Friday, February 21, 2014
As introduced in an earlier post, Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs, also sometimes operating as Life Care Communities or LCCs) are frequently organized and operated as 501(c)(3) entities, exempt from federal income taxes. However, in several states, authorities have opposed exemption from state or local taxes, especially real estate taxes. The campuses of high-end CCRCs can be tempting targets for revenue-hungry local governing units.
Pennsylvania has been a hotbed of such challenges, with the latest ruling issued in Albright Care Services v. Union County Board of Assessment, decided by the Commonwealth Court, an intermediate court of appeals, on January 29, 2014. In Pennsylvania, the question of exemptions from real estate taxes depends on at least two sets of criteria, including (A) proof of operation as an "Institution of Purely Public Charity" or IPPC, and (B) "parcel reviews," to determine whether individual components of property are "actually and regularly used for the identified charitable purposes."
The irony is an operation can be sufficiently "charitable" in nature to qualify for exemption from federal income taxes (and thus usually state income taxes) but not so "charitable" as to qualify for state exemptions that demand more rigorous proof of allegiance to mission.
In Albright, the Commonwealth Court affirmed findings that the company, operating two CCRCs, qualified as an IPPC, thus distinguishing recent rulings that denied real estate exemptions for two other nonprofit continuing care operations, Dunwood Village (2012) and Menno Haven (2007). The Court credited testimony by Albright's accountant on the question of whether the company donated a substantial portion of its services to residents, rejecting the county's argument the CCRCs were reaping a Medicaid "windfall."
The Court also affirmed the finding that several of Albright's real estate parcels was used to support the charitable mission. It called the independent living facilities a "closer question," but ultimately concluded such units were operated as part of a "comprehensive care scheme" that advanced a unified charitable purpose, citing a 2007 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in Alliance Home of Carlisle v. Board of Assessment Appeals. It remanded for further findings on whether parcels containing a museum and flood plain properties were used to advance the CCRC's charitable purpose.
The Albright decision was released as an "unreported panel decision" that may be "cited for its persuasive value, but not as binding precedent." The Albright decision on CCRCs follows a series of Pennsylvania cases arguing state constitutional implications of exemptions for real property, affecting everything from summer camps to hospitals and universities, including the 4-3 ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Mesivtah Eitz Chaim of Bobov v. Pike County Board of Assessments (2012). In some counties, nonprofits may feel under pressure to enter into "PILOTS," or negotiated agreements for "Payments in Lieu of Taxes," to avoid litigation over exemptions.