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Volume 7 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 25

Opinions of Counsel index

Aged exemption (income requirement) (increase in limitation after taxable status date) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 302, 467:

If the State Legislature authorizes a retroactive increase in the local income ceiling and permits the filing of applications for the aged exemption subsequent to taxable status date, contingent upon an increase in the local income ceiling to an amount in excess of the previous Statewide maximum, an increase in the local income ceiling after taxable status date to a lesser amount will not apply to an assessment roll prepared on the basis of that taxable status date.

A town increased its income limitation for purposes of the aged exemption (Real Property Tax Law, § 467) from $6,500 to $8,000 after taxable status date (May 1) in 1980. We have been asked whether persons who otherwise satisfy the requirements of section 467 would qualify for a partial exemption from town taxes levied on the 1980 assessment roll, if their incomes fall between $6,500 and $8,000.

Section 467 authorizes municipal corporations to adopt local laws, ordinances or resolutions granting an exemption from real property taxation equal to 50 percent of the assessed value of homes of aged persons who satisfy statutory requirements. One of those requirements is an income limitation set by each municipal corporation which grants the exemption (§ 467(3)(a)). At the time of original enactment (L.1966, c.616), section 467 established a Statewide income limitation of $3,000. Beginning in 1970 (L.1970, c.291), however, the statute has been amended on several occasions to permit a granting municipality to set its own income limitation subject to State minimum and maximum levels (L.1972, c.771; L.1974, c.1004; L.1977, c. 187; L. 1979, c. 109; L. 1980, c.816). Through the date of this opinion, the permissible income ceiling is $9,200.

Section 302 of the Real Property Tax Law requires the assessor to assess all real property according to its condition and ownership as of taxable status date (see, Semple School for Girls v. Boyland, 308 N.Y. 382, 126 N.E.2d 294 (1955)). With limited exceptions not here applicable, an owner of real property must satisfy requirements for exemption as of taxable status date (see, Rochester Housing Authority v. Sibley Corp., 77 Misc.2d 205, 351 N.Y.S.2d 934 (S.Ct., Monroe Co. 1974), aff’d 47 A.D.2d 718, 367 N.Y.S.2d 969 (4th Dept. 1975); Application of Suffern Boys School, 267 App.Div. 919, 47 N.Y.S.2d 192 (2d Dept. 1944); and 2 Op.Counsel SBEA Nos. 33 and 34). Thus, subdivision 5 of section 467 requires applications for this exemption to be filed with the assessor “on or before the appropriate taxable status date”.

In prior opinions (e.g., 6 id. Nos. 8 and 10), we considered the effect of enactments of or amendments to exemption statutes (other than § 467) after taxable status date. In each opinion, we concluded that absent a specific legislative declaration of a retroactive intent, the statutes were to apply only to assessment rolls prepared on the basis of taxable status dates occurring on or after the effective date of each act.

On three occasions, the State Legislature has enacted legislation after taxable status date, increasing the permissible local income ceiling for purposes of the aged exemption, and, providing statutory authority for retroactive application of new ceilings adopted in accordance with the provisions of each act. For example, in 1977, the permissible income ceiling was raised from $6,500 to $7,200, effective June 1, 1977 (subsequent to the general taxable status date of May 1). Chapter 187 of the Laws of 1977, as amended by chapter 457 of the Laws of the same year, authorized local governments to immediately increase their ceilings for purposes of the 1977 assessment roll and permitted filing of applications for the exemption until the date for the completion of the final assessment roll. However, these unique provisions had application only if the ceiling was increased to an amount in excess of $6,500 (the previous Statewide income ceiling).

Similar legislation was enacted in both 1979 (L.1979, cc. 108, 109) and 1980 (L.1980, c.816). The 1979 amendments took effect May 22, 1979, with provision made to the following effect:

§ 2. Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, if, in the year [1979], the governing body of a municipality, on or after the effective date of this act, amends or adopts a local law, ordinance or resolution pursuant to [§ 467] . . ., which establishes maximum income eligibility at more than seven thousand two hundred dollars . . . and such amendment or adoption is subsequent to the taxable status date of such municipality or within sixty days thereof, for the taxable year to which such taxable status date is applicable the following provisions shall govern the granting of an exemption under such section. . . . (L.1979, c.108, § 2) (emphasis added).

Included among “the following provisions” referred to above was (1) authorization for acceptance of applications for the aged exemption until the date of the filing of the final assessment roll (id. § 2(2)), and (2) direction to the assessor to make appropriate changes to the assessment roll based on those applications (id. § 2(3)). Of particular importance to the question presented, however, is subdivision (7) which declared that “the provisions for filing applications . . . provided for in this section shall expire [January 1, 1980].” Given this expiration date, the May 1980 increase in the local income ceiling to $8,000 did not come within the terms of this special legislation, notwithstanding that the ceiling was an amount “more than $7,200)”.

In 1980, virtually identical provisions were enacted (to permit a ceiling increase to as much as $9,200) but section 2 of chapter 816 of the Laws of 1980 limited its application to jurisdictions establishing a “maximum income eligibility at more than [$8,000]” (emphasis added). Since the May 1980 increase in this town’s income ceiling was to $8,000, the retroactive provisions of chapter 816 are also inapplicable to this town.

Accordingly, it is our opinion that the increase in the local income ceiling after May 1, 1980 would not affect would-be applicants for the aged exemption until the 1981 assessment roll, the new ceiling not being “more than” $8,000 as required by chapter 816 of the Laws of 1980.

October 20, 1980