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Homeowner fighting 'air' property tax

Huntington Harbour, Calif., homeowner Frank Singer got a bill from the state charging him a fee for his home's cantilevered deck extension. The 4-feet-by-30-feet added decking hangs over a waterway, which is state property, behind his house.

Singer says the bill is improper and unfair and he's refusing to pay it.

He calls the $680 levy an "air tax' and is questioning how the California Lands Commission came up with the amount.

The Commission says it's reasoning is simple. "You are being charged rent for the use of state land because your deck extends over your property line and onto state owned property,'' says the letter it sent to Singer.

The letter furthers states that the Lands Commission owns the "land'' within the two main channels in the development, but not the other, smaller waterways in the harbor.

Two parts to the complaint: Singer is not convinced. He has two main complaints.

First, he's challenging the state's right to send him a bill.

I think he's going to have trouble winning this fight. He doesn't own the waterway. I suspect any arbiters will likely agree with Lands Commission attorney Curtis Fossum, who said, "If somebody was building over your property without your permission, they would be a trespasser. You don't have a right to build over the state's property. If the state wants to permit it, it's duty bound to charge a fair market value.''

But that fair market value is Singer's other issue.

He disagrees with the state computing the fee by basing it on the deck's square footage. Rather, he argues, "the proper method would be to determine the value of the air the deck invades, not the value of what invades the air.''

And the air, he says, is "worthless.''

OK, Mr. Singer, you're wrong. The air isn't worthless.

But I'll grant that you might be able to change the way the property or air or whatever tax is figured.

However, do keep in mind that old saying: Be careful for what you wish for.

Fighting your property tax assessment: If you have issues with state or local taxes on your property, and I'm talking standard old terra firma here, it's not that hard.

You can find details on how to effectively fight the property tax man in Appealing your property tax appraisal.

Good luck!

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