United States: Property Tax Assessments

Court of Appeals Weighs in on Tax Assessment

Property taxes often represent a significant chunk of an owner's annual expenses. Even when tax bills are high, many taxpayers simply accept the billed amounts calculated by their assessors.

That might not be wise, as a recent case in California illustrates. In SHC Half Moon Bay, Inc. v. County of San Mateo (Cal. App. 2014), the California Court of Appeals, applying property tax laws similar to those in some other jurisdictions, found that a county's assessment improperly inflated a hotel's value — in turn improperly inflating the hotel's property taxes.

Hotel Owner Challenges Property Tax

In 2004, SHC Half Moon Bay purchased the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay Hotel for about $124 million. The purchase price included real and personal property (furniture, fixtures and equipment), as well as intangible assets and rights. As part of an income valuation approach, the San Mateo County assessor assessed the hotel at its purchase price and deducted the value of personal property. It ultimately reached a total value of about $117 million.

SHC challenged the property tax assessment, asserting that it erroneously included the value of more than $16 million in nontaxable intangible assets — specifically, the hotel's assembled workforce, leasehold interest in the employee parking lot, agreement with the golf course operator and goodwill. It argued that simply deducting the hotel's management and franchise fee of $1.6 million was not enough to exclude intangible assets from the assessment, as required by state law. Instead, SHC contended, the assessor was required to identify, value and exclude the value of the intangible assets from the calculation.

The county Assessment Appeals Board upheld the assessment. SHC then sued for a property tax refund, but the trial court also sided with the county. SHC appealed.

Court Sides with Owner

The Court of Appeals began its review by noting that California law mandates that the quantifiable fair market value of intangible assets that directly enhance a property's income stream — such as goodwill, customer base and favorable franchise terms or operation contracts — be deducted from an income stream analysis prior to taxation. (Many county laws similarly provide that property tax valuations should be based on the value of the real estate only.)

The court concluded that the assessor's deduction of the management and franchise fee from the hotel's projected revenue stream did not identify and exclude intangible assets. It pointed out that the assessor's expert had conceded to the appeals board that the assessor's methodology didn't remove all intangible assets and rights.

His report stated that only "the majority of the property's business value" was removed by deduction of the fee. The report also acknowledged that the capitalized value of necessary pre-opening expenses — for example, the cost of assembling and training a workforce, pre-opening marketing expenses and working capital — is frequently deducted as an intangible value of a hotel.

According to the court, the expert's report and testimony demonstrated that the assessor's methodology failed to attribute a portion of the hotel's income stream to the enterprise activity that was directly attributable to the value of the intangible assets and deduct that value prior to assessment. Therefore, the methodology was "legally incorrect."

The court did, however, uphold the Assessment Appeals Board's finding that the fee largely captured the goodwill. Although there may be situations where a taxpayer can establish that the deduction of a management and franchise fee does not capture goodwill, it said, SHC failed to do so here.

Appeal Leads to Savings

As a result of the appellate court's ruling, the board was required to recalculate the value of the property, applying the income method consistently with the court's findings. In other words, it will have to exclude the value of the hotel's assembled workforce, leasehold interest in the employee parking lot and agreement with the golf course operator — which should produce substantial tax savings.

Should You Challenge Your Property Taxes?

Unlike the property taxes at issue in SHC Half Moon Bay, which were the result of an individually tailored assessment, property taxes are often based on estimates derived from mass appraisal techniques. These techniques might prove accurate overall, but the individual estimates do not necessarily reflect specific properties' characteristics.

So don't just blindly pay your tax bill. Take a close look at the factors that were applied to your property and determine whether they actually do apply. For example, you might find errors in the property description, such as square footage, age, condition and construction materials. To contest an assessment, you can present testimony from a professional appraisal, financial data for the property (such as income and cash flow statements), current leases and assessments for similar properties.

If you decide to appeal your assessment, pay attention to the relevant jurisdiction's deadlines. While some jurisdictions have a "rolling" appeals process, many observe strict deadlines.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.