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Volume 10 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 38

Opinions of Counsel index

Nonprofit organizations exemption (religious) (parsonage exemption distinguished); Religious corporations exemption (nonprofit organizations exemption distinguished) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 420-a, 462:

A rectory may receive an exemption pursuant to section 420-a of the Real Property Tax Law only if there is a finding that its principal use is religious, not residential. Otherwise, the rectory may receive exemption pursuant to section 462.

Our opinion has been requested as to whether a rectory occupied by a priest of the Roman Catholic faith may receive an exemption pursuant to section 420-a of the Real Property Tax Law, or whether it may do so only under section 462. While both sections grant a full exemption from “taxation,” section 420-a also provides an exemption from most “special ad valorem levies” and “special assessments”; section 462 does not. It is suggested that, while the officiating clergy of other faiths often reside away from their church or synagogue, Catholic priests often reside in a rectory which is part of the church building or complex.

It has long been our opinion that the taxable status of rectories and parsonages is established primarily by section 462, not section 420-a, because residential use is neither a religious use nor necessarily incidental to a religious use (see, 5 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 122 and cases cited therein; accord: St. Agnes Church v. Daby, 148 A.D.2d 31, 543 N.Y.S.2d 208 (3d Dept., 1989)). However, we have also expressed the opinion that property which is used for purposes which are necessary or reasonably incidental to both the maintenance and the purposes for which the institution is organized is entitled to an exemption pursuant to section 420-a. An example would be a caretaker’s residence located in the immediate proximity of a church, where the caretaker is “on call” 24 hours a day (see, 2 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 19; accord: Hapletah v. Assessor of Town of Fallsburg, 79 N.Y.2d 244, 590 N.E.2d 1182, 582 N.Y.S.2d 54 (1992)).

Based on the foregoing, it is our opinion where an assessor is satisfied that the primary use of a particular rectory is for purposes incidental to the overall religious purposes of a church, and not as the residence of the church’s officiating clergyman, an exemption may be granted pursuant to section 420-a of the Real Property Tax Law [as opposed to §462]. {1}  Otherwise, the rectory may receive exemption pursuant to section 462. {2}  Determining whether a particular rectory is being used primarily for non-residential but religious purposes will be an issue of fact to be determined by the assessor in the first instance, subject to possible administrative and judicial review.

May 12, 1997


{1}  The Hapletah,(supra) court seemed to approve such finding by the St. Agnes,(supra) court (79 N.Y.2d, at 252, 582 N.Y.S.2d, at 58).

{2}  This would seem to necessitate separate assessment of the rectory so that its assessment may be subjected to all special ad valorem levies and special assessments.

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