Q: What is the Mills Act Program?
A: Economic incentives foster the preservation of residential neighborhoods and the revitalization of downtown commercial districts. The Mills Act is the single most important economic incentive program in California for the restoration and preservation of qualified historic buildings by private property owners.
Enacted in 1972, the Mills Act legislation grants participating local governments (cities and counties) the authority to enter into contracts with owners of qualified historic properties who actively participate in the restoration and maintenance of their historic properties while receiving property tax relief.
Q: How does the Mills Act benefit Local Governments?
A; The Mills Act allows local governments to design preservation programs to accommodate specific community needs and priorities for rehabilitating entire neighborhoods, encouraging seismic safety programs, contributing to affordable housing, promoting heritage tourism, or fostering pride of ownership.
Local governments have adopted the Mills Act because they recognize the economic benefits of conserving resources and reinvestment as well as the important role historic preservation can play in revitalizing older areas, creating cultural tourism, building civic pride, and retaining the sense of place and continuity with the community’s past. A formal agreement, generally known as a Mills Act or Historical Property Contract, is executed between the local government and the property owner for a minimum ten-year term. Contracts are automatically renewed each year and are transferred to new owners when the property is sold.
Property owners agree to restore, maintain, and protect the property in accordance with specific historic preservation standards and conditions identified in the contract. Periodic inspections by city or county officials ensure proper maintenance of the property. Local authorities may impose penalties for breach of contract or failure to protect the historic property. The contract is binding to all owners during the contract period.
Within Los Angeles County these ten cities have been the most active participants in the Mills Act Program: Los Angeles (City), West Hollywood. Monrovia, Redondo Beach, Whittier, Long Beach, Santa Monica, Sierra Madre, Pasadena and Glendale.
Q: How does the Mills Act benefit Owners of Historical Properties?
A: Owners of historic buildings may qualify for property tax relief if they pledge to rehabilitate and maintain the historical and architectural character of their properties for at least a ten-year period. The Mills Act program is especially beneficial for recent buyers of historic properties and for current owners of historic buildings who have made major improvements to their properties. Mills Act participants may realize substantial property tax savings of between 40% and 60% each year for newly improved or purchased older properties because valuations of Mills Act properties are determined by the Income Approach to Value rather than by the standard Market Approach to Value.
The income approach, divided by a capitalization rate, determines the assessed value of the property. In general, the income of an owner-occupied property is based on comparable rents for similar properties in the area, while the income amount on a commercial property is based on actual rent received. Because rental values vary from area to area, actual property savings vary from county to county. In addition, as County Assessors are required to assess all properties annually, Mills Act properties may realize slight increases in property taxes each year. The Los Angeles County Assessor provides Mills Act information and a brochure here.
Q: What is a Qualified Historic Property?
A: A qualified historic property is a property listed on any federal, state, county, or city register, including the National Register of Historic Places, California Register of Historical Resources, California Historical Landmarks, State Points of Historical Interest, and locally designated landmarks. Owner-occupied family residences and income-producing commercial properties may qualify for the Mills Act program, subject to local regulations.
Source: State of California Parks Dept. Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) – Mills Act FAQs