By Douglas Mo

The California Court of Appeal ruled that the County of Los Angeles illegally assessed the possessory interest of the lessee of a building owned by the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. The possessory interest was valued pursuant to a special statute that only applied to property owned by a state public retirement system, which allowed the inclusion of the value of the tax-exempt reversion in the value of the possessory interest. In reversing the trial court’s decision, the Court of Appeal stated that the Los Angeles County Assessor should have declined the value of the possessory interest with each successive assessment to recognize the declining remaining term of the possessory interest. This is a significant and beneficial point to taxpayers owning possessory interests in California, because a declining term causes the value of the possessory interest to decrease as a function of time. Further, the Court of Appeal cited language in the California State Board of Equalization Handbook (AH 510) to support its decision. This decision is the second in the last four months (the other being Sky River LLC v. Kern County, 214 Cal.App. 4th 720 (2013)) to give judicial credence to the Assessors’ Handbooks. When there is helpful language in Assessors’ Handbooks to support taxpayer positions, Assessors can be inclined to ignore the guidance contained in these Handbooks. California State Teachers’ Retirement System v. County of Los Angeles, B225245, Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District (May 7, 2013).