Rental income does not necessarily render church property taxable. So ruled an Illinois appeals court. A church leased a portion of its property to another charity that sold donated furniture, clothing, and household goods. While the rental fee charged by the church was minimal, a local tax assessor determined that it was enough to prevent the property from being exempt from taxation under a state law exempting “all property used exclusively for religious purposes … and not leased or otherwise used with a view to profit.” The court disagreed. It noted that the property was used exclusively for religious purposes since one of the missions of the church is caring for the needy. It also concluded that the property was “not leased or otherwise used with a view to profit” despite the fact that the church charged nominal rent for the charity’s use of the property. It conceded that the property was “leased” by the church, but it concluded that a lease calling for minimal rental payments does not have “a view toward profit.” First Presbyterian Church v. Zehnder, 715 N.E.2d 1209 (Ill. App. 1999).
Key point. Many churches charge fees for the use of their property. This case suggests that such fees may not jeopardize a church’s property tax exemption if (1) the rental fee is minimal, or intended only to recover actual costs, and (2) the applicable property tax exemption law, like the one in Illinois, taxes property that is rented “with a view toward profit.”
This content originally appeared in Church Treasurer Alert, February 2001.