Article XII Sec. 2 of the Ohio Constitution permits the enactment of general laws exempting from taxation public school houses, houses used exclusively for public worship, institutions used exclusively for charitable purposes, and public property used exclusively for any public purpose. Pursuant to this authority the Ohio Legislature enacted Ohio Revised Code (the "ORC") §5709, "Taxable Property -- Exemptions."
The exemption for charitable uses is found in ORC §5709.12 and §5709.112. To be exempted from taxation under ORC §5709.12, the property must (1) belong to an institution and (2) be used exclusively for charitable purposes. True Christianity Evangelism v. Zaino, 91 Ohio St.3d 117, 118, 2001-Ohio-295, 742 N.E.2d 638, 639 (2001) Black's Law Dictionary (6 Ed.1990) 800, defines “institution” as: “An establishment, especially one of eleemosynary or public character or one affecting a community. An established or organized society or corporation. It may be private in its character, designed for profit to those composing the organization, or public and charitable in its purposes, or educational (e.g. college or university)." Any institution, irrespective of its charitable or non-charitable character, may take advantage of a tax exemption if it is making exclusive charitable use of its property. Wehrle Foundation v. Evatt (1943), 141 Ohio St. 467,[26 O.O. 29], 49 N.E.2d 52.
Statutes granting tax exemptions are interpreted strictly (Cincinnati Community Kollel v. Testa, 135 Ohio St.3d 219, 2013-Ohio-396, 985 N.E.2d 1236, ¶ 17.), so it is critical to ensure that the charitable use is both exclusive and charitable. If any part of the property is used for the purpose of profit making, that part of the property will be denied the exemption. Exemptions can be split if there is both an exempt and non-exempt use, and such splits will usually be made on a pro-rata basis based on the square footage or acreage used.
Sometimes the charitable use being made of the property is being made by an institution other than the title holder. This might be the case if a tenant is making an exempt use. Ohio Revised Code §5709.12(B) states that “[r]eal and tangible personal property belonging to institutions that is used exclusively for charitable purposes shall be exempt from taxation.” The words "property belonging to institutions" means ownership. Humphries v. Little Sisters of the Poor, 29 Ohio St. 201, 207 (1876). Possessing a leasehold interest, even under a long-term lease, is not ownership. See, e.g., Toledo v. Jenkins, 143 Ohio St. 141, 158–159, 54 N.E.2d 656 (1944); Evans Invest. Co. v. Limbach, 51 Ohio App.3d 104, 106, 554 N.E.2d 941 (10th Dist.1988). However, separating ownership and use is not be fatal to the exemption if the situation fits under ORC §5709.112. There, in certain cases exemptions can be granted for the use tenants make of the property if the property belongs to a charitable institution.
Reminder: The information presented is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice, and it should not be acted upon as such. It also does not constitute advertising or solicitation.