Property Tax Exemptions for Religious Organizations
"Thou Shalt Pay.....
This information, produced by the Santa Cruz County Assessor explains
how religious organizations may avoid paying property taxes.
What property qualifies for this kind of exemption?
There are three exemptions which may be claimed on church property:
- The Church Exemption which is
applied to church property used exclusively for worship. The property may
be owned, leased, or rented by the religious organization.
- The Religious Exemption which
includes the Church Exemption but is expanded to cover preschool, nursery
school, or parochial school activities. The property must be owned by the
- The Welfare Exemption, which
may be claimed on property owned by a religious organization and used
exclusively for one or more of the above activities and/or any other
religious activities. The property must be owned by the religious
What does "religion" mean? What about
The content of a religious belief is not a matter of governmental concern
and should not be subject to an inquiry concerning its validity. Having said
that, we (the County Assessor)
are nevertheless required to administer the exemption. The courts have defined
"religion" by enumerating the elements of a religion to simply
- 1. a belief, not necessarily
referring to supernatural powers,
- 2. a cult involving a
gregarious association openly expressing the belief,
- 3. a system of moral practice
directly resulting from adherence to the belief, and
- 4. an organization within the
cult designed to observe the tenets of the belief.
"Worship" has been defined by the courts as the formal observance
of the religious tenets or belief.
How and when do I file for one of these exemptions?
Church, religious and welfare exemptions (forms 262-AH,
are obtained from the County Assessor. They must be filed by February 15 each
year for the following fiscal year (July 1 - June 30). If they are filed after February 15 but
prior to January 1 of the following year, 90% of the exemption is available.
Does all property owned by religious organizations get exempted? What
kind of use doesn't qualify?
Contrary to a common belief, not all activities engaged in by religious
organizations qualify for property tax exemption. Some non-qualifying uses are:
- Vacant, unused, or excess
- New construction or
demolition that has not begun as of the January 1 lien date
- Fundraising - property used
primarily for producing income
- Thrift Stores
If you need claim forms, or have any questions concerning these exemptions,
please contact the County Assessor at (831) 454-2002.
Return to Tax Information
Return to County home Page