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You buy the permanent right to a parking space in Boston, you have to pay taxes on it, court rules

The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today that a woman who has the right to park in a space at a North End condo building, even though she doesn't live there, has to pay property tax on the space.

In 1987, Claudia Murrow paid $33,000 to buy a space at the Charles Bulfinch Condominium at 350 North St., which has 54 parking spaces to go with its 37 condos. Because she doesn't live there, she technically purchased an easement to use the space, not a deeded piece of land, according to the court's summary of the case. In 2019, 31 years after she purchased the space, Boston decided to start charging her property tax on the space, sending her a yearly bill of $590.24 on what assessors determined was now a $56,000 parking space.

Murrow asked for an abatement, was denied, then sued, arguing that the space was part of the building's "common area," which the building's condo owners were already paying taxes and so the space was effectively being taxed twice, and that's just not right.

The state Appellate Tax Board ruled against her and, in its own ruling today, the appeals court told her she has to pay the tax bill.

The court first determined that her easement is, in fact taxable. Although she does not have a deed, her agreement with the condo building, filed with the Registry of Deeds back in 1988, is, in many ways, similar to one, because it gives her - and her heirs - the same sort of present interest in the space as people who actually live in the building:

Murrow's easement grants her the exclusive right to use parking space number forty at the condominium. This includes the right to exclude others from using the space, to collect rents from the lease of the space, and to sell her interest in the space and retain the profits therefrom. See Black's Law Dictionary 969 (11th ed. 2019) (defining "present interest" as "[a] property interest in which the privilege of possession or enjoyment is present and not merely future").

The court continued that state law gives Boston assessors the right to declare such easements taxable, when they determine the easements give their holders that sort of "present interest" in property.

The assessment of a tax on Murrow's parking easement is authorized by a plain reading of [the law], which permits assessors to tax "any present interest in real estate to the owner of such interest" (emphasis added). "Where the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, it is conclusive as to legislative intent" (citation omitted). South St. Nominee Trust v. Assessors of Carlisle, 70 Mass. App. Ct. 853, 856 (2007).

And as for the issue of double taxation, the court noted that in 2018, it had ruled that parking spaces of the sort Murrow has shouldn't be considered part of a condo building's "common area." Also, condo taxation is covered under a separate state law than the one letting assessors determine who has a "present interest" in taxable property, so put all that together and there is no double taxation on a single parking space.

This is not double taxation; it is the lawful taxation of two separate interests in real property.

In a footnote, the court added that, in any case, even if it had agreed with Murrow, "it is not clear that such a [double] tax would be unlawful."

And so, citing case law dating back at least to an 1888 decision involving a water company's easement on a Lynn pond, the court concluded:

As the only individual that derives value from and exercises control over parking space number forty, Murrow's interest closely resembles that of ownership. Her use of the space is exclusive, perpetual in duration, and is freely transferable to anyone she chooses. It is thus logical that she be liable to pay taxes on such an interest.

PDF icon Complete ruling70.9 KB


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I'm not surprised. If you own a vacant lot, you still have to pay property taxes on the land.

Voting closed 4

I don't know why anyone would think if they OWN a parking spot, they would not owe taxes on it. That's like saying someone OWNS land in the city, but don't LIVE there so they should not have to pay taxes ont he land...

This lady is just pissed since she didn't have to pay for 20 some odd years and now she does.

Voting closed 5

And likely due to an oversight from back in the days when people buying parking spaces might have been less common. I live in a condo building with a deeded parking spot, and get two tax bills every quarter - one for the condo and one for the parking spot. She should just feel lucky they're not charging her 35 years of back taxes.

Voting closed 76

Interesting. Every condo I've seen just had the deeded parking taxed by having it influence the assessed value of the unit. Is there something unusual about your arrangement?

The tax loophole I'd like them to close is people who avoid the real estate transfer tax by putting the property in trust, then selling the trust. Courts have ruled this doesn't count as a real estate transaction, and the legislature hasn't bothered to fix the law. This also keeps the sale price a secret, which makes it harder for the city or town to properly assess the property tax.

Voting closed 5

Now do space savers.

Voting closed 22

Sure sounds like a land purchase to me but IANAL or a real estate agent.

Voting closed 8

Voting closed 6

Time to dump tea in the harbor again.

Voting closed 6

Taxation with representation is Boston.

Voting closed 6