Friday, May 30, 2014

Board Finds Property Entitled to Homestead Exemption Despite Dwelling Being Incomplete on Assessment Date

Excerpts of the Board's Determination follow:

18. The Board is a creation of the legislature and has only the powers conferred by statute. Whetzel v. Dep’t of Local Gov’t Fin., 761 N.E.2d 904, 908 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2001) (citing Matonovich v. State Bd. of Tax Comm’rs, 705 N.E.2d 1093, 1096 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1999)). By statute, the Board conducts an impartial review of all appeals concerning the assessed valuation of tangible property, property tax deductions, property tax exemptions, and property tax credits that are made from a determination by an assessing official or county property assessment board of appeals to the Board under any law. Ind. Code § 6-1.5-4-1.

19. The parties agree that the dwelling was not complete on March 1, 2010. They also agree that an amendment added in 2013 entitles an individual to the homestead deduction if construction of the dwelling that constitutes the homestead was not completed on the assessment date. The dispute is whether or not the amendment applies to the March 1, 2010 assessment date.

20. Pub. L. 288-2013 amended Ind. Code § 6-1.1-12-37 to include, among other things, a deduction for a homestead if on the assessment date the construction of the dwelling that constitutes the homestead was not completed. Ind. Code § 6-1.1-12-17 (2013). This provision became effective March 1, 2013. The Petitioners contend that there is nothing stating that the amendment is not retroactive to March 1, 2010. The Respondent contends that the amendment became effective in 2013 and there is nothing that indicates that it should be applied prior to 2013.

21. Despite the change in statute, there can be no question that the statutory framework in place in 2010 governs the 2010 assessment. See, e.g., Methodist Hospitals, Inc. v. Lake County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals, Cause No. 45T10-0411-TA-50 (Ind. Tax Ct. 2007) (for publication January 10, 2007) (Amendment provided that property owned by an Indiana nonprofit corporation that is used in the operation of a hospital is exempt from property taxation as of January 1, 2001 but the petitioner’s medical offices were found to be not exempt in 2000 because the statutory provision in place at the time of assessment only allowed exemption of property “substantially related to or supportive of the inpatient facility of the hospital.”)

22. Therefore, the Board looks to the statute as written in 2010. Ind. Code § 6-1.1-12-37(b) states:
Each year a homestead is eligible for a standard deduction from the assessed value of the homestead for an assessment date. The deduction provided by this section applies to property taxes first due and payable for an assessment date only if an individual has an interest in the homestead described in subsection (a)(2)(B) on:

(1) the assessment date; or
(2) any date in the same year after an assessment date that a statement is filed under subsection(e) or section 44 of this chapter, if the property consists of real property.
Subject to subsection (c), the auditor of the county shall record and make a deduction for the individual or entity qualifying for the deduction.

23. In this case, the Petitioners purchased the property and filed the sales disclosure form on April 29, 2010. Pursuant to Ind. Code § 6-1.1-12-44, the sales disclosure form serves as an application for deductions. The Petitioners applied for the homestead deduction on the sales disclosure form. Board Exhibit A - Sales Disclosure Form attached to Form 133 petition. Because the County Auditor originally allowed the homestead deduction, the Board assumes there is no dispute with the Petitioners’ interest in the homestead or the filing for the homestead deduction. The letter from the County Auditor states that the homestead deduction was removed because the home was not 100% complete as of March 1, 2010. Neither the letter nor Mr. Watkins cited to any statutory authority requiring that the dwelling be 100% complete on the assessment date.

24. A homestead is defined as an individual’s principal place of residence that (1) is located in Indiana, (2) the individual owns, and (3) consists of a dwelling and the real estate. Ind. Code § 6-1.1-12-37(a)(2) (2010). Nothing in Ind. Code § 6-1.1-12-37 requires the dwelling to be 100% complete on the assessment date.

25. Because the statute does not limit the homestead deduction to dwellings that are 100% complete on the assessment date, neither the County nor the Board have the authority to impose that limitation. Where a statute’s language is clear, the Board lacks the authority to construe it for purposes of limiting or extending its operation. See Joyce Sportswear Co. v. State Bd. Of Tax Comm’rs, 684 N.E.2d 1189, 1192 (Ind. Tax Ct. 1997).

26. To be eligible for the homestead deduction for the March 1, 2010 assessment date, the statute required the Petitioners to show that they had an interest in the homestead and filed for the deduction on any date in 2010. The record shows that the Petitioners purchased the property and filed for the homestead deduction on April 29, 2010.

27. Neither party addressed the other decisive issues in this case. First, did the Petitioners claim the homestead deduction anywhere else? And second, is the subject property the Petitioners’ principal place of residence? Again, because the County Auditor originally allowed homestead deduction, the Board assumes these issues are not in dispute.