale.
Bottom line: Keep your property in good repair. Seek out the benefits you qualify for to reduce your tax liability. Notify the OTR if your situation changes so adjustments can be made. Because if you don’t, they will look for you, they will find you, and they will charge you. Liam Neeson told me so.
Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland and Virginia and Director of Education & Mentorship at RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.