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Volume 11 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 21

Opinions of Counsel index

Forest and reforested lands exemption (computation) (homesite) - Real Property Tax Law, § 480-a:

The State Department of Environmental Conservation has the sole authority to determine the amount of forest land that qualifies as an “eligible tract” for purposes of the forest and reforested lands exemption. Consequently, an assessor may not exclude a “homesite” from the property eligible to receive the exemption.

We have received an inquiry concerning the forest and reforested land exemption (Real Property Tax Law, §480-a). The question is whether an assessor has the discretionary authority to exclude a five acre “homesite” from the “eligible tract” of forest land that may qualify for the partial exemption.

An “eligible tract” of privately owned forest land, that is, “at least fifty contiguous acres, exclusive of any portion thereof not devoted to the production of forest crops” (RPTL, §480-a(1)(e)), may receive a partial exemption from taxation if the statutory requirements are satisfied. Before applying for the partial exemption, the owner must receive a “certificate of approval,” an “approved management plan,” and “a copy of a commitment certified by the [New York State Department of Environmental Conservation] for the eligible tract” (RPTL, §480-a(2)(a)). The “certificate of approval,” which must specify that the tract is committed to continued forest crop production for an initial period of 10 years, is to be filed “in the office of the clerk of the county or counties in which such tract is situated” (RPTL, §480-a(3)(a)(i)).

Thereafter, the property owner may “prior to the taxable status date for the first assessment roll upon which such exemption is sought, file an initial application for exemption with the appropriate assessor on forms prescribed by the state board” (RPTL, §480-a(3)(a)(ii)). The application “must be accompanied by a certified commitment issued by the [State Department of Environmental Conservation]” (RPTL, §480-a(3)(a)(ii)). “If the assessor is satisfied that the requirements of this section are met, he or she shall approve the application and such eligible tract shall be exempt from taxation pursuant to subdivision four” (RPTL, §480-a(3)(b)) (emphasis added). {1}

Section 480-a gives the State Department of Environmental Conservation the sole authority to determine the amount of forest land that qualifies as an “eligible tract” (Clove Development Corporation v. Frey, 63 N.Y.2d 181, 470 N.E.2d 849, 481 N.Y.S.2d 50 (1984)). Accordingly, in our opinion, an assessor may not exclude land for a “homesite” from the “eligible tract” as certified by the State Department of Environmental Conservation when calculating the partial exemption provided by section 480-a of the RPTL.

February 28, 2002


{1}   A similar procedure is to be followed before the partial exemption may be renewed. The property owner, “prior to the taxable status date for each subsequent assessment roll upon which such exemption is sought, [may] file with the appropriate assessor a certified commitment of such tract to continued forest crop production for the next succeeding ten years under the approved management plan” (RPTL, §480?a(3)(a)(iii)). The eligible tract “shall continue to be so exempt thereafter upon receipt by the assessor of a certified commitment ... so long as the certification of the eligible tract shall not be revoked by the [State Department of Environmental Conservation]” (RPTL, §480-a(3)(b)) (emphasis added).

Updated: