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Why Procrastinating Almost Cost Us $4,000

Photo by Tammy Strobel

In June 2017, I walked into my local DMV office to register our tiny house with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). We should have re-registered the little house with the DMV when we moved from Oregon to California in September 2012, but that didn’t happen for a couple of reasons.

1. We lost all the paperwork associated with the tiny house. I don’t know what happened to the paperwork. I suspect the papers got tossed in a decluttering session.

2. Losing all the paperwork lead to four years of procrastination.

I’m sharing our story because I hope it will encourage fellow procrastinators to stop procrastinating. Logan and I are responsible for our lack of action, lost paperwork, and the financial consequences of procrastinating. Onward with the story.

To register our tiny house with DMV, I gathered the following documents:

— The contract for the purchase and sale of the tiny house. The contract was missing, so we had to re-create it and have our builder sign it again.

— The receipt for the purchase of the tiny house trailer. I contacted Iron Eagle Trailer, the folks who made our tiny house trailer in Oregon, and they sent me the old invoice. Thankfully, it was still in their system!

— The pink slip for a trailer. Like all our other documents, the original pink slip disappeared, so I filled out the paperwork and had to pay for a new title with the DMV in Oregon.

— A DMV vehicle verification. A staff member at the DMV had to verify the width, length, and height of the tiny house. In the summer of 2016, a very kind staff member at the DMV drove to the family ranch (where our tiny house is parked) to verify our wee abode. I’m grateful for the staff’s help. Otherwise, we would have had to tow the tiny house into Yreka for a vehicle verification at the Yreka, CA DMV office.

— In addition to the documents above, I filled out the “California DMV Application for Title or Registration” and a “Statement of Construction” form.

In the summer of 2016, I started off with good intentions to complete the tiny house registration process. However, I gathered about half the documents and reverted to procrastination mode. To be fair, Logan said he would help with the process, but that didn’t happen.

Fast forward to the summer of 2017…

In June 2017, I walked into the DMV with a bright yellow manila folder filled with paperwork. I felt hopeful and happy. I assumed that we would owe the DMV roughly $1,000 for back fees and penalties. I was a tad off with my estimate.

We owed the DMV and the State of California $3,932. Let me break that cost down for you:

1. The penalties, interest, and back fees for the yearly cost of registering our tiny house with the California DMV totaled $1,362. I paid that in full.

2. The second portion of the cost included a California vehicle-use tax as well as penalties and interest on that tax. The tax came to $2,570.

I was shocked and ashamed that we owed the DMV and the state that much money. Thankfully, the staff members at DMV were incredibly kind and helpful. One of the staff members encouraged me to fill out a “vehicle tax clearance request.”

In non-DMV lingo, I filled out a form asking the state to waive the $2,570 use-tax. I immediately filled out the form and sent it to the California Department of Fee Administration.

Last week, I chatted with a staff member at the California Department of Fee Administration about our request. She had a few questions about the house, and we talked about why we moved back to California (due to my dad’s illness and death). I explained that I wasn’t trying to avoid the tax; I honestly didn’t know the fee existed. She told me that if you have a vehicle/trailer in another state for more than twelve months, this use tax doesn’t apply. We were two weeks short of that threshold before moving back to California to support the family after my dad died. She told me that the office would be in touch about their decision. Regardless of the outcome, I thanked her for calling and listening to my story.

Y’all, on Tuesday, July 11th, I received a voicemail from the department. Our tax clearance request was approved, and on Thursday, July 13th, I received the waiver in the mail. I immediately went to the local DMV office to finish the paperwork. Our little house is officially registered with the CA DMV, and we’ve got plates. I’ve never been so GRATEFUL and HAPPY to have a license plate!

Lessons learned and advice in no particular order:

— If you have paperwork to fill out, don’t procrastinate. Be responsible and make the time to get it done. If you don’t make the time, it will probably cost you money or more time in the future.

— Always be kind to the staff members at the DMV.  I spent hours waiting at the DMV over the last few weeks, and I saw a few people lose their temper. Being an asshole won’t advance your argument.

— After Logan and I paid off my student loan debt, we made a commitment to each other to create an emergency savings account. At a minimum, we keep $10,000 in this account. The account is separate from our retirement savings, and it’s used for emergencies or unexpected expenses. I’m thankful for this account because I could pay our late fees and penalties immediately.

— If you’re in the process of decluttering physical papers, make sure you go through every single document.

Parting thoughts …

Our experience with the DMV brought up questions and concerns about our wee home. We no longer live in the house full-time, so Logan and I have started to talk about selling our tiny house. We haven’t made a final decision about whether to sell or keep the house, and if we sold the house, I don’t know how much we’d sell it for. Regardless of what we decide, I’m grateful that our tiny house is now registered with the California DMV!

With gratitude,

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jim Wang July 18, 2017, 9:31 am

    Wow, it’s great the CA DMV was willing to waive that penalty.

    I’ve always found that it’s always good to be polite and courteous to other people. Sometimes good behavior is paid off with good results, most of the time not, but if you treat others as you wish to be treated then you’ll get the benefit of the doubt more often than not. People generally want to help others, especially if they’re good people, and I’m glad this story was another example of that.

    And how we shouldn’t procrastinate! 🙂

    • Tammy Strobel July 18, 2017, 12:01 pm

      Thanks Jim. I’m grateful DMV waived the penalty. I didn’t expect that outcome. I also agree with your comment. I think most people are good and want to help. 😉 Thanks for reading!

  • Solitary Diner July 18, 2017, 7:21 pm

    I’m glad you were able to get the fee waived!

    My own personal story of procrastinating comes from my last few years of medical training. For four years, I didn’t bother filing my income taxes, as I knew the government owed me money, and there is no penalty for late filing in Canada if you don’t owe the government money. When I finally did file them, I realized 1) I had let the government have a lot of my money for four years, which would have been put to better use paying off my line of credit and avoiding interest and 2) I had lost over $1000 of tax credits that were time-limited. So yes. Procrastination is bad and can be very expensive.

  • Rebecca July 19, 2017, 5:36 am

    Tammy, I’m so glad they were willing to waive the fee for you! I was just thinking while reading, that if I ever build a tiny home, dedicating one drawer that could have hanging folders for essential papers would be a good plan.

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