Last week, Representative Mike Kelly (R) of Pennsylvania and Representative Mike Thompson (D) of California introduced the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act of 2017 as H.R. 4459. The Act is simple; comprising only two pages, it addresses a certain type of abusive conservation easement transaction that has been proliferating over the past decade: the syndicated easement.
This month, the Tax Court revived a method to defeat conservation deductions with its October 10 opinion published as Palmolive Building Investors LLC et al. v. Commissioner, No. 23444-14; 149 T.C. No. 18 (Oct. 10, 2017), holding that if a taxpayer donates a conservation easement, the Treasury Regulations’ requirement that any mortgage must be subordinated to the conservation easement includes subordination of the mortgagee’s rights to insurance and condemnation proceeds.
On September 27, 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed an extension of the Urban Agricultural Incentive Zones Act. Rather than sunsetting on January 1, 2019, the Act now extends until January 1, 2029.
The Act, originally authored by Assemblymember Phil Ting and enrolled in 2013 as Government Code Section 51042, permits certain local governments to voluntarily enter into contracts with property owners who commit to using their property for agricultural use in exchange for property tax breaks.
Craft3 provides financing to innovative technology company, Enertechnix Process Sensors, Inc. (“EPSI”) to help the company survive and rebuild its sales function so that it can continue its work in preventing harmful industrial impacts on the environment. Click here to learn more. Craft3 is a certified Community Development Financial Institution (“CDFI”) with a mission to strengthen economic, ecological, and family resilience in Pacific Northwest communities. The company provides loans and assistance to entrepreneurs, nonprofits, individuals and others that lack access to financing. Since inception, Craft3 reports it has invested more than $423 million in 5,000 individuals and businesses in Oregon and Washington.
The Fifth Circuit encourages flexibility for conservation easement deductions in Bosque Mountain Ranch, while the Tax Court makes it difficult for farmers in Rutkoske.
Two important conservation easement opinions were handed down last week.
Bosque Canyon Ranch  is noteworthy for the Fifth Circuit’s conservation-friendly language encouraging a flexible interpretation of the myriad statutory and regulatory requirements for easement deductions. This is a stark departure from a recent series of cases denying conservation easement deductions based on what some would call “foot faults.” More specifically, the appellate opinion in Bosque Canyon Ranch: (1) provides some certainty regarding what should be provided in a baseline documentation report, noting that the IRS should not pick apart each component of a report, and (2) holds that the right to relocate homesites that are carved out of an easement does not violate the perpetuity requirement for conservation easements, when the easement holder has approval rights over the final location and the maximum size of the homesites cannot change.
In a much less taxpayer-friendly opinion, the Tax Court in Rutkoske provides the first judicial interpretation of the statutory rule that permits qualified farmers and ranchers to deduct the value of a conservation easement donation against up to 100% of their adjusted gross income. The Tax Court finds that income from the sale of farming property does not count toward qualifying the farmer and rancher for this benefit.
The cases are discussed in detail below.
In many cases California’s property tax rules automatically penalize insufficiently counseled individuals who inherit interests in real estate-owning legal entities from a family member upon their death. To avoid this penalty, recipients of these interests need to ensure that Form BOE 100-B is filed within 90 days of their family member’s death, a task few are prepared to undertake at that time.
Individuals who acquire real estate often do so using legal entities they control, such as corporations, LLCs, or partnerships to protect themselves from any personal liability that could arise with respect to the real estate.
California’s property tax rules require that individuals who hold interests in real estate-owning legal entities notify the Board of Equalization (“BOE”) when they transfer interests in those legal entities in two situations:
Those familiar with conservation easements know that to qualify for a federal tax deduction, a conservation easement must meet several rigorous requirements found in Internal Revenue Code Section 170 and Section 1.170A-14 of the Treasury Regulations, not the least of which is the requirement that the easement be granted “in perpetuity.” In addition, the easement must be subject to “legally enforceable restrictions” (such as by recordation) that will prevent uses inconsistent with the conservation purposes of the donation.
While those working in social enterprise are still grappling with how to define it, Professor of Law Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer of Notre Dame Law School takes a look at social enterprise through the lens of domestic tax law, and explores whether it is necessary or desirable to modify existing law to better accommodate social enterprise. Read the paper here.
See Mayer, Lloyd Hitoshi, Creating a Tax Space for Social Enterprise (June 22, 2017). Notre Dame Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1724. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2991120
Due to increased valuation of public and private equities, coupled with the upcoming end of the sunset provision that allows hedge fund managers to defer taxation on fees earned offshore, there is an increased interest among hedge fund and private equity managers to donate a portion of their fund interests to charity. The goal is to allow a manager to avoid ordinary income or capital gains tax and/or to obtain a tax deduction while accomplishing his or her philanthropic goals. In order to make the most of any such charitable giving plan, managers need to appreciate that the amount of any charitable deduction will vary depending on the character of the donated property and the type of organization that receives the gift.
The February 15, 2017 deadline for nonprofit organizations in California seeking to initially obtain or renew exemption from property taxes is quickly approaching, and there are changes to the reporting requirements if your organization allows third parties to use your property.
An increased concern amongst many tax-exempt organizations is how to report use of their property by private persons or non-exempt organizations.