From many corners, California politicians and tax officials are under increasing pressure to extend the current April 10 deadline for paying property tax bills.

The request is not unreasonable and there are many ways that government can assist homeowners who are under threat of hefty penalties or tax foreclosures.

To date, our political leaders have been responsive to those suffering from the economic shock due to the COVID-19 virus. Many California localities have passed emergency laws against evictions and the state, via Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive authority, has ramped up special protections for small businesses and extended the tax filing deadlines for income taxes. These actions are justified.

But homeowners are hurting, too, because of the pending due date for the second installment of property taxes.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, California’s leading protector of homeowners, has received numerous inquiries in the last three weeks of this crisis. One example was an email from Karen D. who told us that she is “a single mother who normally works 2 jobs to stay afloat. Both my jobs have been cut during the crisis. I have applied for Medicaid with no response in 2 weeks. Also property taxes remain due on April 10 with no extension. Since I pay my property taxes separately from my mortgage that means I need to still pay my mortgage and my property taxes with no income … the help is not out there for us.”

Media outlets are beginning to understand the severity of the looming threat that the April 10th deadline presents to homeowners.

Editorials, including from this publication, have called for action as have a number of government officials. Board of Equalization Chairman Tony Vazquez sent a letter to Gov. Newsom on behalf of the BOE and county assessors, requesting the governor’s assistance in granting BOE the authority to grant additional time extensions for certain property-tax filing deadlines. Fresno County Assessor Paul Dictos argued that an executive order from the governor could allow them to take steps to provide relief.

But most California local officials are balking at the idea of an executive order. We can’t help but note the hypocrisy of local government interests opposing relief for taxpayers when they have been lobbying the governor for relief by executive order, including waiving provisions of the Brown Act, which mandates transparency in government meetings.

Particularly egregious is Riverside County’s policy. Notwithstanding the pandemic, any property owner in Riverside County, besides being required to provide extensive supporting documentation when applying for a waiver, must also pay the property taxes due plus any applicable penalty and any other charges before the county will even consider relief.

Gov. Newsom should issue an executive order granting homeowners some form of emergency relief. As a weak alternative, treasurer/tax collectors should come up with a uniform process by which all 58 counties agree to abide. Specifically, late fees and penalties should be waived until July 15 for all homeowners, or at a minimum for seniors over the age of 65 and those who can demonstrate that they lost their jobs before April 10.

Without some sort of clear, unambiguous directive from the governor or firm guidelines from California’s 58 tax collectors, property owners applying for relief from penalties are left to the unpredictable whims of county officials, most of whom do not possess a good track record of protecting the interests of taxpayers. California’s beleaguered homeowners deserve better.

Originally published in the Orange County Register