Campground owned by For-Profit LLC and used by Boy Scouts of America qualified for a 100% Indiana Property Tax Exemption

Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

A taxpayer does not have to be a non-profit corporation for its property to qualify for Indiana’s charitable purposes exemption.  The Indiana Board of Tax Review confirmed this in a final determination issued on November 9, 2021, in Wildwood Forest, LLC v. Vigo County Assessor.  In this case, the County Board denied a property tax exemption for Camp Wildwood.  The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) had previously owned the campground.  In 2017, facing financial issues, BSA sought to the sell the property.  A local former scout, concerned that loss of the campground would harm local scouting, formed an LLC (of which he was the sole member) and bought the property in 2020.

The LLC permits BSA to use the campground free of charge for activities such as camping, leadership training and other scouting events.  No other third parties have been permitted to use the property.  Assessor opposed an exemption for the property as of the January 1, 2021 assessment date, arguing that the LLC is a private, for-profit entity “that can do anything it wants with the property, at any time.”  In addition, the Assessor claimed that the property’s use benefited only BSA and not the rest of the community.

The Board summarized the charitable purpose exemption:

Indiana Code § 6-1.1-10-16(a) provides an exemption for all or part of a building that is owned, and is exclusively or predominantly used and occupied, for educational, literary, scientific, religious, or charitable purposes. LC. § 6-l.1-10-16(a); LC. § 6-l.1-10-36.3(a), (c). The exemption generally extends to the land on which the building is situated and to personal property owned and used in such a manner that it would be exempt it if were a building. I.C. § 6-l.l-10-16(c), (e). Unity of ownership, occupancy, and use by a single entity is not required. But each entity must have its own exempt purpose. Once these three elements are met, regardless of by whom, the property is entitled to exemption.

(citing Hamilton Cnty. Prop. Tax Assessment Bd of App. v. Oaken Bucket Partners, LLC, 938 N.E.2d 654, 657 (Ind. 2010) (emphasis added)).

The Board observed, “Nobody seriously disputes that BSA used Camp Wildwood for exempt purposes.”  And the LLC “owned the property solely to facilitate BSA’s exempt purposes.”  That the LLC wanted to block development of the property did not disqualify it from exemption; rather the former scout/sole member “did not want the property developed because he was committed to maintaining a campground where young men and women could continue the scouting activities that he and his family had so long supported.”  The LLC owned the campground to facilitate the BSA’s exempt activities and not to make a profit.  “Because the property was owned, occupied, and used exclusively for exempt purposes,” the Board found it to be 100% exempt.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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