July 21, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Child Care Center Not Eligible for Property Tax Exemptions

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Children’s Hospital Colorado v. Property Tax Administrator on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Child Care Center—Property Tax—Exemption—Sliding Scale—Charitable Purpose.

Children’s Hospital Colorado (the Hospital) owns and operates a child care facility (the Center) on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical School (CU Anschutz) campus. The Center provides child care to constituents of the Hospital and CU Anschutz as an employee benefit. The Center has a written tuition assistance policy that gives all families with an income below 150% of the federal poverty level a flat 10% discount. It also provides a flat 5% discount for siblings of enrolled children, regardless of the family’s income. The Hospital filed an application for exemption from property tax for the Center, which the Division of Property Tax considered under the charitable purposes exemption, C.R.S. § 39-3-108(1)(a), and an exemption for qualified child care centers, C.R.S. § 39-3-110. The Property Tax Administrator denied the application, and the Board of Assessment Appeals (BAA) upheld the order.

On appeal, the Hospital argued that the BAA exceeded its authority in interpreting C.R.S. § 39-3-110(1)(e) to conclude that the Center’s tuition discount policy did not qualify the Center for an exemption under that section. It argued that the BAA misinterpreted the rule regarding the definition of “charges on the basis of ability to pay.” C.R.S. § 39-3-110(1)(e) requires that the Center charge for its services based on the recipient’s ability to pay. Here, the family tuition reduction policy was based solely on whether a family’s income falls above or below the federal poverty line; it was not a scale that provides a range of tuition options, and it did not account for more than one factor in determining a family’s ability to pay. Similarly, the sibling discount is provided regardless of income or another factor indicating ability to pay. The BAA properly interpreted C.R.S. § 39-3-110(1)(e) to conclude that the Center’s tuition discount policy did not qualify as offering services “on the basis of ability to pay.”

The Hospital also contended that the BAA erred by finding that the Center is not operated for strictly charitable purposes. Here, the Center was operating for a business purpose—providing an employee benefit and recruitment tool—and not for a charitable purpose. Additionally, the Center did not benefit an indefinite number of persons and did not lessen the burdens of government. Therefore, it was not operated strictly for charitable purposes, as required by C.R.S. § 39-3-108(1).

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Landowner’s Potential Future Sale of Lot Irrelevant to Determination of Whether Property Residential

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Hogan v. Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, June 14, 2018.

Property Tax—Residential Property.

The Hogans own three connected and contiguous parcels of land in Summit County (the County). Lot 1 has a home built on it. The Hogans built a deck extending from their home across the boundary line onto Lot 2. Lot 3 is located in a subdivision and has an underground sewer line and an unpaved driveway installed by the original developer of the subdivision, but otherwise remains undeveloped. The Summit County Assessor denied the Hogans’ request to reclassify Lot 3 as residential, determining it to be vacant land for purposes of taxation. The Hogans appealed, and the Board of County Commissioners of Summit County (Board) upheld the Assessor’s classification. The Hogans appealed to the Board of Assessment Appeals (BAA), which upheld the Assessor’s classification.

On appeal, the Hogans asserted that the BAA erred in determining that Lot 3 was not “used as a unit in conjunction with the residential improvements.” The primary factor for determining property classification for property tax purposes is the property’s actual use on the relevant assessment date. Here, the BAA considered the likelihood of the parcel being conveyed separately, whether the parcel’s use was necessary or essential to qualify as integral, and whether the use of the parcel was active as opposed to passive. The BAA misapplied the law by relying on the possible future conveyance of Lot 3 as a separate unit without reference to how that possibility related to the Hogans’ current use of the parcel. The BAA further erred in interpreting the statute to require that the parcel’s use be a necessary or essential part of the residence. Finally, the use of the contiguous parcel need not be “active” as opposed to “passive.” Here, there is no evidence in the record that Lot 3 was used for a nonresidential purpose.

Lastly, the court of appeals rejected the BAA’s and the County’s arguments that the case could be affirmed on different grounds.

The BAA’s order was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Determining Ownership Requires Examining Right to Possess, Use, and Control Property

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Kelly v. Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, May 31, 2018.

Property Tax—Residential Land—Common Ownership—Vacant Land—C.R.S. § 39-1-102(14.4)(a).

Kelly purchased two adjacent parcels of land in Summit County. She built a home on one parcel and left the subject parcel vacant. Sometime later, Kelly placed the residential parcel in an irrevocable trust and the subject parcel in a revocable family trust. Kelly was the settlor, trustee, and beneficiary of both trusts.

For tax purposes, the Summit County Assessor classified the residential parcel as residential land but the subject parcel as vacant land, which is taxed at a higher rate. In 2016, Kelly appealed the subject parcel’s classification to the Summit County Board of County Commissioners, requesting that it be reclassified as residential under C.R.S. § 39-1-102(14.4)(a), and sought a tax abatement for the tax years 2014 and 2015. The County denied the petition. The Board of Assessment Appeals (BAA) affirmed, finding that because the two parcels were owned by two separate trusts, they were not commonly owned and therefore the subject parcel did not qualify under the statutory section.

On appeal, Kelly contended that the BAA erred in concluding that the subject parcel was not residential land. She argued that the BAA misconstrued the “common ownership” element of C.R.S. § 39-1-102(14.4)(a). The statute does not define common ownership, and the Property Tax Administrator has neither defined nor offered guidance to assessors on determining whether parcels are under common ownership. The BAA and the County interpreted “common ownership” to mean the same record titleholder. The court of appeals focused its analysis on the meaning of “ownership,” noting that ownership goes beyond mere record title and focuses on who has the power to possess, use, enjoy, and profit from the property. It concluded that ownership of contiguous parcels for purposes of C.R.S. § 39-1-102(14.4)(a) depends on a person’s or entity’s right to possess, use, and control the contiguous parcels. Here, the unchallenged testimony that Kelly was the beneficiary, trustee, and settler of both trusts established that Kelly held legal title to and was the equitable owner of both parcels. Further, Kelly testified that she only placed the parcels in the trusts on the advice of counsel for tax and estate planning purposes and that she possessed, controlled, and used the parcels before and after they were placed in trust. The Assessor testified that she considered the parcels separate simply because the names on the trusts were different. The court of appeals concluded that the parcels were under common ownership for tax years 2014 and 2015 and the BAA erred in denying the request to reclassify the subject property.

Kelly also argued that the BAA abused its discretion when it rejected the parties’ stipulation that the contiguous parcels element was not at issue. The BAA’s decision to reject the signed stipulation two months after the close of evidence and without notice to the parties was manifestly unfair.

The BAA’s order was reversed and the case was remanded with directions for the BAA to reclassify the subject parcel as residential land.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: BAA Properly Determined that Vacant Land Could Not Be Reclassified as Residential

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Rust v. Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

Vacant Land Tax Assessment—C.R.S. § 39-1-102(14.4)(a)—Residential Property—“Used as a Unit” Element—Assessor’s Reference Library.

Rust bought residential property in Summit County and a year later bought the adjacent undeveloped parcel (the subject property). He and his family have used the two parcels for decades. The county assessor classified the subject property as vacant land for the years 2013 through 2015, subjecting it to a tax rate almost triple the rate for residential property. Rust sought reclassification, asserting that both properties should be classified as residential under C.R.S. § 39-1-102(14.4)(a). The Board of Assessment Appeals (BAA) affirmed the decision of the Board of County Commissioners of Summit County denying reclassification.

On appeal, Rust contended that the BAA misconstrued the “used as a unit” element in C.R.S. § 39-1-102(14.4)(a), which defines residential land. County assessors use the Assessor’s Reference Library (ARL) for guidance in classifying land under this statute. The ARL further defines “used as a unit” as contiguous parcels of land that are under common ownership and are “used as an integral part of a residence.” Assessors use four guidelines when applying this definition. Here, the parties stipulated that the parcels are commonly owned and contiguous; the only issue was whether the subject property was “used as a unit” with the residential parcel. The assessor found no evidence that the subject property was an integral part of the residence, and the use of the subject property failed to support its reclassification as residential property. There was no error in the BAA’s decision.

The BAA’s order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Taxpayer Entitled to File Statutory Claim for Relief After Expiration of Protest Period

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in OXY USA, Inc. v. Mesa County Board of Commissioners on Monday, November 13, 2017.

Tax Law—Taxpayer Error—Overvaluation

The supreme court holds that section 39-10-114(1)(a)(I)(A), C.R.S. (2017), allows abatement and refund for illegally or erroneously levied taxes based on overvaluation caused by taxpayer error. This result follows from the statute’s plain text that allows abatement for “overvaluation” without making a distinction between government- and taxpayer-caused overvaluations. The court rejects the court of appeals’ holding that Coquina Oil Corp. v. Larimer County Board of Equalization, 770 P.2d 1196 (Colo. 1989), and Boulder County Board of Commissioners v. HealthSouth Corp., 246 P.3d 948 (Colo. 2011), require a different result. Coquina was superseded by the 1991 legislative amendment that added “overvaluation” as a ground for abatement, and HealthSouth’s holding was limited to intentional taxpayer overvaluations. The supreme court reverses the judgment of the court of appeals and remands for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: County Assessor Authorized to Retroactively Assess Property Taxes on Oil and Gas Leaseholds

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Kinder Morgan CO2 Co., L.P. v. Montezuma County Board of Commissioners on Monday, June 19, 2017.

Oil and Gas—Property Taxation—Statutory Construction.

The supreme court reviewed the court of appeals’ conclusion that the Montezuma County Assessor had statutory authority to retroactively assess property taxes on oil and gas leaseholds operated by Kinder Morgan, after the assessor determined that Kinder Morgan had underreported the wellhead selling price of CO2 gas produced at the leaseholds. The court considered whether this assessment was authorized under the statute permitting retroactive property tax assessments when, pursuant to C.R.S. § 39-5-125(1), “taxable property has been omitted from the assessment roll.” Given Colorado’s self-reporting scheme for property taxation of oil and gas leaseholds and the legislature’s amendments to that scheme—which describe the “underreporting of the selling price or the quantity of oil and gas sold [from a leasehold]” as a form of omitted property, C.R.S. §§ 29-1-301(1) and 39-10-107(1)—the court concluded that the assessor had statutory authority to issue the assessment in this case. The court further concluded that the Board of Assessment Appeals did not err in determining that Kinder Morgan had underreported the wellhead selling price of CO2. The court therefore affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Property Used as Vacation Home and Listed on VRBO Properly Classified as Residential

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in O’Neil v. Conejos County Board of Commissioners on Thursday, March 9, 2017.

Real Property—Residential—Commercial—Ad Valorem Taxes—Burden of Proof.

James and Mary Ellen O’Neil purchased the subject property and built a log house on it for their use as a vacation home and as an inheritance for their sons. The house was initially classified for tax purposes as residential. After the O’Neils listed the property as available for short-term, overnight rental, the Conejos County Assessor (Assessor) reclassified the property, for ad valorem tax purposes, from residential to commercial. The O’Neils filed a petition for abatement with the Conejos County Board of Commissioners (County), which was denied, and then appealed to the Board of Assessment Appeals (Board), which overturned the Assessor’s action and returned the property’s classification to residential for the relevant years.

On appeal, the County contended that the Board improperly classified the O’Neils’ property as residential. The County asserted as a procedural error that that the Board failed to apply the presumption in favor of the Assessor’s property classification. The Board’s order demonstrated that it implicitly applied the presumption in favor of the County, and the O’Neils met their burden of proof to overcome that presumption. On the merits, the Board determined that the proper classification of the property was “residential” because its “predominant and actual use was as a second home.” The Board’s determination had a reasonable basis in law and was supported by substantial evidence in the record.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Lessee of Real Property Lacks Standing to Challenge Property Tax Determination

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Traer Creek-EXWMT LLC v. Eagle County Board of Equalization on Thursday, February 9, 2017.

Traer Creek-EXWMT (Traer) has been a lessee of property in Eagle County since 2002. Traer has reimbursed the property owner for property taxes each year since assuming the lease. On May 1, 2015, the Eagle County Assessor mailed a notice of valuation to the property owner. Traer initiated the statutory protest and adjustment process to challenge the 2015 valuation. The assessor declined to adjust the valuation, and Traer appealed to the Board, which also upheld the valuation. Traer appealed to district court.

The Board moved to dismiss under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) on the theory that a mere lessee does not have standing to challenge a property tax valuation of the sort issued by the assessor. The district court agreed and dismissed the case.

On appeal, Traer argued that because it “owns” a leasehold interest in the subject property, it has standing to protest the valuation. The Colorado Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the relevant statutes convey standing only to the property owner/taxpayer. The court similarly rejected Traer’s argument that C.R.S. §§ 39-1-102(16) and (14) could be read to grant authority to a lessee to challenge a property valuation. The court concluded that the county assessor did not value Traer’s “property” — i.e., its leasehold interest — instead, the assessor valued the fee interest in the property. Therefore, Traer was not a “person” whose “property has been valued too high.”

Traer also argued it had common law standing because it pays taxes on the property and because the owner had granted it agency authority to challenge the valuation. The court noted that Traer’s argument failed at the outset because when a statute limits standing, the court may not disregard the statute by employing common law notions.

The district court judgment was affirmed.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Property Need Not be Used Exclusively for Religious Purposes for Tax Exemption

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Grand County Board of Commissioners v. Colorado Property Tax Administrator on Thursday, January 14, 2016.

This appeal after remand concerned a religious exemption from property taxes. The YMCA owns properties in Grand County and Larimer County for which it applied for property tax exemptions based on religious purposes and charitable use. The state property tax administrator determined the properties were being used for religious purposes and granted an exemption. The Grand and Larimer County Boards of County Commissioners appealed, contending the YMCA’s use was not sufficiently religious to justify an exemption. The Board of Assessment Appeals held a hearing and found the properties were not used exclusively for religious purposes, reversing the property tax administrator’s determination. The YMCA appealed to the court of appeals and a division reversed the Board’s findings, concluding the Board failed to apply the proper legal standard and setting forth the statutory and constitutional framework for religious exemptions.

On remand, the Board found the YMCA properties qualified for the exemption because the properties furthered the YMCA’s stated religious mission and purposes and the properties were not being used for private gain or corporate profit. The counties appealed, arguing that because the use of the properties was not inherently religious, they should not qualify for the exemption. The court of appeals disagreed, finding the Board applied the correct legal framework on remand.

The court of appeals affirmed the Board’s decision to grant the YMCA properties tax exemptions.

Colorado Supreme Court: Airport Concessionaires’ Possessory Interests in Concession Spaces Taxable

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Cantina Grill, JV v. City & County of Denver County Board of Equalization on Monday, March 16, 2015.

Taxable Possessory Interests—Significant Incidents of Private Ownership—Valuation of Taxable Possessory Interests in Tax-Exempt Properties.

The Supreme Court determined that the possessory interests in concession spaces held by several food and beverage concessionaires at Denver International Airport are taxable under Article X of the Colorado Constitution and Colorado’s property tax statutes because the concessionaires’ interests exhibit significant incidents of private ownership under the three-factor test established in Board of County Commissioners v. Vail Associates, Inc., 19 P.3d 1263 (Colo. 2001). Specifically, the Court held that: (1) the concessionaires’ interests are sufficiently exclusive to qualify as real property interests under the property tax statutes because the concessionaires have the right to exclude others from using their respective concession spaces; and (2) the concessionaires’ revenue-generating capability is sufficiently independent from the city that a tax on their possessory interests would not be effectively a tax on the government. The Court also held that the city’s valuation of the concessionaires’ interests is consistent with the valuation scheme set forth in CRS § 39-1-103(17), and is supported by the record. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Property Taxation and Assessments

Editor’s note: This is Part 15 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

frederick-b-skillernBy Frederick B. Skillern

Roaring Fork Club, LLC v. Pitkin County Board of Equalization
Colorado Court of Appeals, December 5, 2013
2013 COA 167

Valuation of a private golf club property.

The Pitkin County assessor determined the value of the Roaring Fork Club property for tax year 2011, and The Pitkin County Board of Equalization and the Board of Assessment Appeals agrees with the valuation. On appeal, the club asserts that the assessor should not have included the value of sold club memberships in the assessment of the club’s property. The Court of Appeals agrees and reverses.

The club’s property is open only to its members. Membership rights are retained for life unless sold or relinquished or revoked by the club. The club uses membership deposits to improve the property and maintain the improvements. The deposits are treated as a liability for accounting purposes because all or a part of them are refunded if members maintain their membership for at least thirty years or if they resign earlier and replacement members fill their spots.

The club’s amenities were completed in 1999 and the club had sold about 82% of the memberships by 2011. The club argues that the value of the sold memberships should not be considered in determining the actual value of the club’s property for property tax purposes because they are not interests in the real property. The BOE contends that the membership deposits are akin to prepaid rent on leasehold interests and they would escape taxation if not included in the property value.

On appeal, the club and the BOE agree that the income approach is the proper method to value the club’s property. However, the county argues that the memberships are an interest in land, like a leasehold, and should be included in the value under the “unit assessment rule.” The club contends that memberships are licenses, and are not an interest in land. The court agrees, and holds: (1) the membership agreement is not a lease; (2) memberships are not life estates; (3) the membership agreement does not give members any other taxable interest in the club’s property; (4) the membership agreement establishes that memberships are revocable licenses; (5) the unit assessment rule does not apply to these memberships; and (6) the sold memberships are not usufructuary interests. Accordingly, the Board’s order is reversed and the case is remanded to hold a hearing to determine the actual value of the club’s property without taking into account the value of the sold memberships.

 

Village at Treehouse, Inc. v. Property Tax Administrator
Colorado Court of Appeals, January 16, 2014
2014 COA 6.

Property tax; unit assessment rule.

Village paid more than $1 million to purchase certain development rights from the Treehouse Condominium Association (HOA). This supposedly gave Village the right to construct up to nineteen condominium units in the complex. The development rights were created by an amendment to the Treehouse declaration in 2006. The rights were assigned to Village in 2008 in a document entitled “Warranty and Assignment of Supplemental Development Rights”. The question is whether this property right is a taxable interest in real property. The Board of Assessment Appeals found that the right to build new condominium units constituted a taxable interest in real property for ad valorem tax purposes.

On appeal, the court of appeals affirms the BAA, and holds that the assignment, in effect, severed the development rights from the common elements owned by the HOA, creating a new taxable property interest. Because the Village acquired an interest in land, taxation of the development rights was required under C.R.S. § 39-1-102(16) and (14)(a).

Because the Assignment evinced the intent to sever title to the development rights from the common elements, taxing the development rights separately from the common elements did not contravene §§39-1-103(10) or 38-33.3-105. This taxation does not violate the unit assessment rule.

The Assignment created separate interests in real estate as between the interests of the individual unit owners in the common elements and those of the developer. The order was affirmed.

 

Premises Liability, Trespass and Nuisance

S.W. v. Towers Boat Club, Inc.
Colorado Supreme Court, December 23, 2013
2013 CO 72

Attractive nuisance; premises liability statute.

The Supreme Court considers whether, in the context of our premises liability statute, the attractive nuisance doctrine applies to both (a) trespassing children and (b) children who are licensees or invitees. The Court held that the doctrine permits all children, regardless of their classification, to bring a claim for attractive nuisance. C.R.S. § 13-21-115. The court therefore reverses the judgment of the court of appeals, which had found that the doctrine only protects trespassing children.

 

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.

HB 14-1373: Extending State’s Homestead Exemption to Certain People Who Are Not Currently Eligible

On April 11, 2014, Reps. Steve Lebsock & Ray Scott and Sens. Larry Crowder & Rachel Zenzinger introduced HB 14-1373 – Concerning Individuals who May Claim the Property Tax Exemption for Qualifying Seniors and Disabled Veterans. This summary is published here courtesy of the Colorado Bar Association’s e-Legislative Report.

A senior who is 65 years old or older and has owned and occupied the same primary residence for at least 10 years or the surviving spouse of such a senior may claim a property tax exemption (exemption) for the primary residence in an amount equal to 50% of the first $200,000 of actual value. In addition, a disabled veteran who has a service-connected disability that the United States department of veterans affairs has rated as 100% permanent and total disability, but not the surviving spouse of such a veteran, may claim the exemption.

For property tax years commencing on or after January 1, 2015, the bill specifies that:

  • A senior who has received an exemption for his or her former primary residence but moved to a new primary residence after January 1, 2014, may continue to claim an exemption for his or her new primary residence if a natural disaster forced the move by destroying the former primary residence or otherwise rendering it uninhabitable. The surviving spouse of a deceased senior may also claim the exemption for his or her new primary residence if the deceased senior:
    1. Previously qualified for a property tax exemption for the new primary residence; or
    2. Would have qualified for a property tax exemption for the new primary residence if he or she had not died before the surviving spouse moved to the new primary residence.
  • The surviving spouse of a deceased disabled veteran who had received an exemption before his or her death may claim the exemption.

The bill was approved by the House on April 21. The Senate Finance and Appropriations Committees approved the bill on May 29 and 30 and was adopted on 2nd Reading by the full Senate on May 2.

Since this summary, the bill passed 3rd Reading in the Senate with no amendments and is on its way to the governor for action.