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Volume 7 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 45

Opinions of Counsel index

Volunteer firemen and fire companies in villages exemption (married firefighters) – Real Property Tax Law, § 466:

If a husband and wife are each eligible in their own right for the village firefighter exemption authorized by section 466 of the Real Property Tax Law, their marital status does not prevent each from enjoying the full benefits of the exemption.

A husband and wife are both members of a village volunteer fire department. The husband individually owns one parcel of real property in the village while he and his wife jointly own another parcel in the village. We have been asked whether an exemption may properly be allowed on either or both properties pursuant to section 466 of the Real Property Tax Law.

Section 466 provides for a limited exemption for village purposes on property owned by active members of a village fire department and reads as follows:

Upon the adoption of a proposition therefor by the qualified voters of a village, the real property owned by a volunteer member of the village fire department and the real property owned by any volunteer fire company in the village shall be exempt from taxation for village purposes to the extent of five hundred dollars in addition to any other exemption authorized by law.

By the terms of this section, the village must have adopted a proposition authorizing an exemption. Once adopted, this exemption applies only to village taxes and can be granted to active volunteer members of the village fire department. When the exemption is granted it is personal to the firefighter (the maximum exemption is $500, whether the firefighter owns one parcel or several, not $500 per parcel owned).

In the immediate case, assuming that all statutory requirements are met, the husband would be entitled to a $500 exemption on the property he owns in his own name. However, since the partial exemption allowed by section 466 is a personal exemption limited to an annual total of $500 to each fireman, the husband’s right to exemption would be exhausted by granting it to him on the property owned by him in his own name (assuming, of course, that the assessed value of the property were greater than $500).

Assuming, additionally, that the wife is an active volunteer firefighter, the jointly held parcel will also be entitled to a $500 exemption. Although the husband would not be eligible for an additional exemption, the wife would be entitled to her $500 exemption on this parcel.

The fact that the parcel is jointly owned is not relevant to the right to exemption under section 466. Where real property was jointly owned by a volunteer fireman and another unrelated person, the State Comptroller was of the opinion that the exemption under section 466 should be granted (25 Op.State Compt. 73). Here, the situation is that the parcel is owned jointly by an eligible volunteer firefighter and a fireman whose exemption is exhausted. There is no reason to reach a different conclusion than the Comptroller did in his opinion.

Therefore, assuming the statutory requirements are satisfied, a partial exemption from taxation for village purposes in the amount of $500 would be properly allowable on each parcel pursuant to section 466.

It should be noted that our conclusion that the wife is entitled to a $500 exemption is based on the presumption that the husband and wife own the second parcel as tenants by the entirety or as joint tenants. If the situation were that title was held as tenants in common, by a fireman entitled to the exemption and another person either not entitled to the exemption or whose exemption had been exhausted, then the fireman would still be entitled to exemption under section 466, but in an amount not to exceed the percentage of his interest in the property (see, 4 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 66).

Further, if title to a single parcel is held by two persons eligible for exemption under section 466 as tenants by the entirety or joint tenants, each would be entitled to claim an exemption of $500 against the assessed value of the property. However, if the property were held by the two firemen as tenants in common, then each would be entitled to an exemption not to exceed the percentage of his or her interest in the property (see, 1 id. No. 54).

March 25, 1980

Updated: