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AGO 1972 No. 14 - July 19, 1972
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

TAXATION ‑- PROPERTY ‑- EXCISE ‑- MOBILE HOMES

Prior to January 1, 1973, a county treasurer may not utilize the advance tax collection procedures set forth in RCW 84.56.070 to collect property taxes imposed for the first time in October, 1972, against a mobile home which has become subject to an ad valorem property tax solely by reason of the enactment of §§ 70-74, chapter 299, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess.

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                                                                    July 19, 1972

Honorable Robert E. Schillberg
Prosecuting Attorney
Snohomish County Court House
Everett, Washington 98201

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1972 No. 14

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Prior to January 1, 1973, may a county treasurer utilize the advance tax collection procedures set forth in RCW 84.56.070 to collect property taxes imposed for the first time in October, 1972, against a mobile home which has become subject to an ad valorem property tax solely by reason of the enactment of §§ 70-74, chapter 299, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess.?

            We answer this question in the negative for the reasons set forth in the following analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            RCW 84.56.070 sets forth a county treasurer's timetable for the collection of personal property taxes as follows:

            "On the fifteenth day of February succeeding the levy of taxes, the county treasurer shall proceed to collect all personal property taxes.  He shall give  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] notice by mail to all persons charged with personal property taxes, and if such taxes are not paid before they become delinquent, he shall forthwith proceed to collect the same. . . .  And provided further, That if the county treasurer has reasonable grounds to believe that any personal property upon which taxes have been levied,but not paid, is about to be removed from the county where the same has been assessed, or is about to be destroyed, sold or disposed of, the county treasurer may demand such taxes, without the notice provided for in this section, and if necessary may forthwith distrain sufficient goods and chattels to pay the same."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            The obvious purpose of the last proviso to this statute is to facilitate the collection of personal property taxes that have previously been imposed by law; in other words, this section itself fixes no tax liability.  However, under its terms, where a person owns personal property which has been subjected to a property tax by other statutory provisions, the county treasurer of the county in which the property is located has a summary method of collecting the tax when he has reason to believe the property will later be unavailable for the enforcement of the personal property tax lien in accordance with the otherwise prescribed timetable.  In substance, then, RCW 84.56.070 provides for a jeopardy assessment and collection of taxes.

            In order to answer your question, therefore, it is necessary to turn to those other statutes which impose a personal property tax on certain mobile homes and to ascertain from these statutes whether there is, in fact, a personal property tax liability imposed for the calendar year 1972, which would become due and payable in the normal course of events on February 15, 1973.  After making this determination it will then be necessary to determine whether, by virtue of the statutes under which this property tax is imposed, there are any restrictions upon an acceleration of the collection of this tax prior to January 1, 1973 ‑ assuming an instance in which the proviso to RCW 84.56.070,supra, would on its face be applicable.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Initially, we shall exclude from consideration those mobile homes which are already taxable as real property and thus are not subject to the present excise tax upon mobile homes which is imposed by chapter 82.50 RCW.  As was explained in some detail in AGO 1971 No. 3, copy enclosed, RCW 82.50.180 (5) exempts from this excise tax any

            ". . . mobile home which has substantially lost its identity as a mobile unit by virtue of being permanently fixed in location upon land owned by the owner of the mobile home and placed on a permanent foundation, subsequent to the removal of the hitch, wheels and axles of said unit, and with fixed pipe connections with sewer, water or other utilities."

            As provided for by the next ensuing paragraph of RCW 82.50.180 (5), a mobile home which is thus exempt from the excise tax will be subject, instead, to an ad valorem property tax.  This paragraph of the statute reads as follows:

            "Following the permanent placement of said mobile home as provided herein, and upon the request of the owner, made to the county assessor, the assessor shall confirm compliance with the conditions of this subsection and if the unit so qualifies, the unit will be entered on the real property tax rolls of the involved county, and said unit shall be exempted from the provisions of this chapter from and after the date it is assessed as a part of the real property."

            However, by its enactment of chapter 299, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., the legislature provided, in addition, that commencing with ad valorem property taxes levied in 1972 for collection in 1973, all mobile homes ‑ irrespective of their physical status ‑ would be subject to the property tax rather than the previous excise tax.  Under this enactment those mobile homes which are permanently fixed in  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] location upon land owned or leased by the owner will be subject to taxation as real property, and all other mobile homes will be subject to taxation as personal property.  See, §§ 70-74, chapter 299, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., as explained in AGO 1972 No. 13 [[to Gary M. Odegaard, State Senator on July 19, 1972]], copy enclosed.

            Because the "advance collection" provisions of RCW 84.56.070,supra, are only applicable to personal property it will not be necessary for us to delve further in this opinion into the tax situation of those mobile homes which are permanently fixed to a parcel of realty and, hence, are taxable as real property ‑ whether by virtue of the preexisting provisions of RCW 82.50.180 (5),supra, or by reason of the 1971 legislature's enactment of chapter 299, supra.  However, in the case of those mobile homes which are, and remain, within the classification of "personal property" the legislature has provided for continuing collection of the excise tax for 1972, and for first collection of the substitute property tax in 1973.  This intent is spelled out in § 73, chapter 299,supra, as follows:

            "The provisions of chapter 82.50 RCW shall remain applicable to mobile homes through December 31, 1972.  All mobile homes subject to the property tax shall be listed and assessed for the first time on January 1, 1972, and such tax shall be paid during 1973 in accordance with the laws of this state."

            The timetable enunciated in this section was apparently enacted in recognition of the sequence of events which lead up to the imposition and collection of property taxes in this state, which we shall now briefly summarize.

            Under RCW 84.40.020, all realand personal property in this state which is subject to taxation as such is to be listed and assessed every year with reference to its value on the first day of January of the year in question.  Property taxes are then levied in October of that year for collection on and after February 15 of the following year.  See, RCW 84.52.080 together with RCW 84.56.010 and 84.56.020.  Thus, a mobile home which remains "personal property" will, during 1972, be both subject to the imposition of the old excise tax for this year and to the assessment and levy of a property tax to be collected for the first time in 1973.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            Returning now to RCW 84.56.070 (quoted at the outset of this opinion), it will be seen that your question arises by reason of an apparent conflict between the proviso contained therein and the express language of § 73, chapter 299,supra, to the effect that

            ". . .  All mobile homes subject to the property tax shall be listed and assessed for the first time on January 1, 1972, and such tax shall be paid during 1973 in accordance with the laws of this state."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Within the framework of the analysis set forth earlier, the question posed is whether the underscored portion of this last quoted statute constitutes a restriction or limitation upon any use, during the remainder of 1972, of the "advance collection" provisions of RCW 84.56.070, supra, in the case of a mobile home first taxable as personal property by virtue of chapter 299, supra.

            Were it not for the statement in § 73, chapter 299, that the first property tax levied against a mobile home under the act ". . . shall be paid during 1973 . . ." it would seemingly follow, giving full effect to RCW 84.56.070, that once this tax has been imposed for the first time in October, 1972, it will then be collectible on an accelerated basis if the county treasurer finds that any of the circumstances giving rise to his authority under this statute are present.  However, if this were to occur some timeafter the levy of the tax in October, 1972, andbefore the expiration of the current calendar year, the result would be a collection of the property tax for the first time not in 1973, but in 1972 ‑ during which year the owner of the mobile home was also required to pay the old excise tax for the last time.

            We cannot escape the conclusion that this is precisely what the legislature was seeking to avoid when it enacted § 73, chapter 299.  Therefore, we believe that your question, as paraphrased, must be answered in the negative.  In order to give full effect to the language of § 73, chapter 299, we must conclude that this statutedoes restrict a county treasurer's authority to utilize the advance collection procedures of RCW 84.56.070 against a mobile home which is taxable as personal property for the first time in 1973, at any time prior to January 1, 1973.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            However, it should be noted that this inability of a treasurer to require advance payment under RCW 84.56.070, does not eliminate the personal property tax lien upon the subject mobile home which is provided for in RCW 84.60.020, or in any manner discharge the owner's liability for the property tax.  Furthermore, under RCW 84.56.150, 84.56.160 and 84.56.170, the county treasurer in a county to which a mobile home may have been removed is required to collect the tax there on behalf of the county in which the mobile home was previously assessed.  Finally, it is to be noted that a mobile home may not be removed from this state without notice to the applicable county treasurer.  See, RCW 84.56.120.  Thus, it is to be seen that § 73, chapter 299, only prevents acceleration of thepayment of the 1973 ad valorem tax at any time prior to January 1, of that year; it does not affect any of the other penalties for nonpayment which are available to the treasurer.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General


WILLIAM D. DEXTER
Assistant Attorney General

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