Paul L. Caron

Sunday, July 25, 2010

District Court Denies Charitable Deduction for Donation of Home to Fire Department

Fire Following up on my prior posts:

The U.S. District Court in Columbus, Ohio (Kirk Herbstreit's hometown) denied a couple's charitable contribution deduction for the house they donated to a suburban fire department that was demolished and the land returned to the couple (who built a larger home on the land) because they did not submit with their return a qualified appraisal or a contemporaneous acknowledgment of the donation from the city. Hendrix v. United States; No. 2:09-cv-00132 (S.D. OH July 21, 2010):

Plaintiffs had retained the accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche regarding a possible donation of the house to the city that would result in the city demolishing the structure and then returning the real estate back to Plaintiffs. In a March 2004 report, a Deloitte & Touche advisor analyzed the possible transaction and concluded, among other things, that “[d]onation of property to a fire department is aggressive and not explicitly sanctioned by the Internal Revenue Code.” ...

The city used the house from June 29, 2004, until October 29, 2004, at which time the house was demolished. Plaintiffs then proceeded to construct a new, larger house on their lot. Plaintiffs also reported a charitable contribution on their 2004 income tax return, claiming a deduction for the house in the amount of $287,400. The IRS disallowed the deduction and proceeded to assess a tax deficiency of $100,590. ...

The parties’ dispute presents four core issues, each of which is arguably potentially dispositive of this litigation. The first issue is whether Plaintiffs have met the requirement of submitting a sufficient qualified appraisal. The second issue is whether Plaintiffs filed a sufficient contemporaneous acknowledgment of the purported donation. The third issue is whether the Internal Revenue Code precludes a deduction for the conduct involved here. The fourth issue is whether Plaintiffs have otherwise established that they are entitled to a deduction. Because the first two of these issues prove dispositive, this Court need not and does not reach the remaining issues. ...

Ciardelli’s appraisal ... fails to constitute a “qualified appraisal.” ... The end result is that Plaintiffs are not entitled to the claimed deduction.

Plaintiffs contest this result, although they concede that their appraisal lacks several areas of content. They argue that they substantially complied with the regulations and statutory scheme, however, and point to components of the appraisal that did include required information. Defendant counters that it does not appear that the Sixth Circuit has recognized the substantial compliance doctrine in regard to taxpayer deductions and that, even if this Court were to assume that the doctrine could apply here, Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate substantial compliance.

This Court agrees that the substantial compliance doctrine cannot salvage Plaintiffs’ case. Contemplated application of the doctrine in this Circuit to Internal Revenue Code provisions has previously arisen in the context of statutory language that specifically provides for substantial compliance. ... Assuming arguendo that the doctrine indeed could apply in such taxpayer actions, the Court finds that the appraisal at issue wholly lacks even a modicum of content in critical areas to say that it substantially complies with numerous statutory and regulation mandates. The substantial compliance doctrine is not a substitute for missing entire categories of content; rather, it is at most a means of accepting a nearly complete effort that has simply fallen short in regard to minor procedural errors or relatively unimportant clerical oversights. The required content Plaintiffs neglected does not constitute such instances of technicalities. ...

Plaintiffs’ appraisal is insufficient and precludes their claimed deduction. Additionally, even if this first ground did not resolve the litigation, the Court concludes that Defendant is still entitled to summary judgment under its second rationale: that Plaintiffs failed to file a contemporaneous acknowledgment as required by § 170. ... [B]ecause none of the documents produced in this case, including the June 29, 2004 contract between Plaintiffs and the city, satisfies § 170(f)(8)(B), Plaintiffs in turn have failed to avoid the § 170(f)(8)(A) bar on their claimed deduction.

Either of the foregoing grounds ends this litigation. Thus, as noted, the Court declines to reach the remaining moot issues involved in the parties’ dispute. The consequent result of the foregoing analysis is that, regardless of whether taxpayers may be able to claim a deduction for the type of donation involved in this case–a question this Court need not ultimately answer today–the deficient manner in which Plaintiffs pursued such a donation here proves dispositive. Defendant is therefore entitled to summary judgment, while Plaintiffs are not. 

For more on this case, see Joe Kristan, Is Extreme Remodeling a Charitable Contribution? For more on the deductibility of homes donated to a local fire department, see:

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Tracked on Jul 26, 2010 12:17:23 PM


Thanks Paul!

This is a perfect teaching case.

How to do everything wrong - and not have the Court issue an opinion on the tax issues.

Angel asks who would burn a house with a FMV of $287K?
Someone who doesn't want to have to pay for demolition, of course!

This is a perfect way to provide a community service, get a free service (save the cost of demolition), clear their property so they can build their dream house - and perhaps (?) get a tax deduction in the process.

If only they had taken better administrative steps, we could have learned if the Tax Court would accept this as a donation. Darn!

Posted by: TaxMama | Jul 27, 2010 9:23:04 AM

Well well, a sad tax story. I do not know all the facts, but the cost basis
of the improvement (the house itself) may not have been $287,400 for fire practice drill.
I am sure it was worth something, but not much in its dilapidated condition
could have not given such a fair market value. Obviously, the land value was
non-deductible since it reverted back to the Plaintiff (possibly worth more than the house)
But the additional cost to clear up the land: would
that not have been part of charitable donation too?
True, it is for the cost-basis of the new home now.
Who would burn a house with an FMV of $287,400?
Very interesting! Document, document, document.

Posted by: Angel Dayan, EA, CPA | Jul 26, 2010 11:06:30 AM