Written By: Attorney Nicholas D. Lutz, Marshall, Parker & Weber
Challenged with increasing property taxes and a difficult economic climate, senior Pennsylvanians are often searching for ways to help ease their financial burdens. This article describes two programs that can provide eligible seniors with discounts on property taxes or rent.
The first avenue is Pennsylvania’s “homestead or farmstead exclusion.” This program works for the taxpayer by reducing the assessed value of a home or farm, therefore lowering the amount the taxpayer owes.
Under the homestead exclusion property owners whose homes are their primary place of residence can apply to have their property designated as “homestead property.” After each participating school district determines its yearly real estate tax rate, it then determines the amount of tax relief for each property designated as a homestead within the district. It is important to note that properties used exclusively for rentals, businesses (non-farming), or secondary residences will not qualify for homestead tax relief.
Taxpayers whose domicile is a farm consisting of ten (10) or more contiguous acres may apply for the farmstead exclusion for buildings used for agricultural purposes. The homestead and farmstead exclusions are different avenues for relief, meaning farmers may apply for both because applicable buildings are used for different purposes.
Homeowners wishing to apply for tax relief via the homestead exclusion must do so with their County Assessment Office. Applications for tax relief through this program must be filed with the County Assessment Office by March 1 of the applicable year. Finally, homeowners are only required to apply once every three (3) years for this program and should receive notification on the status of their application within thirty (30) days of receipt by the county office.
A second potential discount for older homeowners and renters is Pennsylvania’s Property Tax/Rent Rebate program.
Homeowners over age sixty-five (65) and widows/widowers age fifty (50) and older who have a household income of less than $35,000 may be eligible for this program. Because this program is need-based, those seniors with the lowest income will be eligible for the largest rebate. More specifically, rebates range on a scale from $250 for those with a household income of $18,001-35,000 per year to $650 for seniors with a household income of $8,000 a year or less.
It is important to note that receiving social security does not make one ineligible for Pennsylvania’s Property Tax/Rent Rebate program. In fact, half of income derived from social security may be excluded for the purpose of determining income for this program.
Seniors with household income of $30,000 or less who live in Scranton, Philadelphia, or Pittsburgh may also be eligible for their rebate to be increased by 50%. Seniors living in the rest of the Commonwealth with household income of $30,000 who pay more than 15% of their income for property taxes may also be eligible to have their rebate increased by an additional 50%.
Renters may also qualify for this program if they meet the same age provisions outlined above and have a household income of $15,000 or less. Depending on the household income, renters may receive $500-$650 in rebate.
Seniors who wish to apply for the Property Tax/Rent Rebate program can find the necessary materials on the web at www.revenue.state.pa.us or can contact their Pennsylvania Department of Revenue District Office. In addition, seniors can find information on the program at local areas on aging, senior centers, or their state legislator’s office.
The deadline to apply for a rebate on property taxes or rent paid in 2012 is June 30, 2013.