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Taxation – Real Property – Homestead Exemption – Household Member – Tennessee Resident

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//December 16, 2021

Taxation – Real Property – Homestead Exemption – Household Member – Tennessee Resident

By: S.C. Lawyers Weekly staff//December 16, 2021

Although a verbatim reading of S.C. Code Ann. § 12-43-220(c)(2)(ii) would allow the appellant-taxpayer to claim the homestead exemption for her Beaufort County house, since her husband lives in Tennessee, we construe § 12-43-220(c)(2)(ii)(A) to disqualify appellant from claiming the exemption.

We affirm summary judgment for the respondent-county.

Appellant lives in the house in Beaufort County. Her husband lives in Tennessee. Appellant and her husband are not legally separated.

To qualify for the homestead exemption, § 12-43-220(c)(2)(ii) requires a taxpayer to validate “(A) the residence which is the subject of this application is my legal residence and where I am domiciled at the time of this application and that neither I, nor any member of my household, claim to be a legal resident of a jurisdiction other than South Carolina for any purpose; and “(B) that neither I, nor a member of my household, claim the special assessment ratio allowed by this section on another residence.”

S.C. Code Ann. § 12-43-220(c)(2)(iii)(A) provides, “For purposes of subitem (ii)(B) of this item, “a member of my household” means: (A) the owner-occupant’s spouse, except when that spouse is legally separated from the owner-occupant…”

Appellant’s argument relies on a verbatim reading of the subsection defining “member of my household” and limiting that definition to § 12-43-220(c)(2)(ii)(B). However, we do not read statutes literally.

First, we cannot think of any reason the General Assembly would want “member of my household” to have two different meanings in the context of the certification a taxpayer must execute when applying for the homestead exemption.

Second, the General Assembly amended these subsections in 2012. Before those amendments, the term “member of my household” appeared only in part B, not in part A. The 2012 amendments added the phrase “member of my household” to part A. While the General Assembly did not amend the definitional subsection to specifically include the newly modified part A, the General Assembly likely did not intend different definitions for the very same term that was used elsewhere in the very same taxpayer certification.

Third, the term “member of my household” or a derivative thereof appears multiple times throughout § 12-43-220. The Administrative Law Court found the General Assembly, through its repeated use of the phrase, chose to employ a term of art and intended the term would have a consistent meaning throughout the statute.

We agree with the ALC’s reasoning, as it closely follows the normal rule of statutory construction that identical words used in different parts of the same act are intended to have the same meaning. This is bolstered by the fact that tax exemption statutes are strictly construed against the taxpayer.

Finally, in 2021, the General Assembly revised the definition of “member of my household” to explicitly encompass an owner occupant’s spouse for the entirety of subsection (c)(2)(ii) instead of just part B.

The ALC correctly granted summary judgment for the respondent-assessor.

Oakley v. Beaufort County Assessor (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-094-21, 5 pp.) (Blake Hewitt, J.) Appealed from the Administrative Law Court (Phillip Lenski, ALJ) Curtis Lee Coltrane for appellant; Stephen Hughes and Catherine Laird Floeder for respondent. S.C. App.

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