Field Discovery Of New Construction
When the voters passed Proposition 13 in 1978 freezing the base year value of property, they did allow for reappraisal of property upon change in ownership and "new construction." The assessor's office learns of most new construction through copies of building permits from the County or municipalities. The building permit is reviewed to see if the activity appears to trigger a reappraisal and is then entered into the computer system. On smaller permits, the property owner is mailed a statement of new construction which alerts us to the completion date and cost of the new construction. Our appraisers usually visit new residences, major additions and other large projects to obtain field measurements and discuss specifics of the project with the owner.
Because a primary responsibility of the assessor is to be fair, we use field discovery for new construction which is done without a permit. Some construction does not require a permit such as certain yard improvements including tennis courts, new vineyard plantings, permanent livestock corrals and the excavation of winery caves unless there is electrical construction associated with the project. Other construction is done without a permit even though a permit is legally required. Such construction is called bootleg and can include components that are hazardous to the occupants and visitors. Obtaining a permit, even after the fact, is something every property owner needs to do because of stringent real estate disclosure laws. A subsequent sale of the property could result in legal action by the buyer against the seller for not revealing that construction was done without a permit and because the construction may not be up to code.
Our field appraisers over the years have discovered entire houses, second stories, over 1900 square feet of new living area and other major additions that were done without a permit. In some instances neighbors have alerted us anonymously to illegal construction because they know that it is unfair for them to be assessed for permitted new construction while their neighbor is not being assessed.
To locate assessable new construction that does not require a permit, the assessor mails a new construction questionnaire to the owners of new subdivision homes because most yard improvements are made within a year or two of a house being first occupied. The majority of owners return the questionnaire which allows us to enroll the appropriate value for the improvements. We follow up with a site visit to those owners who do not return the questionnaire. In one case we discovered a full-size swimming pool that had been built without a permit in a new subdivision.
Property owners who have questions about whether or not a permit is required or wish to obtain a permit after the fact should contact their local building official. Should you have any questions about assessment issues, please contact Napa County Assessor John Tuteur at 707.253.4459 or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.