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Volume 10 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 5

Opinions of Counsel index

Veterans exemption (seriously disabled veteran) (blindness grant) - Real Property Tax Law, § 458:

The exemption available to seriously disabled veterans (RPTL, § 458(3)) is applicable to qualifying property built or improved with a Federal grant made pursuant to section 2101(a) of Title 38 of the United States Code, not a grant paid pursuant to section 2101(b).

Our opinion has been requested concerning the exemption available to seriously disabled veterans (RPTL, § 458(3)). A blind veteran has used monies made available to him by the Federal government pursuant to 38 U.S.C. section 2101(b) to construct an exercise room on his home. The question is whether his property qualifies for the exemption.

As we have discussed in prior opinions (e.g., 7 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 110), section 458(3) of the Real Property Tax Law (as amended by L.1981, c.981) provides a total exemption from real property taxes to certain seriously disabled veterans. To be eligible for this exemption, the seriously disabled veteran must have received pecuniary assistance from the United States government and “applied such assistance toward the acquisition of a suitable housing unit with special fixtures or movable facilities made necessary by the nature of the veteran’s disability and the necessary land therefor.” Such housing unit must be the primary residence of the veteran or his or her unremarried surviving spouse.

It has long been our opinion that the pecuniary assistance referred to in section 458(3) is the money allocated and paid to seriously disabled veterans pursuant to requirements specified in chapter 21 of the Veteran’s Benefit Act, i.e., 38 U.S.C. sections 2101-2106 (1 Op. Counsel SBEA No. 60). [Prior to renumbering by Pub.L. No. 102-83, these sections were numbered 801-806.] Before 1980, 38 U.S.C. section 801 only authorized the payment of a specially adapted housing grant for the acquisition “of a suitable housing unit with special fixtures or movable facilities made necessary by the nature of the veteran’s disability, and necessary land therefor.” That is the same language used in RPTL, section 458(3).

However, in 1980, Congress amended section 801 of 38 U.S.C. (Pub.L. No. 96-385). This amendment designated the existing provisions, including the language quoted above, as subsection (a), and added to a new subsection (b). Subsection (b) of section 2101 now authorizes the payment of pecuniary assistance to veterans with blindness in both eyes or with the loss or the loss of use of both hands to assist in the acquisition of “adaptations to such veteran’s residence as are determined . . . to be reasonably necessary because of such disability.” A grant under subsection (b) is limited to the lesser of the actual costs of the adaptations or $6,500, while the grant under subsection (a) may not exceed $38,000 (38 U.S.C. section 2102).

From its original enactment (L.1950, c.708), the purpose of subdivision (3) of section 458 has been to provide real property tax relief to veterans receiving specially adapted housing grants pursuant to the provisions now contained in subsection (a) of 38 U.S.C. section 2101. The duplication of the federal language in the State law underlines the Legislature’s purpose. Indeed, an examination of the Governor’s bill jacket for chapter 981 of the Laws of 1981 (obviously enacted after the addition of 38 U.S.C. 801(b)) reveals no contention by anyone, including veterans groups, that section 458(3) applied to veterans receiving a grant under section section 801(b). Accordingly, it is our opinion that veterans receiving pecuniary assistance pursuant to subsection (b) of section 2101 of 38 U.S.C. are not eligible for the total real property tax exemption granted pursuant to section 458(3). Such moneys, however, do constitute “eligible funds” for purposes of the partial exemption authorized in section 458(1).

May 20, 1994