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Volume 11 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 53

Opinions of Counsel index

Farm or food processing labor camps or commissaries exemption (scope) (year-round home occupied by migrant farmworkers) - Real Property Tax Law, § 483-d:

A year-round home, which is owned by a certified farm labor contractor that is not located on a farm but in a residential area, may qualify for the farm or food processing labor camps or commissaries exemption provided the residence is exclusively occupied by migrant farmworkers and their families, has a current Department of Health permit, and complies with the Fire Prevention and Building Code.

We have received an inquiry regarding the farm or food processing labor camps or commissaries exemption (Real Property Tax Law, §483-d). The assessor states that a certified farm labor contractor (see, Labor Law, §212-a(1)(a)) is considering filing a farm labor camps exemption application for the current assessment roll that would apply to two two-family, year-round homes located in a residential area. The homes are owned by the contractor and are said to be occupied by migrant farmworkers. We are informed that the State Department of Health has issued a migrant farmworker housing facility permit (10 NYCRR §15.4) that applies to the two homes. The question is whether the year-round homes may qualify for the farm labor camps exemption despite the fact that the homes are neither located on a farm nor operated by a farmer.

Section 483-d of the RPTL provides an exemption from taxation, special ad valorem levies and special assessments (i.e., a total exemption) to “[f]arm or food processing labor camps or commissaries, as defined in article seven of the labor law.” Eligible facilities must be “in compliance with all applicable standards set by the [State] departments of health and labor, and the state building code commission.” {1}  The farm labor camps exemption requires no renewal application but continues until “the structure or structures no longer are in compliance with standards required by [RPTL, §483-d(1)]” (RPTL, §483-d(2)). {2}

Labor Law, section 212-c(3), which is part of Article 7 (§200 et seq.), in relevant part defines a “farm labor camp” as “a property consisting of a tract of land and all tents, vehicles, buildings, or other structure pertaining thereto, any part of which may be occupied by persons employed as laborers in farm activities who are provided with sleeping facilities, in whole or in part, by the owner, lessee, or operator thereof” (emphasis added). A similar definition is set forth in Part 15 of the State Sanitary Code (see, 10 NYCRR §15.1(c)). {3}  A “migrant farmworker” is defined by the State Sanitary Code as “an individual who is employed in farm activities of a seasonal or temporary nature” (10 NYCRR §15.1(e)). {4}  A State Department of Health permit for “migrant farmworker housing” does not apply to a “property which is primarily occupied or maintained for persons other than migrant farmworkers” (10 NYCRR §15.2(b)(1)).

We have been informed that neither the State Department of Health nor the State Department of Labor routinely investigates whether a purported farm labor camp owned by a farm labor contractor exclusively houses migrant farmworkers and their families. We therefore suggest that, if necessary, assessors presented with applications for exemption under section 483-d ask for proof (e.g., an affidavit) stating that the improvements for which the exemption is sought are exclusively occupied by migrant farmworkers and their immediate families. The proof should also indicate the number of migrant farmworkers who reside therein, the seasonal or temporary farm activities for which they are employed, and the amount of their rental payments. An assessor could ask the State Labor Department to review the proof submitted in order to determine whether the rents reported to have been paid by the migrant farmworkers exceed permissible limits.

Several documents in the Governor’s Bill Jacket for chapter 684 of the Laws of 2002, the chapter that adopted section 483-d, clearly indicate that the farm labor camps or commissaries exemption was intended to aid “farmers.” {5}  The Governor’s Bill Jacket neither indicates that chapter 684 is intended to provide financial relief to farm labor contractors nor states that the exemption applies to housing in a residential area. Neither Labor Law, section 212-c(3), nor State Sanitary Code, section 15.1(c), however, requires that an eligible “farm labor camp” be located on a farm and/or be owned by a farm operation.

That is, by its terms, section 483-d requires that eligible camps/commissaries be involved in the activity of farming, but does not require that such facilities be located on a farm and/or be owned by a farm operation. Accordingly, we are constrained to conclude that, pursuant to RPTL, section 483-d, a year-round home owned by a certified farm labor contractor in a residential area may qualify for exemption when the residence is exclusively occupied by migrant farmworkers and their families, has a current Department of Health permit, and complies with the Fire Prevention and Building Code.

January 27, 2004


{1}  The State Building Code Commission is now known as the State Fire Prevention and Building Code Council.

{2}  An exemption is also afforded to new or reconstructed housing for year-round farmworkers who are “regular and essential employees” of the farm operation (RPTL, §483(2)(b)). In contrast to the farm labor camps or commissaries exemption, the exemption for the residences of year-round farmworkers applies to taxation only (i.e., thereby excluding special district charges), covers only increases in the property’s value attributable to such housing, and is granted for a period of just 10 years (RPTL, §483(1)).

{3}  We note that 10 NYCRR §15.1(c) in germane portion defines a “migrant labor camp or migrant farmworker housing” as “a property which consists of a tract of land and all vehicles, mobile homes, buildings or other structures pertaining thereto, any part of which may be used or occupied by persons employed as migrant farmworkers including sleeping facilities, provided in whole or in part, by the employer of such persons, owner, lessee or operator thereof” (emphasis added).

{4}  The State Sanitary Code defines eligible “farm activities” as “the activities carried out in connection with the production or processing of agricultural, horticultural, or fur industry products such as: fitting, planting, cultivating, harvesting, vining, sorting, grading, skinning, packing, storing, canning, freezing, dehydrating, bottling and preserving or treating by any method” (10 NYCRR §15.1(d)).

{5}  The memorandum of the State Division of the Budget states “this bill provides relief to farmers who have been under financial stress due to cost increases, falling prices and foreign competition” (emphasis added). The memorandum of the State Department of Agriculture and Markets states that the bill would “help to promote improved facilities for farmworkers and their families by providing tax relief for the farmers who build or improve those facilities” (emphasis added). A letter from Assembly Member Felix W. Ortiz, the Chair of the Assembly’s Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy, who helped to develop the legislation, states that the bill is “an attempt to assist two segments of the farm and food community, farm operators and farmworkers, especially migrant workers” (emphasis added).

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