Frequently Asked Questions
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, approved by the California Legislature on June 15, 2011 and signed into law on July 7, 2011, established the new annual Fire Prevention Fee to pay for fire prevention services in locations throughout the state designated as the 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 Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) provides a basic level of wildland fire prevention and protection services. Public Resources Code, Section 4126 classifies lands that are state and privately-owned forest, watershed, and rangeland as SRA. Lands within city boundaries or in federal ownership are not in the SRA. The SRA is determined under regulations of the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (Board).
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 in which the fee is due, as recorded on the county assessor rolls or the California Department of Housing and Community Development. This is the case regardless of whether the owner of record changes during the course of the fiscal year after July 1.
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 would 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).
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 Determination 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) made in excess of the amount due will be refunded.
If I'm selling my property, can I negotiate with the buyer to pay a portion of the fee?
Effective January 1, 2016, Assembly Bill 301 permits 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 fire prevention fee is the responsibility of the person who is the legal owner of the habitable structure on July 1 of the year for which the fee is due.
What about other structures?
The current law does not provide for the fees to be charged to non-habitable structures such as businesses and offices. Also, commercial, industrial, or incidental structures without living areas such as detached garages, barns, woodsheds and outbuildings are not assessed the fee.
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 use of the DFA allows for greater accuracy and efficiency.
CAL FIRE maintains boundaries of the SRA in a spatial database and has worked 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 of this information was used to identify habitable structures.
If a property owner feels that the information used to identify their habitable structure(s) 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 the fee determinations. The DFA and CAL FIRE will also handle the review of any potentially incorrect fees or incorrect property information. The Fire Prevention Fee Service Center telephone number is 1-888-310-6447.
What is the amount of the fee?
The fee is assessed at the rate of $152.33 per habitable structure located within the SRA, and is set by the Board. If the habitable structure(s) are within the boundaries of a local agency that provides fire protection services, the 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, resulting in most bills amounting to $117.33 per habitable structure.
Did the amount of the fee increase this year?
Assembly Bill X1 29 required the Board to adjust the fee for inflation on July 1, 2013 and annually thereafter. Assembly Bill 2048, signed into law on September 30, 2014 amended Assembly Bill X1 29 and states that the Board may adjust the fee annually for inflation. The Fiscal Year 2015-16 fee will not be adjusted and will remain the same as in Fiscal Years 2014-15 and 2013-14.
What if I cannot afford to pay the entire bill? Can I make payments?
The Board of Equalization (BOE) offers a number of options to pay your bill. For more information, please go to the BOE website at 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 Time (excluding State holidays).
Please see the BOE website for questions about paying your fire fee liability at http://www.boe.ca.gov/sptaxprog/fire_prev_fee.htm.
When will I receive my Fire Prevention Fee bill?
The Fire Prevention Fee is billed each State fiscal year, which begins July 1 and ends June 30. Bills will be mailed in alphabetical order by county. Please see the schedule for the current fiscal year billing at: http://www.boe.ca.gov/sptaxprog/pdf/FPF_Billing_Mailing_Dates.pdf.
For what does the fee pay?
The fee funds a variety of important fire prevention services in the SRA. Such activities include fuel reduction activities 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 the State and local Fire Plans and fire-related law enforcement activities such as arson investigation.
How do I find out if my structure is within the SRA?
Visit the "State Responsibility Area Viewer" webpage.
Where will the money collected by the fee be used?
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?
In 2011, Assembly Bill X1 29 passed and established this fee. The California State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection was required to enact regulations to implement the fee. The Fire Prevention Fee is codified in law in the Public Resources Code 4210 et.seq. The Board of Forestry and Fire Protection has adopted permanent regulations which further 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)
Why is this fee being charged now to habitable structure owners in the SRA?
AB X1 29, provides the following legislative findings:
- The presence of structures within SRA can pose an increased risk of fire ignition and an increased potential for fire damage within the state's wildland and watershed.
- The presence of structures within 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 upon State fire protection responsibilities in SRA should be borne by the owners of these structures.
- Individual owners of structures within SRA receive a disproportionately larger benefit from wildland fire prevention activities than that realized by the state's citizens generally.
- It is necessary to impose a fire prevention fee to pay for fire prevention activities in the SRA that specifically benefit owners of structures in the SRA.
What if I am already protected by another fire agency?
Many areas throughout the SRA receive structural fire protection from local fire protection agencies. Owners of habitable structures in the SRA who are also within the boundaries of a local agency that provides fire protection services receive a reduction of $35 per habitable structure.
I already pay for local fire protection, why do I need to pay this fee as well?
The law determines that the fee should be charged to the owners of habitable structures in the SRA in part because such habitable structure owners receive a greater benefit from wildland fire prevention services in SRA. Historically, locally-funded fire protection services have arisen 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 some of the state fire services provided by CAL FIRE that directly benefit owners of structures in SRA and reduce risk from wildfire to habitable structures in the SRA.
How frequently are fees owed?
The fee is assessed annually on a fiscal year basis (July 1 - June 30).
How will the fees be collected?
The law specifies that the Board of Equalization (BOE) will collect the fee. A billing notice will be mailed to property owners in the SRA each year, much like vehicle registration renewals. As specified by law, the BOE will collect the fee pursuant to the Fee Collection Procedures Law as found in Section 55001 et seq of the California Revenue and Taxation Code.
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?
If the total amount of your Fire Prevention Fee bill is not paid within 30 days of the date on the billing notice, the BOE will mail a late notice, which may include interest and penalties. The BOE may take other actions in order to collect any unpaid fees. For further information or to make payment arrangements, please visit the BOE website at http://www.boe.ca.gov/sptaxprog/fire_prev_fee.htm or contact the BOE directly at 1-800-400-7115.
If I do not pay the fee before the deadline, are there penalty or delinquency charges? Yes. If you do not pay your fee prior to its due date, an additional 10% penalty may be added to your bill. In addition, interest may be added to the past due fee amount.
Why doesn't my County Assessor collect these fees?
The legislature designated the BOE to collect these fees. The Fire Prevention Fee funds activities statewide within all areas of the SRA.
I did not receive a bill, is a fee due from me now?
If you own a habitable structure in the SRA, you should receive a bill. The fee is not due until 30 days after the date printed on your bill.
My address has changed. What should I do?
If you received a bill from the BOE addressed to your old address, you can provide your new address with your bill payment. If you have moved since June 30, 2011 and think BOE may not have a current address, please contact the BOE at 1-800-400-7115 to notify them of your new address.
Can my fee be appealed?
The billing notice will include a phone number for property owners to call with questions and instructions for how to file an appeal. Under the Fire Prevention Fee law, an appeal is called a "Petition for Redetermination." According to regulations of the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, fee payers wishing to appeal the fee must file a petition for redetermination within 30 days of receiving their bill. Based on its review of the petition for redetermination, the Department or its Designated Fee Administrator may or may not make adjustments to the amount of the fee, modify or eliminate it. A decision on the appeal must be made within 60 days of receipt of the petition. Typical reasons for an appeal would be such things as the habitable structure not being located within SRA, incorrect determination of the number of habitable structures, incorrect fire district inclusion, or other similar factors.
How do I appeal this fee?
The person named on the bill may file an appeal by completing a Petition for Redetermination. You may obtain the Petition for Redetermination form at http://www.firepreventionfee.org/sra_appeals.php. You can request that a form be mailed to you by calling 1-888-310-6447.
How much time do I have to make an appeal (file a Petition for Redetermination)?
Appeals (Petitions for Redetermination) must be filed with the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection or its representative within 30 days from the date of the original notice of determination. If a petition is sent by mail, it will be accepted if the post mark is within 30 days.
If I pay my fee and then appeal it (file a Petition for Redetermination), will my payment be refunded?
If you pay your fee and file a petition for redetermination, and it is determined the fee was charged in error or should have been charged at a lower amount, the fee for your account will be corrected accordingly. If the correction results in a credit balance on your account, the BOE will mail you a refund for the credit amount.
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 who received a fee bill can be exempt from paying the fee if the structure is no longer habitable as a result of a natural disaster that occurred on or after July 1, 2014. If the structure is not repaired or rebuilt within one year, a request for the exemption may be submitted during the second year.
How do I request an exemption from the fee due to natural disaster?
To request an exemption, the owner of a habitable structure that was destroyed in a natural disaster must submit the form, Request for Exemption from the Fire Prevention Fee Due to Natural Disaster, and comply with all of the following conditions:
- Certify that the structure is not habitable as a result of a natural disaster.
- Either document that the habitable structure passed a defensible space inspection conducted by CAL FIRE or by one if its agents within one year of the date the structure was damaged or destroyed, or certify that clearance as required under Public Resources Code Section 4291 was in place at the time that the structure was damaged or destroyed as a result of a natural disaster.
- Complete and mail the exemption request form to the Fire Prevention Fee Service Center address on the form.
For additional information regarding natural disaster exemptions, please visit the web page at: http://www.firepreventionfee.org/sra_NDE.php.
I do not own the property for which the fee is due. How do I get this resolved?
If you are listed as the owner of the property on County Tax records or the State Housing and Community Development Records as of July 1, 2015, you are subject to pay the Fiscal Year 2015-16 fee, even if someone else now owns the property. If you did not own the property on July 1, 2015, or if you've never owned the property, a Petition for Redetermination must be filed to appeal the fee. If it is subsequently determined that you are not subject to the fee, the billing will be canceled and any refunds due will be made.
What is the basic law that describes SRA?
State law describes SRA in Sections 4125 – 4128 of the Public Resources Code. Specifically, Section 4126 says 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 includes state and privately-owned forest, watershed, and rangeland for which the primary financial responsibility of preventing and suppressing wildland fires rests with the State. SRA does not include lands within city boundaries or in federal ownership. The lands are determined under regulations of the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (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.
My structure is not in the SRA, so am I still subject to the fee?
If you believe that your property is not within the SRA, you can research the approximate location at http://www.firepreventionfee.org/sraviewer.php, or you can call the Fire Prevention Fee Service Center at 1-888-310-6447 and request that a Petition for Redetermination form be mailed to you. Alternatively, you may obtain the Petition for Redetermination form at http://www.firepreventionfee.org/sra_appeals.php. If it is subsequently determined that your structure was not within the SRA on July 1 of the fiscal year you were billed, the fee billing will be canceled.
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 Public Resources Code Section 4125 to capture changes in land use, such as conversion in or out of agriculture, areas of densification due to development, and other relevant changes. SRA data is updated on a more frequent basis to capture annexations and changes in federal ownership that affect SRA status.The last statewide review was completed in 2015. The next statewide review is scheduled to be completed in the first half of 2020.