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Volume 1 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 17

Opinions of Counsel index

Farm exemption (agricultural use) (stallion breeding barn) - Real Property Tax Law, § 483:

A “stallion breeding barn” is not entitled to the exemption provided by this section. The breeding of horses is more in the nature of a commercial enterprise than an agricultural pursuit and buildings associated with such activity are not essential to the operation of lands actively devoted to agricultural use.

All real property in New York State is subject to taxation unless specifically exempted therefrom by statute (Real Property Tax Law, section 300). In the processing of applications for exemptions, the statutory language is construed strictly against the applicant (Pace College v. Boyland, 11 Misc.2d 387, 179 N.Y.S.2d 38; aff’d 4 App. Div. 940, 167 N.Y.S.2d 999). The courts have described such construction as follows:

“It is a fundamental rule of law with reference to exemptions from taxation that the right to exemption must be clear and unambiguous. If there is any doubt relative to the exemption, that doubt must be resolved in favor of the taxing authority.” (In re White’s Will, 19 Misc.2d 244, 195 N.Y.S.2d 349, 354).

The exemption in section 483 concerns “[s]tructures and buildings essential to the operation of lands actively devoted to agricultural or horticultural use and actually used and occupied to carry out such operation”.  And subdivision 3(a) of said section provides that:

“‘structures and buildings’ shall include: (a) structures and buildings or portions thereof used directly and exclusively in the raising and production for sale of agricultural and horticultural commodities or necessary for the storage thereof, but not structures and buildings or portions thereof used for the processing of agricultural and horticultural commodities, or the retail merchandising of such commodities;”

Concerning the breeding, raising and selling of horses in regard to the exemption granted by section 483, the rule of strict construction must be applied to the term “agricultural”, and this office is of the opinion that such interpretation is as follows:

“‘Agriculture’ is the art or science of cultivating the ground, including harvesting of crops and rearing and management of livestock. In its more common and appropriate sense, it has been said, the word ‘agriculture’ is used to signify that species of cultivation which is intended to raise grain and other field crops for man and beast; it has been said to signify especially cultivation with the plow and in large areas to raise food for man and beast” (3 C.J.S. Agriculture § 1, pages 365 and 366).

Our information indicates that horses are bred in New York State principally for purposes of pleasure riding and racing. It is our opinion that such horses are not “agricultural commodities” within the strict sense of the term. Such activity is to be classed with the breeding of dogs, pets and fur-bearing animals, and it is more in the nature of a commercial enterprise than a traditional agricultural pursuit. Likewise, buildings used for such activity are not essential to the operation of lands actively devoted to agricultural use.

It is, therefore, our opinion that such barns are not exempt pursuant to section 483 of the Real Property Tax Law.

May 20, 1970

Updated: