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Volume 9 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 110

Opinions of Counsel index

Senior citizens exemption (ownership requirement) (applicant reaching age 65 after taxable status date - local option) - Real Property Tax Law, § 467:

A municipal corporation which offers the senior citizens exemption may further choose to make the exemption available to applicants who reach 65 years of age after taxable status date but on or before December 31.

As a general rule, if property owned by a senior citizen is to receive a partial exemption, its owners (or, if the property is owned by a married couple or by siblings, at least one of its owners) must be 65 years of age or over (Real Property Tax Law, § 467(1)(a)). A question has arisen as to the date on which the age of a property owner is to be determined.

All real property is assessed according to its condition and ownership as of taxable status date, which is March 1 in most New York State assessing units (RPTL, § 302(1)). Usually, eligibility for tax exempt status is also measured as of this date (RPTL, §§ 302, 102(2); Semple School for Girls v. Boyland, 308 N.Y. 382, 126 N.E.2d 294 (1955)).

With respect to the senior citizens exemption, this means that a parcel’s eligibility for exemption (e.g., based upon the income of and length of ownership by the owner) is generally determined as of taxable status date. Subdivision five provides an exception to the general rule:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, at the option of the municipal corporation, any person otherwise qualifying under this section shall not be denied the exemption under this section if he becomes sixty-five years of age after the appropriate taxable status date and on or before December thirty-first of the same year. (emphasis added)

New York City officials have interpreted this provision as giving the City a choice to determine an applicant’s age as of the City’s January 5 taxable status date (New York City Charter, § 1507) or as of December 31. A City taxpayer contends that the provision mandates that December 31 be used in determining exemption eligibility.

We agree with the City’s interpretation. In addition to the plain language of the above-quoted statute, especially the emphasized clause, legislative history supports the City’s conclusion.

The original version of the quoted language was first added to the law by chapter 287 of the Laws of 1989. The sponsor’s memo to the bill (S.322) states that the new provision is “at the option of the municipality.” The State Board’s “Summary of 1989 Real Property Tax Legislation,” sent to assessment officials throughout the State, refers to the authorization given municipal corporations. Finally, the sponsor’s memorandum for the bill (S.6852), later enacted as chapter 309 of the Laws of 1990 {*}, again refers to the “option” given municipalities as to the date of birth issue.

While some grammarians might dispute the placement of and punctuation surrounding section 467(5)’s phrase “at the option of the municipal corporation,” its intent seems clear: municipalities which choose to offer the senior citizens exemption have a further option of how to reckon an applicant’s age.

August 13, 1992

{*}  The 1990 law was necessary so that senior citizens whose birthdays fall on December 31 could benefit where the option is selected.