Did You Know Parsonages Are Taxable in Utah?

Churches & Parsonage, Antrim, N.H. From the New York Public Library. Public domain.

This week is my week to blog over at the Nonprofit Law Prof Blog. And for today’s post, I did some absolutely blatant self-promotion.

And you know what? That self-promotion may be of some interest to BCC readers, too, so I thought I’d mention it here. I recently posted God Is My Roommate? Tax Exemptions for Parsonages Yesterday, Today, and (if Constitutional) Tomorrow to SSRN. I’ve posted a number of times about Gaylor v. Mnuchin, the case challenging the constitutionality of providing an income tax exclusion for housing allowances paid to clergy. And this paper derives from that decision.

Broadly speaking, I look at the current and historical property tax treatment of parsonages and other clergy housing in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. And that history is absolutely fascinating! And also, that history resonates with Mormonism in two places: Utah and Idaho.

Utah law makes no particular mention of the church. But Utah is one of four states where parsonages are explicitly not exempt from the property tax.

In Idaho, by contrast, parsonages have been explicitly exempt from property tax since 1912 legislation. (Before that, it wasn’t clear.) Idaho courts, like courts in many other states, interprets property tax exemptions narrowly, though, and in 1991, the state supreme court decided that an LDS mission president’s home didn’t qualify as a parsonage under Idaho law. (Footnote 307 of the paper explains the court’s reasoning.)

Sixteen years later, the Idaho state legislature changed its exemption statute. Instead of exempting “parsonages,” it now exempts all property owned by religious societies, including residences. So as of 2007, mission presidents’ homes in Idaho are exempt from the state property tax, as long as the church owns them. (Was the legislative change directly related to the state supreme court’s decision? I honestly don’t know; 16 years is a long time, but isn’t an unreasonable amount of time in legislative terms.)

Anyway, there are all sorts of fascinating details that I didn’t previously know about religious property tax exemptions; if your interest is piqued, the current draft of the paper is available here.

Comments

  1. J. Stapley says:

    Fascinating. Thanks, Sam.

  2. Jeremy J Manning says:

    Utah Tax Commission rule R884-24P-40 extends the exclusive use tax exemption for charitable, religious, and educational use properties to parsonages. A mission president home in Utah would absolutely qualify for the exclusive use property tax exemption.

  3. Interesting, Jeremy, thanks. The Utah Tax Commission’s position runs directly contrary to a 1976 Utah Supreme Court case, which goes on to hold that the legislature lacks authority to expand the exemption without changing the state constitution.

    It looks like Utah changed its constitution to take out the word “worship” from the exemption; still, I’m surprised that it exempted parsonages administratively rather than legislatively.

  4. Jeremy J Manning says:

    I agree that it is odd. I work for a county assessor and have been reviewing property tax exemption applications all week (today is the deadline) so your post hit at exactly the right time! I’m not sure about the history of the commission rule. It is recognized among the few of us that care as a clarification of UCA 59-2-1101 (the statute allowing for property tax exemptions based on exclusive charitable, religious, or educational use) and specifically spells out an procedure for exempting parsonage properties.

  5. I really appreciate the tip, Jeremy. I’ve updated the paper (not the one posted yet, but the most recent draft I have) to correct my treatment of Utah. Turns out, the language changed in 1983, though I can’t tell from Westlaw precisely when the regulation you cite was enacted.

    Anyway, even taking my error into account, until at earliest 1983, Utah didn’t allow a property tax exemption for parsonages. And the history of these exemptions is really interesting.

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