Prop 13 – Did you know…?

Those who have owned their homes for a while, easily see the value of Proposition 13. Many of us remember that before Proposition 13 the average property tax rate in California was three percent of assessed value and there was no limit on annual increases. In those days, if a house on your block sold for much more than you paid for your house, you shuddered in fear when you received your next property tax bill. Chances are, your new taxes would be based on what your new neighbor was willing to pay for his home. Things got so bad in the late 1970’s that people were actually losing their homes because of uncontrolled tax increases.

The assessment rate is now only one percent for all California property and annual tax increases are limited to no more than two percent. When property is sold it is then reassessed at market value, but the rate remains at one percent and the new owner is then protected by the two percent cap on annual increases.

What good is Proposition 13 to me?

Every owner of property in the state is covered. Proposition 13 is Article XIII A of the California Constitution.

How come I’m paying more in property taxes than some of my neighbors who have similar houses?

Under Proposition 13 you determine how much your property taxes will be. Your taxes are not based on your neighbors’, but are based on the price you voluntarily agreed to pay for your new home.

We all get the same services, but I pay more. How can this be fair?

In California, just like other states, services have never been related to the amount you pay in property taxes. If services were tied to what you paid, you might see four fire trucks assigned to a costly home while only one would protect a less expensive residence. In fact, property taxes are not allocated for specific services. They go into the general fund along with other taxes and it is local public officials who determine how the money will be spent.

Houses of taxesIt still seems like I’m paying too much!

We all feel that way, but in fact, thanks to Proposition 13, the tax rate for all Californians is only a third of what it was. If you think things are bad now, multiply your tax bill by three and see what you get.

That’s easy for your to say, you’re still paying less than I am.

That may be true, but I’ve been paying for years. It’s the neighbors that were here ahead of you that paid for all these local improvements you now enjoy.

I still don’t see what good Proposition 13 is to me.

Besides your lower tax rate, it makes your taxes predictable. In a few years when new houses sell in the neighborhood for two or three times what you paid, you will be protected. Under Proposition 13 your property taxes can’t go up more than two percent a year. You are going to find that very important when you get around to planning your retirement. If you ever find yourself on a fixed income, chances are, because of Proposition 13, you’ll be able to keep your home.

Solar Easements – A Potential Problem

Interest in solar energy is growing as more and more homeowners, as well as businesses, are taking long, serious looks at this alternative source of power. As with any new technology, however, there are potential problems. For example, the sun’s rays must reach the solar collectors in order to produce energy from either active or passive systems. If the sun were always directly overhead there would be no problem. It is not, of course, and this brings up the question of solar access — the availability of sunlight to reach a building’s solar collectors. Resolution of this problem often involves access across adjacent properties, which, in turn, involves a neighbor’s air space.


Since the amount of unobstructed sunlight reaching the solar collectors is critical to the efficient operation of a solar system, the flow of sunlight to the system must be assured. In most systems it takes about six hours of direct sunlight per day for maximum equipment efficiency. This varies, naturally, according to the season, geographic location and the type of solar system installed.

The Issue

Building shadowPassive systems are especially dependent on direct sunlight. The sun’s rays cannot be reflected or diffused. For the building owner, access questions involve both the height and setback of adjacent buildings. If a neighbor’s trees grow high enough to cut off the sun early in the morning or late afternoon, your solar system may not perform up to design specifications. The same thing goes for structural heights.

That’s where negotiated agreements for solar easements come into sharp focus and why the question of guaranteeing access to sunlight is becoming an important part of property ownership. In fact, it has been called the single most difficult legal issue connected with solar energy use.

A Solution

The most practical solution to the problem is the negotiation of easements between property owners.

Under such an agreement, one property owner would receive assurances from the other that the sunlight which travels over the neighbor’s property would always be available. The neighbor, and all subsequent owners, would be restricted in building or planting trees which could obstruct the sunlight.


  • After agreement, if such solar easements are not properly recorded, problems could arise if the property is subsequently sold and the new owners are either unaware of the easement or not in agreement with its conditions.
  • Solar easements may have to be negotiated with several different neighbors to assure adequate access to the sun throughout the year. Such easements could negatively affect the future property values of those neighbors.

The Legislation

meter2California was one of the first states to enact legislation to guide the establishment of solar easements. The California Solar Rights Act of 1978 was passed to promote and encourage the “widespread use of solar energy systems and to protect and facilitate adequate access to the sunlight which is necessary to operate solar energy systems.” This statute prohibits any covenant, condition or restriction which prohibits or restricts the installation or use of a solar energy system.


A solar easement establishes certain land use conditions agreed to by the property owners involved. Such an agreement includes (1) a description of the dimensions of the easement, including vertical and horizontal angles measured in the degrees or the hours of the day, on specified dates, during which direct sunlight to a specified surface or structural design feature may not be obstructed; (2) restrictions placed upon vegetation, structures and other objects which would impair or obstruct the passage of sunlight through the easement, and; (3) the terms and conditions, if any, under which the easement may be revised or terminated.


It is important that all solar easements be officially recorded, just as other uses and conditions are included in public records. Otherwise, such an easement might not be noted during the title search at the time of a real estate sale. Such an omission could create serious problems at a later date when the new owners decide to make structural or landscape changes that would affect the path of sunlight across their property.