Frequently Asked Questions

New Legislation Related to the Fee

Prorating the Fee during a Property Sale - Effective January 1, 2016, new legislation permits a property owner with one or more habitable structures subject to the fee, when selling their property, to negotiate a division of the fee between buyer and seller as one of the terms of the sale. For more information, click on the link, http://www.fire.ca.gov/firepreventionfee/sra_laws.

Natural Disaster Exemption – Beginning July 1, 2014, if a habitable structure is no longer habitable due to damage or destruction caused by a natural disaster, the owner may be exempt from paying the Fire Prevention Fee. For information on submitting an exemption request, click on the link, http://www.fire.ca.gov/firepreventionfee/sra_NDE.

Below are answers to a list of common questions related to the SRA Fire Prevention Fee.

 

What is the Fire Prevention Fee?

The Fire Prevention Fee is an annual fee assessed on owners of habitable structures located within the State Responsibility Area (SRA). Assembly Bill X1 29, effective July 8, 2011, required the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (Board) to establish the Fire Prevention Fee to pay for fire prevention services throughout the state in locations designated as SRA.

What is the State Responsibility Area (SRA)?

The State Responsibility Area (SRA) is the area in the state where the State of California has the primary financial responsibility for the prevention and suppression of wildland fires. The SRA forms one large area over 31 million acres to which the State Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) provides a basic level of wildland fire prevention and protection services.

What is the basic law that describes SRA?

State law describes SRA in Sections 4125 - 4128 of the Public Resources Code. Specifically, Section 4126 states that SRA includes:

  • Lands covered wholly or in part by forests or by trees capable of producing forest products
  • Lands covered wholly or in part by timber, brush, undergrowth, or grass, whether of commercial value or not, which protect the soil from excessive erosion, retard runoff of water, or accelerate water percolation, if such lands are sources of water which is available for irrigation or for domestic or industrial use.
  • Lands in areas which are principally used or useful for range or forage purposes, which are contiguous to other lands so defined. It is important to understand that lands in SRA are based on vegetative cover and natural resource values. SRA lands include state and privately-owned forest, watershed, and rangeland in which the primary financial responsibility for preventing and suppressing wildland fires rests with the state. Lands within city boundaries or in federal ownership are not in the SRA. The SRA is determined under regulations of the Board.

 

What do terms like "watershed" in the SRA law mean?

More precise information in determining which lands are in SRA is contained in a document entitled State Responsibility Area Classification System, which was adopted pursuant to rule of the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection. The Classification System delineates factors related to structural density, size of agricultural parcels, and specific watershed characteristics.

Who is responsible for paying the fee?

The person or agency responsible for paying the fee is the owner of record of a habitable structure on July 1 of the fiscal year the fee is due, as recorded in the county assessor rolls or in the records of the California Department of Housing and Community Development. This is the case regardless of whether the owner of record changed during the fiscal year.

If I'm selling my property, can I negotiate with the buyer to pay a portion of the fee?

Yes. Effective January 1, 2016, Assembly Bill 301 added Section 4213.2 to the Public Resources Code to permit a property owner subject to the fee, when selling the structure or structures, to negotiate apportionment of the fee between the parties as one of the terms of the sale. However, payment of the total Fire Prevention Fee is the responsibility of the person who is the legal owner of the habitable structure on July 1 of the fiscal year the fee is due.

What is a habitable structure?

A habitable structure is a building that contains one or more dwelling units or that can be occupied for residential use. Such structures provide independent living facilities for one or more persons, including provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking and sanitation. Examples of habitable structures include single family homes, multi-dwelling structures, mobile and manufactured homes, and condominiums. Habitable structures do NOT include commercial, industrial or incidental buildings such as detached garages, barns, outdoor sanitation facilities, and sheds.

What about condominiums?

In a condominium complex, each owner has a separate parcel and would be assessed one fee per condominium unit.

What about apartments?

In an apartment complex, there is one fee per apartment building (not per apartment unit).

What about other structures?

The current fee law does not apply to owners of non-habitable structures such as businesses and offices. Owners of commercial, industrial or incidental structures without living areas, such as detached garages, barns, woodsheds, and outbuildings are not assessed the fee.

I own a mobile or manufactured home. What do I do if I receive more than one bill when I only have one home?

Owners of habitable structures in the SRA, including mobile or manufactured homes, are assessed one fee per habitable structure. Homeowners who receive duplicate bills for a habitable structure are required to pay only one fee. A Petition for Redetermination should be submitted for the duplicate billing without making payment on the duplicate billing. The owner must include the account number of both bills on the petition form. If a fee is paid while concurrently submitting a Petition for Redetermination, payment(s) that exceed the amount due will be refunded.

How were habitable structures identified?

The owners of habitable structures in the SRA are identified through a joint effort between CAL FIRE and the Designated Fee Administrator (DFA) under contract to CAL FIRE. The DFA is a firm that specializes in the administration of benefit fees and other levies for governmental agencies throughout California. Determination of habitable structures, as required by state law, is technical and the use of the DFA allows for greater accuracy and efficiency.

CAL FIRE maintains boundaries of the SRA in a spatial database and works with the DFA to locate parcels and habitable structures that are within SRA boundaries. As part of its ongoing business, the DFA has statewide property data that comes from a variety of sources, including electronic parcel and mapping information. All this information is used to identify habitable structures.

If a property owner believes that the information used to identify a habitable structure is incorrect, the property owner should contact the Fire Prevention Fee Service Center directly because the Service Center, which is part of the DFA, and CAL FIRE are responsible for incorrect fees or incorrect property information. The Fire Prevention Fee Service Center telephone number is 1-888-310-6447.

How do I find out if my structure is within the SRA?

Visit the “State Responsibility Area Viewer” webpage and enter the property address. Areas within the SRA are indicated by a yellow overlay.

My structure is not in the SRA, so am I still subject to the fee?

If a property owner is  billed the SRA fee and believes their property is not within the SRA, they can research the approximate location at http://www.fire.ca.gov/firepreventionfee/sraviewer, or call the Fire Prevention Fee Service Center at 1-888-310-6447 and request a Petition for Redetermination form be mailed to them. Alternatively, a Petition for Redetermination form may be obtained at http://www.fire.ca.gov/firepreventionfee/sra_appeals. If it is subsequently determined that the structure was not within the SRA on July 1 of the fiscal year billed, the fee billing will be canceled.

What is the amount of the fee?

The fee is set by the Board and is assessed at the rate of $152.33 per habitable structure within the SRA.

Did the amount of the fee increase this year?

The Fiscal Year 2016-17 fee is $152.33, the same amount as in previous years.

What if I am already protected by another fire agency?

Many areas throughout the SRA receive structural fire protection from local fire protection agencies. If habitable structure(s) are within the boundaries of a local agency that provides fire protection services, the property owner will receive a $35 reduction for each habitable structure. Approximately 98% of habitable structures in the SRA are covered by a local fire protection agency, and are billed $117.33 per habitable structure.

I already pay for local fire protection, why do I need to pay this fee as well?

Historically, locally-funded fire protection services have been established because residents wanted an increased level of fire protection services beyond those provided directly by CAL FIRE. Locally-funded fire protection services typically include elements of fire prevention. However, these are in addition to services provided by CAL FIRE across the entire SRA. The Fire Prevention Fee was established to fund state fire prevention services provided by CAL FIRE that directly benefit owners of structures in the SRA and reduce the risk from wildfire to habitable structures in the SRA.

When will I receive my Fire Prevention Fee bill?

The Fire Prevention Fee was billed each state fiscal year (for years 2011-12 through 2016-17), which begins July 1 and ends June 30 of the following year. Bills were mailed in alphabetical order by county. The mailing schedule is posted on the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) web page, http://www.cdtfa.ca.gov/taxes-and-fees/fire_prev_fee.htm.

What if I cannot afford to pay the entire bill? Can I make payments?

The BOE offers several options to pay the fee. For more information and payment options, see the BOE website, http://www.boe.ca.gov/sptaxprog/fire_prev_fee.htm, or call the BOE at 1-800-400-7115, Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Pacific Standard Time (excluding State holidays).

What does the fee pay for?

The fee funds a variety of important fire prevention services in the SRA. Such activities include fuel reduction projects that lessen the risk of wildland fire to communities and evacuation routes, defensible space inspections, fire prevention engineering, emergency evacuation planning, fire prevention education, fire hazard severity mapping, implementation of state and local Fire Plans, fire prevention grants awarded to local non-profit groups, and law enforcement activities such as arson investigation.

Where will the money collected from the fee be used?

The SRA forms one large area across California in which CAL FIRE provides a basic level of wildland fire prevention services. Therefore, the funds will be expended on services and activities throughout the SRA.

Under what authority is this fee being charged?

Assembly Bill X1 29, effective July 8, 2011, required the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (Board) to adopt regulations to establish a Fire Prevention Fee to be charged to the owner of each habitable structure on parcels within the SRA. The Fire Prevention Fee law is codified in Section 4210, et seq., of the Public Resources Code.  The Board adopted permanent regulations which define the fee, how it is collected, and how it can be appealed.
(http://bofdata.fire.ca.gov/regulations/proposed_rule_packages/sra_fire_prevention_benefit_fee_2012/approved_sra_fee_language_march-2013.pdf)

However, effective July 1, 2017, Assembly Bill 398 (Chapter 135) suspends the Fire Prevention Fee commencing with the 2017-18 fiscal year. No fee billings will be issued after June 30, 2017. The fire prevention fee statutes will be repealed on January 1, 2031, unless a statute is enacted prior to this date that deletes or extends that date.

Why is this fee being charged now to habitable structure owners in the SRA?

Section 4210 of the Public Resources Code provides the following legislative findings:

  • The presence of structures within the SRA can pose an increased risk of fire ignition and an increased potential for fire damage within the state’s wildlands and watersheds.
  • The presence of structures within the SRA can also impair wildland firefighting techniques and could result in greater damage to state resources caused by wildfires.
  • The costs of wildland fire prevention activities aimed at reducing the effects of structures in the SRA should be borne by the owners of these structures.
  • Individual owners of structures within the SRA receive a disproportionately larger benefit from wildland fire prevention activities than that realized by the state’s citizens generally.

 

How frequently are fees owed?

The fee is assessed annually on a fiscal year basis (July 1 - June 30). However, as a result of AB 398, no fee billings will be issued after June 30, 2017. Please note, even though the fee was suspended as of July 1, 2017, unpaid billings for past fiscal year periods 2011-12 through 2016-17 are still effective and due.

How will the fees be collected?

The law specifies that the BOE collect the fee. A billing notice is mailed to property owners in the SRA each year, much like vehicle registration renewals. As specified by law, the BOE collects the fee pursuant to the Fee Collection Procedures Law as found in Section 55001, et seq., of the California Revenue and Taxation Code.

Why doesn't my County Assessor collect these fees?

The law designates the BOE to collect the fee. The Fire Prevention Fee funds activities statewide within all areas of the SRA.

When is the fee due?

The fee is due within 30 days of the date on the billing notice.

What will happen if I don't pay the bill?

Unpaid billings for prior fiscal year periods 2011-12 through 2016-17, are still owed. Feepayers who are late in paying a previous year's fee are still responsible for paying their overdue bills. For further information, visit the CDTFA website at: http://www.cdtfa.ca.gov/taxes-and-fees/fire_prev_fee.htm.

If I do not pay the fee before the due date, what is the penalty or delinquency charges?

If the bill is not paid by the due date, a 10% penalty is added to the bill. In addition, interest may be added to the fee amount.

I did not receive a bill, is a fee due from me now?

If a person owns a habitable structure in the SRA, they should receive a bill. The fee is due 30 days from the date of the bill.

My address has changed. What should I do?

If a bill was addressed to an old address, a new address may be provided with the bill payment. If the property owner moved, the property owner should notify the CDTFA of the new address by calling 1-800-400-7115.

Can my fee be appealed?

The person for whom a Fire Prevention Fee billing has been issued may appeal or petition for redetermination if they believe their fee was calculated incorrectly. Examples of specific issues that may be considered for redetermination include:

  • Whether the person billed owned the property on July 1 of the fiscal year being billed
  • The number of habitable structures charged
  • Whether a $35 reduction should be applied for structures located within the boundaries of a local fire protection agency
  • Whether the structure is in the SRA
  • The fee calculation amount

 

How do I appeal this fee?

The person named on the bill may file an appeal by submitting a Petition for Redetermination. The form with instructions may be obtained online or by calling the Fire Prevention Fee Service Center at 1-888-310-6447.

What is the time limit to file an appeal (a Petition for Redetermination)?

Per Section 4220 of the Public Resources Code property owners wishing to appeal the fee must file a Petition for Redetermination within 30 days from the date of the original bill or Notice of Determination. If the petition is mailed, it must be postmarked within 30 days from the date of the original bill. CAL FIRE is required to render a decision on the appeal within 60 days from the date the petition is received. If assistance is needed to file a petition, call the Fire Prevention Fee Service Center at 1-888-310-6447.

If I pay my fee and then appeal it (file a Petition for Redetermination), will my payment be refunded?

If the fee is paid prior to filing a Petition for Redetermination, and it is determined that the fee was charged in error or should have been charged at a lower amount, the fee amount will be corrected accordingly. If the correction results in a credit balance on the account, a refund of the credit amount will be issued.

I do not own the property for which the fee is due. How do I get this resolved?

If the person billed did not own the property on July 1 of the fiscal year they were billed, or if they never owned the property, a Petition for Redetermination must be filed to appeal the fee for the fiscal year they were billed. If it is subsequently determined that the person billed is not subject to the fee, the billing will be canceled and any refunds due will be made. If the person was listed as the owner of the property in county tax records or in State Department of Housing and Community Development records as of July 1 of the year billed, they are subject to pay the fee, even if someone else now owns the property.

My home was destroyed in a natural disaster; do I still owe the fee?

Beginning with Fiscal Year 2014-15, the owner of a habitable structure in the SRA who received a bill may be exempt from paying the fee if the structure is no longer habitable due to a natural disaster that occurred on or after July 1, 2014.

How do I request an exemption from the fee due to natural disaster?

To request an exemption, the owner of a habitable structure that is no longer habitable due to a natural disaster must submit the form, Request for Exemption from the Fire Prevention Fee Due to Natural Disaster, and comply with the following conditions:

  • Certify that the structure is not habitable because of a natural disaster;
  • Either document the habitable structure passed a defensible space inspection conducted by CAL FIRE or by one of its agents within one year of the date the structure was damaged or destroyed, or certify clearance, as required under Section 4291 of the Public Resources Code, was in place at the time the structure was damaged or destroyed in a natural disaster.

For additional information regarding natural disaster exemptions, visit the webpage, http://www.fire.ca.gov/firepreventionfee/sra_NDE.

What kind of review will be done to see if my property can come out of SRA?

CAL FIRE conducts a statewide five year review of SRA maps as required by Section 4125 of the Public Resources Code to capture changes in land use, such as conversion in or out of agriculture, densification due to development, and other relevant changes. In addition, SRA data is updated on a more frequent basis to capture annexations and changes in federal ownership that affect SRA status.