The Second Department handed down an interesting case today, Town of North Hempstead v County of Nassau, ___ AD3d ___, June 6, 2018. The facts are somewhat difficult, but I shall try to simplify. In 2005, land was conveyed to the Town of North Hempstead for use as a public park. The real property was used as a park since that date.
The Town failed to record the 2005 deed until December 2008. Meanwhile the County was assessing taxes on the land and sold the tax liens to an individual. The Town then commenced the instant lawsuit declaring the tax liens void because they were based on taxes that had been assessed in violation of the tax law which exempts from taxation land that was owned by a municipality and used for public purposes.
The Court held for the Town stating, here, the Town relies upon section 406 of the Real Property Tax Law. That section provides, with limited exceptions not applicable to this appeal, that “[r]eal property owned by a municipal corporation within its corporate limits held for a public use shall be exempt from taxation and exempt from special ad valorem levies and special assessments” (RPTL 406; see Town of Harrison v County of Westchester, 13 NY2d 258, 263; Matter of County Tennis Club of Westchester v Office of Assessor for Vil. of Scarsdale, 261 AD2d 616, 617).
“Although what comprises ‘a public use’ within the meaning of the statute ‘has never been defined with exactitude’ and ‘must necessarily depend upon the peculiar circumstances for each case’, it has been said…that ‘[h]eld for a public use, in this connection, means that the property should be occupied, employed, or availed of, by and for the benefit of the community at large, and implies a possession, occupation and enjoyment by the public, or by public agencies’” (Town of Harrison v County of Westchester, 13 NY2d at 263, quoting Town of Herkimer v Village of Herkimer, 251 App Div 126, 128, aff’d 279 NY 560).
Here, in support of its cross motion, the Town submitted, inter alia, the 2005 deed conveying the subject property to the Town to be used for park purposes. The 2005 deed reflected that the subject premises were located within the Town, and that the Town had previously “accepted the dedication of the Premises.” The Town’s submissions demonstrated that the subject property was exempt from taxation from the time of its conveyance to the Town in 2005, and that the subsequent tax liens issued by the County were therefore “void ab initio” (Town of Brookhaven v Aronauer, 65 AD2d 570, 571). Accordingly, the Town established, prima facie, its entitlement to summary judgment on the first cause of action asserted in the amended complaint (see RPTL 406; Town of Brookhaven v Aronauer, 65 AD2d at 570-571).
Memo to the Town, next time someone gives you land for park use, record the deed immediately. It will save you from a bunch of litigation.