Claim: “In order to argue that residential colleges are places of education and should be tax exempt, [Yale hosts] residential college seminars in [the colleges].”

Source: New Haven Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19, Yale Political Union speech, September 2018

Status: False

Yale University residential colleges are tax exempt because they are dormitories — not because they host classes.

State law and the school charter ensure that Yale’s dorms are protected from taxation. New Haven tax assessor Alexzander Pullen said that the University is communicative and open with the city about which properties can be taxed.

The brand-new L.L. Bean–cum–graduate dormitory building at 272 Elm St., for example, is divided into two tax lots. One is exempt, the other is taxed. The residential colleges, which have no income-earning component for the University, are entirely exempt.

The issue was disputed in 1899 when New Haven tax assessors attempted to tax college dorms. But Yale sued and won.

Judge William Hamersley decided in favor of Yale, ruling that the school’s dining halls and dorms were exempt according to both Connecticut law and the University charter. He made a two-pronged argument. First, Hamersley defined dorms as core elements of a “college” and therefore protected by the college’s general property tax exemption. Second, he clarified the limitation on Yale’s property tax exemption set forth in the 1834 version of the Yale charter.

In a statement to the News responding to this information, Catalbasoglu wrote: “My point on residential colleges was to explain the flaw in Yale’s justification of having residential colleges be tax exempt. Yale believes that because residential colleges are, with or without seminars, a place of intellectual growth, it should not pay taxes on those properties.”

Catalbasoglu supports taxing the dorms as in the case of some other colleges. In fact, very few states tax property used as dorms by nonprofit universities and colleges. It would require a change in Connecticut law for New Haven to tax the Yale residential colleges.

In the end, Yale does pay — even if not in the form of dorm taxes. The University is New Haven’s fourth largest property tax payer despite exemptions. It donated $11.4 million last year in voluntary payments to the city, according to University spokesman Tom Conroy. 

So although Yale does receive tax exemptions for its student residences, it is not because the University holds one class in each college to exploit a nonexistent legal loophole.