Monday, April 21, 2008

real property - tax assessments - LIHTC properties - fair market value

1198 Butler Street Associates, et al. v.Board of Assessment Appeals - Commonwealth Court - April 17, 2008

Taxpayers, seven limited partnerships operating under the aegis of a non-profit general partner, appealed property assessments for residential rental properties on which there were income and rent restrictions under the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) provision of the IRS Code, 26 USC 42, which provides income tax credits for non-public entities that develop affordable rental housing.

All properties were developed with the same non-revocable restrictive covenant in order to benefit from the tax credits. They are all rent- and income-restricted for a period of 30 years. These non-revocable covenants restrict the renter’s income level to either 50% or 60% of area median income.

Taxpayers presented testimony, credited by the trial court, that they did not charge the maximum allowable rent because their tenants could not afford it. The testimony also established that there would be increased vacancy and collection rates if they charged the maximum allowable rent, and that taxpayers needed property tax relief because the income generated from the subject properties does not support the current real estate taxes

Taxpayers' expert identified the properties’ highest and best uses of the property as subsidized income tax credit housing facilities. Addressing the three methods of valuation for real estate tax purposes, as required by 72 P.S. 5020-402(a), Taxpayers’ expert discounted the cost approach (rental incomes would not support construction of new facilities) and the comparable sales approach (no other comparable units with similar rent restrictions) and adopted the income approach, which the trial court improperly (but harmlessly) referred to as "use value.

The General Assembly amended the Assessment Law in 2003 to include sec. 402(c)(1), 72 P.S. §5020-402(c)(1), which provides that: "[i]n arriving at the actual value of real property, the impact of applicable rent restrictions, affordability requirements or any other related restrictions prescribed by any Federal or State programs shall be considered."

The amendment is consistent with prior case law addressing the effects of rent restrictions and clearly mandates that rent restrictions be considered in determining fair market value. It has the laudatory goal of encouraging development of low income housing in exchange for reduced property valuation for real estate tax purposes. The amendment was intended to provide property tax relief to those entities that do not have unfettered ability to raise rent to combat increasing business expenses.

The position of the taxing authority failed to account for the amendment's direction that “affordability requirements” be considered in determining fair market value for tax assessment purposes. This new, express statutory directive must be viewed as overriding older court decisions to the extent they support a contrary result. In addition, federal tax law anticipates affordability restrictions in addition to maximum allowable rents. This is consistent with the statutory goal of making affordable housing available to lower income consumers.
"In light Section 402 of the Assessment Law, the taxpayers’ evidence regarding rent restrictions under 26 U.S.C. §42, the non-revocable restrictive covenants which limit taxpayers ability to produce income on the subject properties, and the affordability of taxpayers’ units, we discern no error in the trial court’s application of Section 402(c)(1) of the Assessment Law."

Judge Pelligrini, concurring -
Based on the issues raised, I join in the well-reasoned majority opinion. I write separately because I disagree that 72 P.S. §5020-402(c) is consistent with our Supreme Court’s decision in In re Appeal of Johnstown Associates, 494 Pa. 433, 431 A.2d 932 (1981). In that case, like here, rents in a subsidized housing project were fixed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development at a rate below the prevailing rate for comparable non-subsidized units in a long term arrangement in return for a subsidized mortgage. The taxpayer argued that the rent restrictions should be considered in valuing the property. Our Supreme Court agreed, holding that the certitude that the property did not have the potential for rental profit increases must at least be considered, but went on to hold that the depreciated tax shelter benefits associated with owning this type of property could be taken into consideration. Id., 431 A.2d at 935.

Read in full, 72 P.S. §5020-402 (c), however, provides that:
(c)(1) In arriving at the actual value of real property, the impact of applicable rent restrictions, affordability requirements or any other related restrictions prescribed by any Federal or State programs shall be considered. (2) Federal or State income tax credits with respect to property shall not be considered real property or income attributable to real property. (3) This subsection shall apply in all counties and other political subdivisions in this Commonwealth. (Emphasis added.)

Unlike our Supreme Court’s holding in Johnstown Associates, 72 P.S. §5020-402(c) precludes the substantial credits a taxpayer receives from being included in the income stream. By not allowing those tax credits, that provision could be considered to have created a back door partial tax exemption, calling into question whether it violates Article 8, Section 2 of the Pennsylvania Constitution which only allows tax exemptions for real property in certain enumerated areas. Article 8, Section 5 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides that “All laws exempting property from taxation, other than the property above enumerated [Article 8, §2 of the Constitution] shall be void.”

We do not need to deal with that issue here because in the years in question in this appeal, taxpayer is receiving no tax credits. Moreover, the income stream used in the income capitalization method of valuation will need to be adjusted as the 30-year rent restriction nears its end. For example, in year 29 of the rent restriction, a willing buyer will look more at what market rent can be charged after the rent restriction has expired in determining what he or she is willing to pay for the property .