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Volume 7 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 15

Opinions of Counsel index

Indians exemption (lands outside reservation) - Indian Law, § 2; Real Property Tax Law, § 454:

Real property owned by the Tribal Council of the Saint Regis Indian Tribe located outside the boundaries of the Reservation is not exempt, regardless of the use made of such property.

We have been asked whether lands owned by the Tribal Council of the Saint Regis Indian Tribe located outside the boundaries of the Reservation are exempt from taxation. The property is used as a community youth center.

Recognizing that the exemption afforded lands within the reservation is unavailable under these circumstances (see, Real Property Tax Law, §454; Indian Law, §6; see also, 4 Op. Counsel SBEA No. 42), the Tribal Council has requested an exemption as a “government entity”. The town assessor has suggested that an exemption may be available under section 420 of the Real Property Tax Law, since the property is used exclusively as a community youth center.

Section 2 of the Indian Law authorizes an Indian to “take, hold and convey” real property outside an Indian Reservation the same as other citizens. This section further provides that “[u]pon becoming a freeholder to the value of [$100] an Indian shall be subject to taxation.”

Section 35 of the General Construction Law provides that “[w]ords in the singular number include the plural. . .”. Applying this rule of statutory interpretation to section 2 of the Indian Law, two or more Indians (or, as in this case, a Tribal Council) may own real property, but would be liable for taxes imposed thereon.

The land may not be exempted as property of a “government entity”. While lands on the Saint Regis Reservation are owned by the State (see, Terrance v. Crowley, 62 Misc. 138, 116 N.Y.S. 417 (S.Ct., Franklin Co., 1909)), lands outside the Reservation owned by a tribal member or the Tribal Council are not owned by the State. Therefore, they are not entitled to the exemption afforded State-owned lands by section 404 of the Real Property Tax Law.

Nor would the Tribal Council qualify as a “foreign nation”, a “municipal corporation” (Real Property Tax Law, §102(10)), or a “special district” (id., §102(16)), all of which are governmental entities whose properties may be entitled to exemption from taxation (id., §§418, 406(1), 410, respectively).

Unavailing also is the assessor’s suggestion that the lands qualify for exemption under section 420 of the Real Property Tax Law. The question of use of the property aside, these lands do not qualify for this exemption because title is not in a corporation or association organized exclusively for one or more of the exempt purposes set forth in section 420 (see generally, 4 Op.Counsel SBEA No.26; 3 id. 111; 1 id. 89).

Accordingly, it is our opinion that lands owned by the St. Regis Tribal Council, located outside Reservation boundaries, are taxable regardless of their use.

July 2, 1980

Updated: