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Volume 12 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 9

Opinions of Counsel index

Farm or food processing labor camps or commissaries exemption (application) (new filing upon transfer of title) - Real Property Tax Law § 483-d:

When title to property receiving the farm or food processing camps or commissaries exemption is transferred, the new owner must file an application (RP-483-d) if the exemption is to be continued.

We have received an inquiry concerning the farm or food processing labor camps or commissaries exemption (Real Property Tax Law, § 483-d). We are asked, when ownership of a parcel receiving that exemption is conveyed by one farmer to another farmer, whether the subsequent owner must file a new exemption application (RP-483-d) in order to continue the exemption. We believe so.

RPTL, § 483-d(2), provides that:

The exemption provided by subdivision one of this section shall only be granted upon the application of the owner of the property upon which such structures are located on a form to be prescribed by the state board. . . . The assessor shall determine that the structure or structures are in compliance with the standards required by subdivision one of this section. Once an exemption is granted pursuant to the provisions of this section, no renewal thereof shall be necessary, unless the structure or structures no longer are in compliance with the standards required by subdivision one of this section (emphasis added).

We have previously stated in the Assessor’s Manual in the Exemption Profile for RPTL 483-d, that “[f]iling of the [exemption] form is required only in the first year, unless the structures are no longer in compliance with the requirements as stated in Property Use Requirements.” Our instructions for completing the RP-483-d form and our memo of April 8, 2003, regarding the exemption are similar. {1}

While RPTL 483-d, does not specifically provide that a new tax exemption application must be filed by a new owner upon the conveyance of a farm or food labor camp or commissary, such an application is needed to help the assessor administer that law in a manner consistent with the legislative intent of the exemption. The Legislature, by providing in RPTL, § 483-d(1) that eligible farm or food processing labor camps or commissaries must be “in compliance with all applicable standards set by the departments of health and labor, and the state building code commission,” has clearly indicated that assessors may only approve or continue such exemption for properties whose owners provide adequate proof of current compliance with such standards.

We advised in our aforementioned memo of April 8, 2003 that assessors are to confirm continued compliance with the statutory standards by annually requesting that the owners of the camps or commissaries provide the assessor with copies of “a current State Sanitary Code permit, a current State Labor Department certificate or permit, and current documentation concerning compliance with the fire prevention and building code” (supra at p. 4). We noted that “the applicable State Sanitary Code permit ‘cannot be issued for a term greater than 12 consecutive months’ (10 NYCRR 15.4(b) and . . . the applicable State Labor Department certificates and permits are subject to revocation (12 NYCRR 197.4)” (supra at pp.3-4).

The relevant health permit (a State Sanitary Code permit to operate a migrant farmworker housing facility) is not “transferable or assignable” (10 NYCRR 15.4(b); emphasis added). {2}   Such is also the case with the applicable State Labor Department certificate or permit (a farm labor contractor certificate of registration, a permit to operate a farm labor camp commissary, and/or a migrant labor registration certificate). {3}  Accordingly, in order to fulfill the legislative intent of section 483-d, assessors, after being advised that title to such a camp or commissary has been conveyed, should request copies of a current State Sanitary Code permit and Department of Labor certificate or permit from the new owner before approving the continuation of the property’s exemption. In this situation, the assessor should also ask the new owner to file a RP-483-d application because the new owner needs to certify in that application, subject to appropriate penalties for false statements, that the camp or commissary has complied with the required health, labor and building code standards. {4}

Our advice is also based on the canon of construction that “[t]ax exemption statutes are strictly construed” (McKinney’s Statutes, § 294). Our application of this canon is particularly appropriate here because the section 483-d exemption has an indefinite duration, totally exempts an eligible camp or commissary from all real property taxes, special ad valorem levies, and special assessments (§ 483-d(1)), and may apply to a qualified “year-round home . . . that is not located on a farm but in a residential area . . .” (11 Op.Counsel SBRPS No. 53). {5}   In contrast, the farm structures and buildings exemption (RPTL, § 483), which may apply to eligible housing for permanent, salaried farm employees (§ 483(2)(b)), {6}  provides an exemption that is limited in duration, scope, and location. {7}

September 12, 2008

{1}  The instructions for completing RP-483-d state that “[o]nce an exemption is granted, it will not be necessary to file an annual renewal application to continue the exemption provided the structures remain in compliance with health, labor and building code standards.” The instructions also state that “[t]he assessor may ask for updated documents in subsequent years.”

{2}  We also note that “[o]peration of a migrant farmworker housing facility without a permit is a violation of . . . Part [15 of the State Sanitary Code]” (10 NYCRR 15.3(a)(1)).

{3}  We similarly note that 12 NYCRR 197.4 (f) provides that such a certificate or permit “may not be assigned or transferred.”

{4}  We also recommend that the assessor advise the State Health and Labor Departments of such a conveyance of title in order to assist those agencies in administering their respective programs that protect migrant farm workers.

{5 }  In that opinion, we concluded that such a residence must be “exclusively occupied by migrant farmworkers and their families, [have] a current Department of Health permit, and [comply] with the Fire Prevention and Building Code.”

{6}  Eligible structures and buildings must be “used to provide housing for regular and essential employees and their immediate families who are primarily employed in connection with the operation of lands actively devoted to agricultural and horticultural use” (§ 483(2)(b); see also, 5 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 104).

{7} A qualified residence is entitled to exemption for a maximum of ten years (§ 483(6)); the exemption only applies to real property taxes (§ 483(1)); the exemption is limited to the value added to the parcel by the structure or building (ibid.); and the structure or building must be located on an eligible commercial farm consisting of at least five acres (11 Op.Counsel SBRPS No. 26).