Manes Law has over two decades of experience in advising clients on California residency law, handling residency audits, assisting businesses relocate out of California, and appealing residency determinations. Based on this experience, we have assembled this list of frequently asked questions and provided brief answers.
1.Q. How does California tax residents versus nonresidents?
A. California taxes residents on all their income, from any source, no matter where it is generated. In contrast, nonresidents are only subject to California income taxes with respect to “California-source” income (that is, income generated in California). If a nonresident has no California-source income, then the nonresident should owe no taxes to California.
2.Q. I am a nonresident who owns a California vacation home. If I spend more than six months in California, am I automatically a resident?
A. No. There is a lot of mythology on the internet about the “six-month presumption.” While it’s always better from a residency perspective to spend less time in California, spending more than six months in California does not automatically make you a resident. In fact, no one thing will ever make you a resident, and no one thing makes you a nonresident. The test for legal residency is complex and involves many factors (discussed here). You can spend more than six months in California without becoming a resident, but you should plan carefully to make sure an extended stay plus other contacts don’t result in an audit or unfavorable residency determination. Nor is it a good idea to spend more than six months year in and year out. Doing so suggest a closer connection to California than your home state. In addition, beware of the nine-month presumption, discussed in the next question. See our article, “The Six-Month Presumption In California Residency Law: Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be“.
3.Q. I’ve heard that if I spend more than nine months in California, I am definitely a California resident. Is that true?
A. California law applies a “nine-month presumption” to visitors. That is, if you spend more than nine months in California in any tax year, you are presumed to be a resident. But the presumption is rebuttable. Other factors may apply that result in you not being a legal resident, despite the extended stay. Prudence, however, suggests you shouldn’t tempt fate with a stay of such length. As a practical matter, there is only one old case in which a taxpayer spent more than nine months in California and was able to rebut the nine-month presumption. So, be forewarned.