Tax Exemption Real Property of Non Profit Organizations In DC
D.C. Code 47-1002 (10) exempts from taxation "buildings belonging to and operated by schools . . ." where the property is operated by a non-profit school, but owned by a different type of non-profit entity.
Section 47-1002 (10) exempts from taxation real property consisting of:
buildings belonging to and operated by schools, colleges, or universities which are not organized or operated for private gain, and which embrace the generally recognized relationship of teacher and student
In Catholic Home, 82 U.S. App. D.C (1942) the court outlined the legislative history of the exemption statute which reflects its legislative purpose.
The bill embraces 4 classes of property which would be exempt under its terms-property which is devoted to education, with respect to which no profit inures; property which is devoted to religious purposes, with respect to which no profit inures; property devoted to charity, with respect to which no profit inures; and property which is devoted to science.
The reference to the legislative history continues:
This bill defines privately owned non-profit institutions which, because of their religious, charitable, education, and scientific activities in the District, should be permitted to operate without the burden of taxation. the bill seeks to exclude from tax-exempt status those institutions which claim to perform this type of work, but are organized and operated for private profit and gain in contrast to those which derive no profit or gain from their operation. Id. (quoting H.R. REP. NO. 2635, 77th Cong., 2d Sess. (1942) 1; S. REP. NO. 1634, 77th Cong., 2d Sess. (1942) 1, 2).
The House and Senate Reports also note that "it is the unanimous opinion that where the relationship of teacher and student exists, the property of schools, colleges, or universities not organized or operated for private gain should be exempt from taxation." H.R. REP. NO. 2635, at 3; S. REP. NO. 1634, at 3.
The legislative history of the tax exemption statute indicates that it was the intent of Congress that the tax exempt status of property depend upon the use of the property and whether it is operated for private profit or gain.
To deny the exemption because the property, which is operated by a non-profit school, is owned by a non-profit religious order would contravene the legislative intent to exempt from taxation all "property which is devoted to education with respect to which no profit inures." 88 Cong. Rec. 9485 (1942) (remarks of Sen. McCarran).
Subsection (10) premises the tax exemption on the character of the entities owning or operating the property. Either the owner or the user must be a school, college or university which is "not organized for private gain and embrace the generally recognized relationship of teacher and student," and neither the owner or operator may be a for-profit entity.
There is nothing in the legislative history which would show that Congress intended to deny a tax exemption where the property is both owned and used by the types of entities exempt from taxation under the statute simply because the owner and user would qualify ordinarily under different sections of the statute.
The District argues that because tax exemptions should be strictly construed against the property owner who claims the exemption, any ambiguity should be resolved in favor of the government. See, e.g., National Med. Ass'n v. District of Columbia, 611 A.2d 53, 55 (D.C. 1992).
It also contends that the court should defer to the reasonable interpretation of the statute by the agency responsible for its enforcement. "We defer to an agency's interpretation of a statute or regulations it is responsible for enforcing as long as the interpretation is not plainly wrong or inconsistent with the legislature's intent." Downs v. Police & Firefighters Retirement & Relief Bd., 666 A.2d 860, 861 (D.C. 1995) (citations omitted); Catholic Univ., 397 A.2d at 919.