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Volume 7 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 10

Opinions of Counsel index

State of New York exemption (N.Y.S. Housing Finance Agency) - Private Housing Finance Law, § 53; Real Property Tax Law, §§ 404, 536:,

Property of the New York State Housing Finance Agency is wholly exempt from taxation, notwithstanding the provisions of section 404 and title 2 of Article 5 of the Real Property Tax Law.

We have been asked whether the acquisition of parcels within the Town of Huntington by the New York State Housing Finance Agency (NYSHFA) will affect their taxable status for school purposes. The lands had been owned by the State of New York and subject to school taxation under section 536 of the Real Property Tax Law.

In general, real property owned by the State of New York is immune from taxation unless the State otherwise waives that immunity. Section 404, subdivision 1 of the Real Property Tax Law sets forth the general exemption from taxation for real property of the State “or any department or agency thereof.” Excepted from the general exemption is that property specifically made taxable in title 2 of Article 5 of the Real Property Tax Law.

Pursuant to section 536 (which is part of title 2 of Article 5), certain lands of the State are subject to taxation for school purposes only, including lands located within common school districts 15 and 16 in the Town of Huntington. The parcels in question lie within one or both of these districts.

The provisions of law applicable to the NYSHFA are now set forth in Article 3 of the Private Housing Law. Pursuant to section 53 of that Law, “the property of the agency and its income and operations shall be exempt from taxation.” This exemption was added by chapter 671 of the Laws of 1960 as section 352 of the Public Housing Law. It was incorporated as section 53 of the Private Housing Finance Law at the time of the codification of that Law in 1961 (L.1961, c.803).

As may be apparent, there is no exception in the exemption provided by section 53 of the Private Housing Finance Law similar to the exception provided for general exemptions of State-owned lands in section 404 of the Real Property Tax Law. Thus, we must resolve the conflict between these two provisions of law.

As a rule of statutory construction, a special act which is in conflict with a general statute relating to the same subject matter “controls the case” (McKinney’s Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated, Book 1, Statutes, §397 (1973)). For example, in Balducci v. Strough, 135 Misc. 346, 239 N.Y.S. 611 (Sup.Ct., Madison Co., 1929), it was held that provisions of the Village Law, relating to bond issues, controlled in the case of a conflict with similar provisions in the General Municipal Law because the former was a special law having application to villages, while the latter was a general act having relation to municipalities as a whole.

This rule of construction and cases citing it lead us to the conclusion that the specific exemption statute of section 53 of the Private Housing Finance Law excludes acquisitions of the NYSHFA from the provisions of title 2 of Article 5 of the Real Property Tax Law. In other words, notwithstanding the exception to the general exemption provisions set forth in section 404, property of the NYSHFA is not liable for school taxes under the provisions of section 536 of the Real Property Tax Law.

The fact that the Legislature included a specific exemption from taxation in the provisions of Article 3 of the Private Housing Finance Law also supports our conclusion. Since, even in the absence of section 53, real property of the NYSHFA would have been entitled to the general exemption provided by section 404, we can only conclude that the Legislature intended to provide a more complete exemption to property of the NYSHFA in enacting section 53 of the Private Housing Finance Law.

June 5, 1980

Updated: