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Court Discusses Petition for Tax Exemption

 

The Plaintiff, claims that it is entitled to a real property tax exemption pursuant to Real Property Tax Law [“R.P.T.L.”] §§ 420(a),(b)1 and 4622 for the years 2004 and 2005 for its property located at 32 College Road, Monsey, New York within the Town of Ramapo. The trial of this matter took place on February 15, 2006 during which witnesses testified on behalf of the Congregation and the Defendants. After a careful review the trial record and exhibits and the excellent post trial memoranda of law including findings of fact and conclusions of law submitted by the parties the Court is now prepared to render its Decision.

The Congregation was organized as a religious corporation, the Certificate of Incorporation5 of which provides” SECOND: The purposes for which this corporation is formed are. To conduct and maintain a House of Worship in accordance with orthodox Jewish custom and traditions to promote the religious, intellectual, moral and social welfare among its members and their families, to promote and increase interest in the study of the Torah, by maintaining classes for the teaching of the customs, traditions and mode of worship of the orthodox Jewish faith. FIFTH: The principal place of worship of the corporation shall be located at 32 College Road, Monsey, New York”.

Unlike other cases in which this Court has ruled upon the requests of religious and charitable corporations for real property tax exemptions pursuant to R.P.T.L. § 420(a)6 [

First, the Congregation operates a synagogue, a mikvah, a shul and provides a residence for its Rabbi and his family in the subject property7 and has never filed development site plans nor applied for or obtained building permits and a Certificate of Occupancy for anything other than” a single family dwelling with a finished basement”8. The Congregation was served with a Notice of Violation9 dated June 29, 2004 [“the Violation”]”for use other than as a single-family residence”10 and has not responded to the Violation by applying for a “building permit for work relating to the construction or renovations for a synagogue” and “site plan approval for a synagogue”11. The use of the subject property in violation of zoning ordinances is a complete defense to the Congregation’s application for a tax exemption.

Second, the Congregation is “double dipping” in that it rents the upper level of the subject property to Rabbi for $1,780.00 a month, $1,617.00 of which is paid by the Section 8 Housing Voucher Program12, the balance of which, $163.00, was supposed to have been paid by Rabbi to the Congregation but was only paid” Maybe around five, six times” in three years13. The Congregation cannot seek two governmental subsidies for the same property by” requesting a tax exemption and then receiving Section 8 rent for the exempt property”14. In addition, the Congregation appears to be making a profit from this arrangement of ” $381.68/month or $4,580.16 a year”15 .

Third, in its Complaints16 the Congregation relied exclusively upon R.P.T.L. §§ 420(a),(b) as the basis for its request for a tax exemption for the subject property. Nonetheless, at trial the Congregation made application “to conform the pleadings to the proof” by allowing it to seek tax exemption under R.P.T.L. § 462 “. That request is denied.

Without standing to seek a real property tax exemption this Court need not address the merits of whether or not the Congregation meets, in whole or in part, the requirements of R.P.T.L. §§ 420(a),(b)17 and 46218. Notwithstanding Defendants’ request for an advisory opinion. “We look to this Court for guidance in handling the various permutations arising from this ever-expanding area of tax exemptions”, the issue of standing [which Defendants themselves properly raised is a threshold issue which must be addressed before considering the merits of the Congregation’s request for a tax exemption.

In its Complaints 63 the Congregation relied exclusively upon R.P.T.L. §§ 420(a),(b) as the basis for its request for a 100% tax exemption for the subject property. Nonetheless, at trial the Congregation made application “to conform the pleadings to the proof ” by allowing it to seek tax exemption under R.P.T.L. § 462 “. That request is denied.

Assuming, arguendo, that the Congregation’s application had been granted it, nevertheless, failed to file an application in 2005 for a tax exemption pursuant to R.P.T.L. § 462 and would be barred from relying upon that provision herein.

Based upon the foregoing the Congregation’s Complaints for 2004 and 2005 are dismissed and its application for a tax exemption for the subject property pursuant to R.P.T.L. §§ 420(a),(b) & 462 is denied.

Assuming, arguendo, that the Congregation meets the first requirement of being organized exclusively for religious purposes it has failed to meet the second requirement because the upper portion of the subject property is not primarily used for a tax exempt religious purpose. In light of the testimony regarding the hours that the Rabbi is downstairs in the soul performing various services for the Congregation and its congregants, the Congregation cannot argue that the residence is used for anything other than the family residence. The Congregation has submitted no credible evidence that religious activity takes place upstairs in the Rabbi’s residence. It is clear that the primary use of the upper level of the subject property is as a residence. The fact that it is used for residential purposes by the choir director, who provides liturgical music at all weekend services and sacramental ceremonies, and occasionally by visiting clergy, is plainly incidental to the religious purpose of the building.

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