Water and Sewer Fees Bill Upheld

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Church claimed full exemption from water and sewer charges. The Bethelite Community Church, located in Harlem, owed $1 million in back water and sewer bills. The Church insisted that its building, as a place of public worship, was exempt from water and sewer fees. The Church applied for full exemption including residences within the property incidental to the exempt uses of the property. The Church reasoned these residences were used by the church administrator and an employee of the church.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection denied the application for full exemption, ruling that the premises had to be used exclusively for religious or educational purposes to qualify. Bethelite Community Church filed an article 78 proceeding seeking to annul the Department’s ruling. The Supreme Court of New York County denied the petition. The Church appealed.

The Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed, ruling that the Church did not qualify for the full exemption.

The church could qualify for full exemption from water and sewer charges only for the portion of its building used for public worship, including the residence of a caretaker for the premises.  The fact that the two residences at issue were affiliated with the church did not alter this ruling.  The Department did not act arbitrarily and capriciously by limiting the church’s exemption from water and sewer charges.

In re Bethelite Community Church v. The Dept. of Envtl. Protection of NY, 172 A.D.3d 587 (1st Dept 2019).


By: Chantal Moya (Chantal is a New York Law School student, Class of 2021.)



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