The Difference Between Vacant and Unoccupied

In EldenBrady v. City of Albion, No. 297735, the Michigan Court of Appeals reviewed the Michigan Tax Tribunal's decision that an abandoned school building on ten acres of residential-zoned land adjacent to a residential dwelling prevents the parcel from being vacant and thus not eligible to be included in the principal residence exemption.

The EldenBradys purchased a ten-acre parcel adjoining their principal residence. On that parcel was an abandoned school building. The entire parcel, including the school building, was zoned residential. The EldenBradys sought to get the ten-acre parcel included in their homestead exemption under MCL 2.117dd(c), which allows adjacent property to be included if it is zoned residential, adjoining or contiguous to the principal dwelling, and unoccupied. The Tax Tribunal denied the request, saying that the presence of the abandoned school building on the parcel prevented it from being vacant land.

The Court of Appeals pointed out that MCL 2.117dd(c) does not mention vacancy. It only requires the property to be unoccupied. The word vacant does not appear in the text of the statute. Although the terms vacant and unoccupied are often synonymous, the words are not always interchangeable. The court examined several dictionaries and indicated that vacant means completely empty while unoccupied means without tenants or human occupants.

MCL 211.7dd(c) does not require that contiguous property be vacant or completely devoid of any inanimate objects, contents, or structures to qualify for the principal residence exemption. Instead, the statutory language merely requires that the contiguous property be unoccupied-without human tenants or residents. Because no part of the ten-acre parcel or abandoned school building was used as a residence or dwelling, and no part of the parcel or school building had tenants or residents, the court concluded that the ten-acre parcel was "unoccupied" within the meaning of MCL 211.7dd(c). Because the ten-acre parcel was zoned residential, was adjoining or contiguous to petitioners' dwelling, and was "unoccupied" within the meaning of MCL 211.7dd(c), the parcel should have been included in the principal residence exemption on the property.

Categories: Tax Law