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Volume 9 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 85

Opinions of Counsel index

Nonprofit organizations exemption (religious) (convent) - Real Property Tax Law, § 420-a:

Real property used as a Roman Catholic convent is eligible for the nonprofit organizations exemption.

We have been asked whether a Roman Catholic convent may be exempt pursuant to section 420-a of the Real Property Tax Law.

The term “convent” is not defined in the RPTL nor has our research disclosed any New York State judicial construction of the term. “Convent” has been construed by other states’ courts, such as “a house or building occupied by nuns” (Board of Zoning Appeals of City of Indianapolis v. Wheaton, 118 Ind. App. 38, 76 N.E.2d 597, 601 (1948)) or “an association or community of recluses devoted to a religious life under a superior . . .” {*} (Sacred Heart Academy of Galveston v. Karsch, 173 Tenn. 618, 122 S.W.2d 416,417 (1938)).

Section 420-a of the RPTL exempts real property owned by nonprofit organizations organized or conducted exclusively for one or more specified statutory purposes (e.g., religious) and used exclusively for such purpose(s). The test for exemption is whether a particular use is “reasonably incident” to the major purpose of the owner (People ex rel. Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, Inc. v. Haring, 8 N.Y.2d 350, 170 N.E.2d 677, 207 N.Y.S.2d 673 (1960)).

We have found no New York State judicial decision precisely holding that convents are or are not exempt pursuant to section 420-a, but we have found several in which they have been referred to as being exempt (People ex rel. Church of St. Mary v. Feitner, 168 N.Y. 494, 61 N.E. 762 (1901); St. Barbara’s Roman Catholic Church v. City of New York, 243 App.Div. 371, 277 N.Y.S. 538 (2d Dept. 1935); Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs of Auriesville v. Board of Assessors, Town of Glen, 54 Misc.2d 145, 281 N.Y.S.2d 544 (Sup.Ct., Montgomery Co. 1967), mod. 40 A.D.2d 75, 337 N.Y.S.2d 786 (3rd Dept. 1972), aff’d, 33 N.Y.2d 713, 304 N.E.2d 563, 349 N.Y.S.2d 993 (1973)).

Recently, the Court of Appeals held that bungalow units and house trailers used as housing facilities by those attending or working at a religious summer camp were “necessary and reasonably incidental” to the overall religious use of the camp, and therefore exempt (Yeshivath Shearith Hapletah v. Assessor of the Town of Fallsburg, et al; 79 N.Y.2d 244, 251, 590 N.E.2d 1182, 582 N.Y.S.2d 54, 57 (1992)). Given the cited decisions and the tenor of other decisions concerning the exemption for religious organizations (e.g., Holy Spirit Ass’n for Unification of World Christianity v. Tax Comm. of City of New York, 55 N.Y.2d 512,435 N.E.2d 662,450 N.Y.S.2d 292 (1982)), we believe that a Roman Catholic convent would be deemed reasonably incident to the purposes of the church, and therefore exempt.

March 8, 1991
Revised February 23, 1993

{*}  This definition is also found in Webster’s New International Dictionary, 2d ed.