APPEAL OF TOWN OF BELMONT (New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals)
Argued: January 8, 2019
Mitchell Municipal Group, P.A., of Laconia (Laura
Spector-Morgan on the brief and orally), for the petitioner.
Office of Joshua L. Gordon, of Concord (Joshua L. Gordon on
the brief and orally), for the respondent.
petitioner, the Town of Belmont, appeals a decision of the
New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) that,
pursuant to RSA 72:36-a (2012), the respondent, the Robin M.
Nordle 2013 Trust, is entitled to a 100% real estate tax
exemption for a homestead in Belmont. RSA 72:36-a provides
that a person who meets certain qualifications set forth in
the statute, and "who owns a specially adapted homestead
which has been acquired with the assistance of the Veterans
Administration," qualifies for a property tax exemption.
material facts are not in dispute. Louis Nordle served during
the Vietnam War as a member of the United States Air Force.
He was honorably discharged in 1969. In 1998, Louis and his
wife, Robin Nordle, purchased a summer camp in Belmont. In
2007, the Nordles demolished the original home and built a
new home. The house was later transferred to the Robin M.
Nordle 2013 Trust, the "taxpayer" in this case.
Louis has a life estate in the trust and Robin is the
trustee. In 2015, the United States Department of Veterans
Affairs determined that Louis is totally and permanently
disabled due to his service-connected disabilities. In 2016,
Louis received a "Specially Adapted Housing Grant"
from the Veterans Administration (VA) in the amount of $73,
768, and used the funds to modify his home to accommodate his
service-connected disability, by widening the doors, raising
and leveling the floors, installing access ramps, and
remodeling the bathroom.
2017, the taxpayer applied to the town for an exemption from
property taxes pursuant to RSA 72:36-a. The town denied the
application, determining that the "home was not
'acquired' or 'purchased' by or with the
assistance of a VA loan." The town informed the Nordles
that "the VA is providing a grant to adapt the home for
Mr. Nordle's disabilities, however the statute regarding
this exemption states that the property must be acquired with
the assistance of the VA, which you have advised us it was
not." In making its determination, the town relied upon
advice from the New Hampshire Department of Revenue that, in
order to be entitled to the property tax exemption, the VA
"had to help 'purchase' the home not adapt
taxpayer appealed to the BTLA. Following a hearing, the BTLA
determined that the taxpayer's property is entitled to
the full property tax exemption, disagreeing with the
town's position that the statutory phrase "acquired
with the assistance of the Veterans Administration" is
limited to assistance with the purchase of the property. The
BTLA reasoned that "the word 'acquired' in the
statute has a plain meaning broader than simply
'purchased' (as in the purchase of a house with
specially adapted improvements financed by a VA loan or
mortgage)," and that because Louis "obtained, and
is now in possession of, a specially adapted homestead . . .
only because of the financial assistance he received from the
VA," the taxpayer is entitled to the tax exemption set
forth in RSA 72:36-a. As support for its conclusion, the BTLA
referred to the "Grant Fact Sheet" for the VA's
Specially Adapted Housing grant program that states that VA
assistance is available to veterans who "may remodel an
existing home if it can be made suitable for specially
adapted housing." The BTLA determined that
"[c]learly the improvements to the homestead" made
by the Nordles satisfy this condition.
town unsuccessfully moved for reconsideration. In denying the
town's motion, the BTLA emphasized that
[i]t would be illogical and an unnecessary hardship . . . to
require a veteran to relocate in order to qualify for an
exemption intended by the legislature to benefit one who is
totally and permanently disabled due to his military service
to our country . . . who needs to live in a specially adapted
homestead because of his disabilities as determined by the
Veterans Administration and after satisfying all of its
requirements for financial assistance to accomplish this
(Parentheses omitted.) This appeal followed.
72:36-a, titled "Certain Disabled Veterans,"
Any person, who is discharged from military service of the
United States under conditions other than dishonorable, or an
officer who is honorably separated from military service, who
is totally and permanently disabled from service connection
and satisfactory proof of such service connection is
furnished to the assessors and who is a double amputee of the
upper or lower extremities or any combination thereof,
paraplegic, or has blindness of both eyes with visual acuity
of 5/200 or less as the result of service connection and
who owns a specially adapted homestead which has been
acquired with the assistance of the Veterans
Administration or which has been acquired using proceeds
from the sale of any previous homestead which was acquired
with the assistance of the Veterans Administration, the
person or person's surviving spouse, shall be exempt from
all taxation on said homestead.
RSA 72:36-a (bolding omitted; emphasis added); see
RSA 72:29, VI (Supp. 2018) (providing that, for purposes of
RSA 72:36-a, "the ownership of real estate, as expressed
by such words as 'owner,' 'owned' or
'own,' shall include those who have placed their
property in a grantor/revocable trust or who have ...