Friday, May 23, 2014

Board Finds Assessor Wrongfully Denied Exemption to Church for Failure to File Application

Excerpts of the Board's Determination follow:

18. Indiana Code section 6-1.1-10-16(a) states “All or part of a building is exempt from property taxation if it is owned, occupied, and used by a person for educational, literary, scientific, religious, or charitable purposes.” Further, “a tract of land … is exempt from property taxation if: (1) a building that is exempt under subsection (a) or (b) is situated on it; [or] (2) a parking lot or structure that serves a building referred in subdivision (1) is situated on it.” Ind. Code § 6-1.1-10-16(c).

19. The test used to determine whether all or a portion of a subject property qualifies for an exemption is the “predominant use” test. New Castle Lodge #147, Loyal Order of Moose, Inc., 765 N.E.2d 1257, 1259 (Ind. 2002). Indiana Code section 6-1.1-10-36.3(a) states “property is predominantly used or occupied for one (1) or more stated purposes if it is used or occupied for one (1) or more of those purposes during more than fifty percent (50%) of the time that it is used or occupied in the year that ends on the assessment date of the property.” Indiana Code section 6-1.1-10-36.3(c) further provides that “[p]roperty that is predominantly used or occupied for one (1) or more of the stated purposes by a church, religious society, or not-for-profit school is totally exempt under that section.”

20. “The evaluation of whether property is owned, occupied, and predominately used for an exempt purpose,” however, “is a fact sensitive inquiry; there are no bright-line tests." Jamestown Homes of Mishawaka, Inc. v. St. Joseph County Assessor, 914 N.E.2d 13 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2009). Thus, every exemption case “stand[s] on its own facts” and on how the parties present those facts. See Indianapolis Osteopathic Hospital, Inc., 818 N.E.2d 1009, 1018 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2004); Long v. Wayne Twp. Assessor, 821 N.E.2d 466, 471 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2005) (explaining that a taxpayer has a duty to walk the Indiana Board through every element of its analysis; it cannot assume the evidence speaks for itself).

21. Under Indiana Code section 6-1.1-11-4(d), an exemption application is not required if “the exempt property is tangible property used for religious purposes described in IC 6-1.1-10-21;… and (2) the exemption application referred to in section 3 of this chapter was filed properly at least once after the property was designated for a religious use as described in IC 6-1.1-10-21.” Ind. Code § 6-1.1-11-4(d).

22. In this case, there is no dispute that the property is owned, occupied and used for religious purposes. It has always been a church, and has always received an exemption, until 2013 when the Assessor denied the exemption based on the Church’s alleged failure to file what the Assessor deemed to be a proper exemption application. To the extent the Assessor disputes this fact, it is only because she claims that she incorrectly granted an exemption to the Church in 2009 due to a paperwork error.

23. Regardless of the reason the Assessor denied the exemption application in 2013, she erred in doing so. In 2006, the Assessor granted the Petitioner an exemption based on the Letter of Notification. The Letter of Notification is an acceptable mechanism for claiming a religious exemption according to the State Board of Tax Commissioners. Petitioner Exhibit E. Under Indiana Code section 6-1.1-11-4(d), the Church was not required to file an application for 2013. Because Petitioner was not required to file an application and the property met all of the other requirements of Indiana Code section 6-1.1-11-4, the PTABOA erroneously denied the exemption.