NY’s Tax Jurisdiction

Last week we considered New York’s “statutory residence” rule pursuant to which an individual domiciled outside of New York may nevertheless be taxed by New York as to all of their income for a taxable year – including their business income – regardless of its source, by virtue of maintaining a permanent place of abode in the State for substantially all of the taxable year, and spending more than 183 days of the taxable year in New York.

Of course, New York’s taxing jurisdiction extends beyond those individuals who are domiciled or resident in New York, and covers nonresidents who have New York source income. Thus, a nonresident will be subject to New York personal income tax with respect to their income from:

  • real or tangible personal property located in the State, (including certain gains or losses from the sale or exchange of an interest in an entity that owns real property in New York State);
  • services performed in New York;
  • a business, trade, profession, or occupation carried on in New York;
  • their distributive share of New York partnership income or gain;
  • any income received related to a business, trade, profession, or occupation previously carried on in the State, including, but not limited to, covenants not to compete and termination agreements; and
  • a New York S corporation in which they are a shareholder, including, for example, any gain recognized on the deemed asset sale for federal income tax purposes where the S corporation has made an election under IRC section 338(h)(10).

Although the foregoing list encompasses a great many items of income, there are limits to the State’s reach; for example, New York income does not include a nonresident’s income:

  • from interest, dividends, or gains from the sale or exchange of intangible personal property, unless they are part of the income they received from carrying on a business, trade, profession, or occupation in New York State; and
  • as a shareholder of a corporation that is a New York C corporation.

A recent series of decisions, culminating in an opinion from the Third Department, considered one taxpayer’s futile attempt to fit within, or expand upon, these excluded items.

Income from “Intangibles”?

Spouse was a member of LLC, a company that was treated as a partnership for income tax purposes and that did business in New York. He assigned his entire 18.75% ownership interest in LLC to Taxpayer. Spouse and Taxpayer were residents of New Jersey[ii] during the periods at issue.

This assignment was challenged by other members of LLC, which resulted in litigation, and in a ruling that the assignment was valid.

Litigation and Settlement

Taxpayer then commenced an action against LLC seeking a valuation of her interest in LLC, including her share of its profits. After receiving an accounting report from a court-appointed referee, the trial court determined that Taxpayer was entitled to an award of approximately $600,000 for her ownership interest in LLC and a profit distribution of approximately $1 million, together with both pre- and post-judgment interest.

Shortly thereafter, Taxpayer settled her claim against LLC for just over $2 million, and the parties agreed that approximately $600,000 of that amount would be allocated as payment for her interest in LLC and “not as ordinary income.”  

Tax Audit and Aftermath

Taxpayer and Spouse, being New Jersey residents,[iii] reported a capital gain of almost $600,000 and “other income” in the amount of almost $1.5 million on their federal return (IRS Form 1040), but none of the settlement was allocated to New York on their nonresident return (NY Form IT-203).

An audit by New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance ensued, and a notice of deficiency was issued assessing taxes and interest based on the $1.5 million that Taxpayer had identified as “other income.” Taxpayer and Spouse challenged the notice, but it was upheld by an Administrative Law Judge who noted that the litigation commenced by Taxpayer sought, among other things, her distributive share of LLC’s profits as the assignee of Spouse’s membership interest. The ALJ’s finding was, in turn, upheld by the Tax Appeals Tribunal.

Taxpayer brought an Article 78 proceeding in the Appellate Division of the Third Department to challenge the Tribunal’s decision upholding the deficiency.[iv]

The crux of Taxpayer’s challenge was that the “other income” was not taxable to them as nonresidents because it was a “return on an intangible asset” and not a distributive share of profits from a partnership doing business in New York.

Taxpayer’s Appeal

The Court began by explaining that New York may tax a nonresident only on income that is “derived from or connected with New York sources.”[v] New York source income, the Court continued, includes a taxpayer’s “distributive share of partnership income, gain, loss and deduction.”

Further, the Court continued, “only the portion [of source income] derived from or connected with New York sources of such partner’s distributive share of items of partnership income . . . entering into [her] federal adjusted gross income”. . . is included as the source income of a partner or limited liability company member.[vi] The Court noted that this includes income “derived from or connected with . . . a business . . . carried on in this state.”[vii]

However, Taxpayer contended that the Tribunal was incorrect in upholding the assessment because she was neither a “partner” nor a member of LLC, and she did not receive a distributive share of profits from LLC. According to Taxpayer, her assignee interest did not allow her to participate in the management and affairs of LLC, or to exercise any rights or powers of a member. Thus, Taxpayer argued, she should not be subject to tax as a member of LLC.

Taxpayer also asserted that her assignee interest in LLC was an intangible asset, and that income from such an asset should not be considered New York source income.

The Court disagreed, stating that the “membership interest” assigned to Taxpayer included “the member’s right to a share of the profits and losses of the [LLC]”. As the assignee of a membership interest, Taxpayer was not automatically entitled to participate in the management or affairs of LLC, but she was entitled “to receive . . . the distributions and allocations of profits and losses to which the assignor would be entitled.”[viii] Considering these provisions, the fact that Taxpayer was not a member of LLC had no bearing on whether the profit distribution to her was taxable. Further, it was undisputed that LLC “carried on” business in New York.

Origin of the Claim?

According to the Court, to determine the taxable status of a sum reached by settlement of the litigating parties, it is generally necessary to consider “[i]n lieu of what were the damages awarded?”[ix] The record showed that the settlement payment was made in consideration of Taxpayer withdrawing the causes of action in her complaint seeking her share of LLC profits. The parties, through counsel, expressly allocated approximately $600,000 of the total settlement as payment for Taxpayer’s ownership interest in LLC and “not as ordinary income,” without further characterization.

Consistently therewith, Taxpayer and Spouse reported the balance of almost $1.5 million as “other income” on their tax returns.[x] Pointing to the award in the underlying litigation, they also claimed that a portion of the settlement was attributed to interest and, therefore, not taxable in New York.

The Court pointed out that while interest income is generally not taxable as nonresident personal income, it was Taxpayer’s burden to establish that the assessment was erroneous. However, no portion of the settlement payment was expressly attributed to interest.

The Court then observed that the litigation was resolved by settlement, not court order. Given this structure, the Court continued, the Tribunal reasonably concluded that $1.5 million of the settlement was for lost profits. As such, the Court declined to disturb the Tribunal’s finding in this regard.

Having found that the Tribunal’s determination had a rational basis and was consistent with the statutory language, and that Taxpayer’s interpretation was not the “only logical construction” of the relevant provisions,[xi] the Court decided to defer to the Tribunal’s construction, and concluded that the determination by the Department of Taxation to issue the notice of deficiency was reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.

“Other Income”


Did Taxpayer actually believe that the income at issue was not taxable to a nonresident? The settlement payment was clearly attributable to Taxpayer’s interest in LLC’s profits, which were generated by the business that LLC conducted in New York. Accordingly, the “other income” was derived from New York sources and, as such, was taxable.

Yet Taxpayer stuck by her position through the audit, through the proceeding before the ALJ, through the Tax Appeals Tribunal, and through the Appellate Division.[xii]

The fact that the income at issue was not specifically addressed in the settlement, that is was paid “in exchange for” Taxpayer’s claims for her share of LLC profits, that Taxpayer labeled it as “other income” on her tax returns, and that she treated it as ordinary income for federal purposes, sealed the matter and forced Taxpayer to defend her position with fairly desperate arguments, like the one based upon her assignee status, described above.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are times when perseverance in the face of many challenges may be commendable. There are also times, however, when advisers have to be blunt with their clients, when they cannot continue to stoke their hopes for a miracle, when no amount of legal creativity will save the day, when they simply have to throw in the proverbial towel.[xiii]

The moment for structuring a plausible argument for not taxing the settlement proceeds began when Taxpayer filed her first cause of action; it passed when the settlement was executed. Having failed to establish a basis for exclusion of the proceeds at that time, Taxpayer should have saved herself the additional interest, penalties and legal fees; she should have known “when to walk away.”[xiv]


[i] Apologies to Kenny Rogers, The Gambler.

[ii] I am told that people who live in New Jersey or who come from New Jersey are called New Jerseyites or New Jerseyans.

[iii] You may recall that last week’s post began with a review of the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index. You may also recall that NY did not fare too well with respect to individual income taxes, ranking 48th in the nation. Well, here’s some consolation: New Jersey ranked 50th.

[iv] Decisions rendered by the Tribunal are final and binding on the Department of Taxation and Finance, i.e., there is no appeal to the courts. Taxpayers who are not satisfied with the decision of the Tribunal have the right to appeal the Tribunal’s decision by instituting a proceeding pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules to the Appellate Division Third Department of the State Supreme Court.

[v] Tax Law Sec. 631. https://codes.findlaw.com/ny/tax-law/tax-sect-631.html

[vi] Tax Law Sec. 632(a). https://codes.findlaw.com/ny/tax-law/tax-sect-632.html

[vii] Tax Law § 631(b)(1)(B). https://codes.findlaw.com/ny/tax-law/tax-sect-631.html

[viii] NY Limited Liability Company Law § 603. https://codes.findlaw.com/ny/limited-liability-company-law/llc-sect-603.html

[ix] What federal tax jurisprudence refers to as “the origin of the claim.”

[x] Indeed, they reported this amount as ordinary income on their federal tax return.

[xi] The Court was being kind.

[xii] “Please sir, may I have another?”

[xiii] Remember what happened to Apollo Creed in Rocky IV when the eponymous Rocky hesitated?

[xiv] As the refrain says:

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run

 

Welcome (?) to NY

The Tax Foundation recently issued its annual State Business Tax Climate Index. The 2019 Index compares the fifty States across five major areas of taxation: corporate taxes, individual income taxes, sales taxes, unemployment insurance taxes, and property taxes; it then adds the results to generate a final, overall ranking. According to the Index, the individual income tax component accounts for approximately 30% of a State’s total score.

After finding itself in 49th place during 2016, 2017, and 2018, it appears that New York is making a move to improve its standing in the business community – the 2019 Index has New York ranked in – patience, wait for it, wait for it – 48th place with respect to individual income taxes, and 48th overall. Woo hoo! Way to go team.[i]

“You Can Never Leave” [ii]

Of course, New York’s high personal income, estate, sales and property tax rates are all too familiar to those who reside, or used to reside, in the State. However, the State’s appetite for challenging a former resident’s assertion of a change of domicile is notorious, as is its penchant for taxing certain nondomiciliaries as so-called “statutory residents.”

The anxiety that this engenders among many informed taxpayers is understandable,[iii] though it may push some to borderline paranoia – or is it? – as illustrated by a recent advisory opinion issued by the Office of Counsel for New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance.[iv]

“Where [You] Lay [Your] Head is Home?” [v]  Hopefully Not?

Taxpayer was domiciled in Washington, D.C. He was an executive with an investment management firm that maintained New York offices. Taxpayer was responsible for overseeing the firm’s daily trading activity for several funds that traded in domestic and foreign markets. He was required to work during the night and consult with the firm’s traders during overseas trading hours. Because of his work duties, the firm allowed him to stay overnight in his New York office, but only when the markets in which the firm traded were open. Otherwise, Taxpayer was required to vacate the office at the end of the work day. The firm advised him in writing of these restrictions, noting that overnight stays were limited to those nights needed for work purposes, and that the office building was neither zoned nor insured for residential use.

Taxpayer typically travelled from Washington to the firm’s New York office on Monday mornings, stayed in New York on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and returned to Washington on Thursday evenings.[vi] He did not own or rent any abode in New York. When Taxpayer was in New York overnight, he slept on a “murphy bed” in the office. The office was approximately 330 square feet[vii] and did not include any cooking facilities, bathing facilities, or a separate bathroom within its four walls. However, Taxpayer had access to common restrooms and an on-site gymnasium with showering facilities, both of which were available to all firm employees. In addition, the firm’s space had a kitchen area; however, the kitchen was intended for use by the firm’s kitchen staff and not for employees’ personal use. When taxpayer was in New York, he ordered meals from local restaurants and did not use cooking facilities in the building.[viii] Taxpayer was not required to provide any consideration, contribution, or reimbursement to the firm for the sleeping arrangement. He was prohibited from having overnight guests. Also, Taxpayer did not receive any personal mail at the office. He did maintain a small closet of work clothes in the office, along with some toiletries, but otherwise maintained his personal effects in Washington.

The Department’s Analysis

An individual is a resident of New York for a taxable year if such individual maintains a permanent place of abode in New York for substantially all of the taxable year and spends more than 183 days of the taxable year in the State.[ix]

It is not necessary that the individual actually stayed at, or even visited, the permanent place of abode for more than 183 days during the taxable year; it is only necessary that the individual could have done so while they were spending time in New York.

Thus, an individual who is domiciled in New Jersey, who owns a small studio pied-a-terre on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that they use occasionally on a Friday or Saturday, and who commutes to work Downtown on weekdays, is a statutory resident of both New York State and New York City.[x]

The term “permanent place of abode” means a dwelling place of a permanent nature maintained by an individual, whether or not owned by such individual.[xi] In general, a construction that does not contain facilities ordinarily found in a dwelling, such as facilities for cooking, bathing etc., will not be considered a permanent place of abode for tax purposes.

In order to qualify as a permanent place of abode, “there must be some basis to conclude that a dwelling is utilized as the taxpayer’s residence.”[xii] Case law and the Department’s Income Tax Nonresident Audit Guidelines (June 2014) have identified certain factors to consider when determining whether a dwelling satisfies the requisite relationship. These factors include, but are not limited to, the physical attributes of the dwelling and the relationship of the individual to the dwelling, such as ownership, property rights, maintenance, the relationship to co-habitants, personal items, and access.

Whether or not an individual has free and continuous access to a place of abode is a primary consideration in determining whether they maintain a permanent place of abode. For example, an individual maintains a permanent place of abode when they have an unrestricted right to use a room (despite the fact that they have no legal right to the property), contribute to the household expenses, have exclusive use of the room, provide their own furnishings and personal effects, regularly use the residence for a long-standing period of time to access their full-time job, and have unlimited access to the room. However, an individual does not maintain a permanent place of abode where they have intermittent access to an apartment rented and maintained by another individual, cannot access the apartment without prior notice, do not maintain clothing, personal articles or furniture in the apartment, do not have a dedicated room to which they have free and continuous access, do not use the residence for daily attendance at their full-time job, and do not share in the expenses of maintaining the apartment.

All Clear

According to the Department, the facts and circumstances in the present case indicated that Taxpayer’s arrangement did not provide unfettered access to a dwelling. His use of the office space was restricted to work nights when overseas markets were open and Taxpayer was required by his position to consult with firm traders of those markets. Furthermore, Taxpayer was prohibited from staying at the office overnight except on those nights when specifically allowed or required.

In addition to the absence of unfettered access, the Department found that Taxpayer’s arrangement lacked other necessary characteristics to be considered a permanent place of abode; these factors included the absence of bathing or kitchen facilities in the office that are ordinarily found in a dwelling, as well as other physical attributes of an abode.

Other relevant factors included the fact that: the building was not permitted by zoning laws to be used as a residence; Taxpayer did not contribute any money or other consideration to maintain the dwelling; the personal items kept in the office generally were work clothes; Taxpayer did not use the office address on any registrations, such as a driver’s license, voter registration, car registration, etc.; and he did not receive personal mail or maintain any other personal items at his office.

Considering the foregoing factors, the Department concluded that Taxpayer’s office did not constitute a permanent place of abode; consequently, the Taxpayer’s days spent in New York would not result in his being treated as a statutory resident.

Thoughts

I questioned earlier whether the Taxpayer was crazy to have requested the foregoing ruling. I don’t think so.

Some of you may be thinking, “C’mon Lou, the guy slept in a murphy bed in his office. He had no expectation of privacy there. He couldn’t just walk around in his skivvies, and isn’t that the ultimate indication of a place of abode? Oh, and by the way, many of us keep extra clothes in the office[xiii], plus a toothbrush; some of us have a refrigerator or microwave.[xiv] Don’t some firms provide showers for their employees? How can the State ever claim that this guy maintained a permanent place of abode in New York?”

To which I respond, “Why, then, did the Department feel compelled to go through the foregoing analysis? Hmm? Why bother with the exercise of considering the absence of a bathroom or of kitchen facilities within the office itself?[xv] Or the fact that Taxpayer didn’t pay his employer for the use of his office? Seriously? And why would a resident of Washington, D.C. include his New York office address on his license or registration?”

Indeed, couldn’t the Department have simply stated – relying upon the decision of the Court of Appeals in Gaied – that Taxpayer had no “residential interest” in his office – period, case closed?

Clearly, the Department decided not to go in that direction because it believed that Taxpayer did utilize his office as a residence – there was a reason that Taxpayer felt compelled to request this ruling in the first place. Thus, the Department had to establish that this particular office, in the circumstances described above, was not a permanent place of abode.

With that, did the Department leave open the possibility that a slightly larger office (say, the size of a small studio, perhaps with its own bathroom, a murphy bed or pull-out couch – maybe even a wet bar[xvi]) may constitute a permanent place of abode? And might the occupant of such an office – who is an owner of the tenant business that occupies the space – have a “residential interest” therein, such that they may be treated as a statutory resident notwithstanding that they commute to their domicile almost every night?

I don’t like it.


[i] “Every journey begins with a single step.” Lao Tsu.

[ii] Apologies to The Eagles. Speaking of California, its 2019 Index overall ranking is 49th.

[iii] Ignorance may be bliss, but I hate surprises.

[iv] An advisory opinion is issued at the request of a taxpayer – thus my statement about paranoia, or not. The opinion is limited to its facts, and is binding on the State only with respect to the taxpayer to whom it is issued.

[v] Apologies to Metallica (“Where I Lay My Head is Home”). I often answer my office phone with “Vlahos residence,” and it’s not entirely facetious.

[vi] Thus, he was “present” in New York four days per week.

[vii] There are many studios of this size in downtown Manhattan.

[viii] My kinda guy.

[ix] N.Y. Tax Law Sec. 605(b)(1)(B). This is referred to as “statutory residence,” as distinguished from “domicile,” which involves a much more subjective determination based upon the taxpayer’s intent or the objective manifestations of such intent. Under either characterization, the taxpayer’s worldwide income would be subject to New York’s personal income tax.

[x] And is subject to State and City income taxes at 8.82% and 3.876%, respectively.

[xi] 20 NYCRR Sec. 105.20(e)(1).

[xii] Matter of Gaied v. Tax Appeals Trib., 22 N.Y.3d 592, 594 (2014). It’s unfortunate that the State pays lip service to the holding in Gaied but practically limits the application of the decision to its facts.

[xiii] In today’s “dress-down” business environment, how does one distinguish between work and non-work clothes?

[xiv] That is neither an admission nor a Christmas wish list – I’m simply giving an example.

[xv] Does the Department realize that there are still a few boarding houses in Manhattan? Yes, rooms without bathrooms, and where residents eat in a common area. Would anyone seriously claim that these are not “permanent places of abode?”

[xvi] A guy can dream, can’t he?

“Leaving” the Business

There is a common theme that runs through the history of most closely held businesses. It begins with a motivated, diligent, and independent individual who is not afraid to take charge and to make things happen. Add a bit of luck to the mix, plus the support and guidance of family, friends and mentors, and the business may grow and thrive. The years pass and, at some point, the owner may decide that they are ready to begin the next stage of their life.

In many cases, that next stage is retirement – the owner sells their business and rides off into the sunset.

For some owners, however, the next stage looks more like a form of quasi-retirement, where they step back from the day-to-day management and operation of their business – turning this function over to a family member or a trusted employee – and become a passive investor. This “conversion” may be accompanied by a transfer of some equity in the business to the owner’s anointed successor.

Alternatively, it may mean selling all or part of the business and starting another. The new business may be a variant on the old one, though on a smaller scale; it may be something entirely new; or it may be one that does not require as much hands-on involvement.

For many business owners who reside in New York, this quasi-retirement is often coupled with a change in residence, usually to a warmer, less expensive, and less taxing environment, like Florida.

A quasi-retired business owner who decides to make such a move has to recognize that, at some point, they may be required to convince the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance that they have established Florida as their new domicile.

Domicile

Under New York’s Tax Law, an individual’s “domicile” is defined as the place the individual intends to be their permanent home. It is a subjective inquiry because it goes to one’s state of mind.

Once an individual’s New York domicile has been established, it continues until they abandon it and move to a new location with the bona fide intention of making their permanent home there.

Whether or not an individual’s domicile has been replaced by another depends on an evaluation of their circumstances.  According to the State, certain “primary” factors must be considered in determining the individual’s intent as to domicile – these factors are viewed as objective manifestations of such intent.

Each primary factor must be analyzed to determine if it points toward proving a New York or other domicile.  In conducting this analysis, an individual’s New York ties must be explored in relationship to the individual’s connection to the new domicile claimed.  Each factor is weighed separately, and then collectively.

The primary factors are as follows: (i) the individual’s use and maintenance of a New York residence, (ii) their active business involvement, (iii) where they spend time during the year, (iv) the location of items which they hold near and dear, and (v) the location of family connections.

The evidence required to support a change of domicile must be “clear and convincing.”  Thus, a taxpayer who has been historically domiciled in New York, and who is claiming to have changed their domicile, must be able to support their intention with unequivocal acts.

This is where the nature of the business owner’s continuing connection to their New York business – when weighed against their connection to any business activity in which they are already engaged in Florida, or which they decide to undertake after moving to Florida – may put them at a disadvantage in proving the abandonment of their New York home, as was demonstrated in the decision described below.

Audit of Nonresident Return

Like many others, Taxpayer immigrated to New York and established a successful business. Taxpayer started his business with a single retail location in New York. He later opened additional locations, both in New York and in Florida. Building upon the success of, and parallel to, his retail business, Taxpayer also developed extensive real estate holdings by investing in New York and Florida rental real estate.

Taxpayer and his spouse jointly filed New York State and City resident income tax returns up until the tax years under audit (the “Audit Years”). For both those years, Taxpayer filed a New York nonresident income tax return, claiming the filing status of married but filing separately, and identifying his Florida address as his home.

The Department of Taxation and Finance examined Taxpayer’s nonresident income tax returns for the Audit Years – which included a large gain from the sale of real property in Florida – and concluded that he had failed to present clear and convincing evidence that he had abandoned his New York domicile and acquired a new Florida domicile.

The Department issued a notice of deficiency assessing additional personal income taxes, as well as penalties, against Taxpayer, which he challenged. However, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) sustained the deficiency. Taxpayer appealed the ALJ’s decision to the Tax Appeals Tribunal, which affirmed the ALJ’s determination. Following this setback, Taxpayer filed a so-called “article 78 proceeding” to appeal the Tribunal’s decision.

Taxpayer’s Business Connections

The Appellate Division, Third Department (to which Tax Appeals Tribunal decisions are appealed), began by stating that, for income tax purposes, an individual is a resident of New York when that individual is domiciled in this State. A person’s domicile, the Court continued, “is the place which an individual intends to be such individual’s permanent home.” Once a domicile is established, it “continues until the individual in question moves to a new location with the bona fide intention of making such individual’s fixed and permanent home there.”

As the individual seeking to establish a change in domicile, it was Taxpayer’s burden, the Court noted, to prove his change of domicile by clear and convincing evidence.

The Court observed that Taxpayer did not contend that his domicile changed from New York to Florida as of a date certain. Rather, Taxpayer maintained that his contacts in Florida dated back over 25 years, to when he opened his first retail location in the State and purchased a condominium there. Taxpayer contended that, slowly over the course of time, his business interests grew and he began spending an increasingly significant amount of time at his Florida residence such that, by the Audit Years, he had effectively abandoned his New York domicile and established a new domicile in Florida.

The Court acknowledged that Taxpayer had submitted evidence demonstrating his significant business ties to Florida, including his ownership and operation of four retail locations and nine rental properties, and the fact that he helped manage another business located in one of his Florida buildings. Taxpayer had also submitted evidence that he had moved many personal items to his Florida residence, and that he had spent the majority of the Audit Years in Florida.

The Court pointed out, however, that there was similarly no dispute that Taxpayer also continued to maintain substantial and significant business and personal contacts in New York.

Significantly, Taxpayer continued to maintain his New York business and, in fact, was working on expanding it. He also maintained a warehouse affiliated with his New York business and another that he rented to third parties.

In addition, Taxpayer acknowledged that the administration and bookkeeping functions for all of his New York and Florida businesses were centralized and maintained in New York. All tax filings for the Florida businesses listed Taxpayer’s New York City office address, and his New York City bookkeeper processed all receipts from the Florida businesses and rental properties.

The Court observed that, over the years, Taxpayer had established a regular pattern of travel, generally consisting of his spending long weekends in Florida, during which he visited his Florida business and investment locations, while spending the rest of the week working in New York.

Moreover, Taxpayer managed and controlled all administrative, operational, and financial aspects of his New York and Florida business and real estate investment interests from his New York City office, and he continued to be the sole owner of the entities that held these interests.

The Audit Years were no exception: all administrative and financial functions for all of Taxpayer’s businesses and real estate investments continued to be handled in New York, Taxpayer spent almost half the year in New York, he derived significant income from his New York businesses and investments, and he continued to be actively engaged in the management and control thereof.

Such active business ties to New York, the Court maintained, typically indicate a failure to abandon a New York domicile.

On the record before it, including Taxpayer’s New York business and real estate investment interests, the presence of his spouse in New York, and his continued ownership and use of his long-time New York City condominium, the Court sustained the Tax Appeal Tribunal’s determination that, as of the Audit Years, Taxpayer had not shown a change in his lifestyle that would support his claimed change of domicile to Florida and the abandonment of New York as his domicile.[I]

Is It All or Nothing?

A business owner’s continued employment or active participation in their New York business, or their substantial investment and management of their New York business, after they have acquired a new residence elsewhere, will be a primary factor in determining their domicile.

If the owner continues to be actively involved in their New York business by managing or actively participating in such business without establishing comparable or greater business connections to the location they claim to be their new home, then their New York business activity will support their continued status as a New York domiciliary.

Does this mean that a business owner who has moved out-of-state cannot remain connected to their New York business if they hope to abandon New York as their domicile?

Not necessarily. It depends upon the extent and nature of the owner’s control and supervision over the New York business.

On the one hand, an owner’s active participation in the day-to-day operation or management of a New York business points to continued New York domicile, even if the business is being run from an out-of-state location.

On the other hand, an owner’s conversion of his interest in a New York business from an active to a passive investment is not supportive of continued domicile; for example, where the owner has resigned his position as an officer and employee of the business, has reduced his compensation accordingly, and has actually – not simply formalistically – turned management over to others.

The conversion of the owner’s interest to that of a “mere” investment does not require that the owner disregard the business entirely. In fact, it is reasonable to expect that the owner would take some interest in the business they have built and which now supplies a stream of income to them in retirement. This continuing interest does not compel a conclusion that the owner remains actively involved in the business.

Thus, the owner’s occasional office visit or phone call to the business should not constitute evidence of active involvement where they are limited in amount of duration.

If the owner has also undertaken other activities in their new home on which to focus their attention and efforts, the change of their relationship to the New York business is consistent with the so-called “change in lifestyle” that supports a conclusion that one domicile has been replaced with another.

Of course, it may be difficult for some owners to step away from their business and to pass control to someone else – did I mention something about an owner’s independence and determination? It’s the same issue they confront when considering gift and estate planning strategies, or in approaching succession planning. Interestingly, the proper planning for any one of these purposes will necessarily assist the owner in successfully removing themselves from New York.


[i] It should be noted that on both of Taxpayer’s nonresident income tax returns, the “No” box was checked in response to the question, “Did you or your spouse maintain living quarters in NYS [for that given year],” despite the fact that Taxpayer continued to own and maintain the condominium in New York City in which his spouse resided, and in which he stayed when he was in New York. The Court sustained the assessment of a negligence penalty against Taxpayer based on this “misrepresentation.” Despite the fact that Taxpayer claimed these misrepresentations were the product of a mistake by his accountant, the Court found no error in the Tribunal’s reliance upon these misrepresentations in upholding the negligence penalty.

I encounter the “‘No’ box” situation with too much frequency. First and foremost, a tax return must be accurate and truthful. The taxpayer is charged with reviewing the return to confirm the information contained therein – whether one owns or rents an apartment in the City is an easy one. Why give the auditor a lay-up, not to mention a bad impression?

One Day . . .
It is the dream of so many New York business owners: build a successful business, get your kids involved in the business, transition the operation, management and – eventually – the ownership of the business to the kids, move to Florida (or another warm, tax-friendly venue), successfully fend off New York’s inevitable challenge to your claimed change of domicile, stay involved in the business, pay no New York income tax on any income derived from the business, and pass away – yes, that is a morbid thing to say, but “death and taxes” – happy in the knowledge that your estate will not be subject to New York’s estate tax. Not much to ask for, right?

Earlier posts have described the factors that New York considers in determining an individual’s domicile or residence. See, e.g., “New York Business, the Federal Tax Return, and New York Domicile.”

Escape from NY . . .
The resolution of a taxpayer’s resident status vis-à-vis New York is of paramount importance to the taxpayer.

A New York State resident taxpayer is responsible for reporting and paying New York State personal income tax on income from all sources regardless of where the income is generated, or the nature of the income.

A nonresident taxpayer, however, is given the opportunity to allocate income, reporting to New York State only that income actually generated in New York. In addition, the nonresident need only report to New York income from intangibles which are attributable to a business, trade or profession carried on in the State.

Thus, significant benefits may be derived from filing as a nonresident.

. . . Not Entirely
Because a taxpayer’s New York source income will remain subject to New York’s tax jurisdiction even where the taxpayer has successfully established his or her status as a non-resident, it behooves the taxpayer to become familiar with New York’s sourcing rules. A nonresident taxpayer’s New York income will include the taxpayer’s income from:
• real or tangible personal property located in New York State, (including certain gains from the sale or exchange of an interest in an entity that owns real property in New York;
• services performed in New York;
• a business, trade, profession, or occupation carried on in New York;
• his or her distributive share of New York partnership income or gain;
• his or her share of New York estate or trust income or gain;
• any income he or she received related to a business, trade, profession, or occupation previously carried on in New York State, including but not limited to covenants not to compete and termination agreements; and
• a New York S corporation in which he or she is a shareholder.
Some of these source rules are more easily applied than others. In those cases where the facts are disputed, the taxpayer can count on New York to assert the requisite nexus.

In a recent decision, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) rejected New York’s somewhat creative attempt to tax a Florida resident’s consulting fees. [Carmelo and Marianna Giuffre, DTA NO. 826168)

Unfortunately, the ruling is light on facts and, so, leaves several questions unanswered.

Father Knows Best?
The Taxpayer resided and was domiciled in Florida during the year at issue. He was employed by Consulting LLC (Consulting). Consulting was a Florida limited liability company with its principal place of business located in Florida. Taxpayer was its sole member.

Prior to his employment by Consulting, Taxpayer was the president Family Corp., located in New York City. Family Corp. was a family-owned company that operated Business in New York and New Jersey. During the year at issue, Taxpayer’s sons and nephew owned and operated Business.

Consulting provided “management consulting” services for Business. Taxpayer rendered these services as an employee of Consulting, from its offices in Florida.

By agreement between Consulting and Family Corp., Consulting agreed to perform consulting work for Family Corp. The agreement explicitly provided that the consulting services “shall be provided via telephone or electronically” and that it is not anticipated that the consulting services would require any Consulting employee to travel to New York City or any of Business’s other locations.

Under the agreement, Consulting acted in an advisory role, and neither it nor Taxpayer was involved in the day-to-day management or decision-making process of Family Corp. The consulting services were performed, and the business of Consulting was conducted, from its Florida office. Taxpayer was paid an annual salary for his services by Consulting.

Taxpayer visited New York during the year at issue. The primary purpose of his visits were personal in nature. He visited family members who resided in the New York metropolitan area. Although he also visited the Business locations owned by Family Corp., these visits also were personal in nature. Taxpayer did not maintain a desk or office in any of the locations. He was not involved in any daily operations of Business during the year at issue.

New York’s Unsuccessful Play
New York asserted that Taxpayer had New York source income for the year at issue, based upon an allocation formula that used the number of Business locations in New York, divided by the total number of Business locations, to arrive at an allocation of 10/17, or approximately 59%. The State then multiplied that percentage by the amount of Taxpayer’s salary from Consulting for that year to arrive at a net allocation of almost $800,000 as New York income.

The only issue before the ALJ was whether Taxpayer had income that was derived from, or connected to, New York sources; in other words, whether Taxpayer had rendered consulting services in New York during the year at issue. According to the ALJ, he did not.

The ALJ explained that New York imposes personal income tax on the income of nonresident individuals to the extent that their income is derived from or connected to New York sources (Tax Law Sec. 601[e][1] http://codes.findlaw.com/ny/tax-law/tax-sect-601.html ). A nonresident individual’s New York source income includes the net amount of items of income, gain, loss and deduction entering into the individual’s federal adjusted gross income derived from or connected with New York sources, including income attributable to a business, trade, profession or occupation carried on in New York (Tax Law Sec. 631[a][1]; [b][1][B]).

The ALJ also observed that, under New York’s tax regulations, a business, trade, profession or occupation is carried on in New York by a nonresident when:
“such nonresident occupies, has, maintains or operates desk space, an office, a shop, a store, a warehouse, a factory, an agency or other place where such nonresident’s affairs are systematically and regularly carried on, notwithstanding the occasional consummation of isolated transactions without New York. (This definition is not exclusive.) Business is carried on within New York if activities within New York in connection with the business are conducted in New York with a fair measure of permanency and continuity” (20 NYCRR 132.4[a][2]).

The ALJ found that Taxpayer was employed by Consulting, the offices of which were located in Florida. There was no evidence that Taxpayer or Consulting maintained any office or place of business within New York.

In fact, as noted above, the consulting agreement specifically stated that the services provided by Taxpayer would be rendered via telephone or electronically. The agreement did not mention any work space located in New York nor did it contemplate Taxpayer providing any services within New York.

The State relied on case law that involved nonresident individuals who were employed by a New York employer, yet for convenience worked both within and without the State. According to this precedent, a nonresident who performs services in New York, or has an office in New York, is allowed to avoid New York tax liability for services performed outside the State only if they are performed of necessity in the service of the employer. Where the out-of-State services are performed for the employee’s convenience, they generate New York tax liability.

The ALJ rejected the State’s reasoning, finding this case law distinguishable from the Taxpayer’s situation. Taxpayer was a nonresident who worked for a Florida company, not a New York employer. Moreover, Taxpayer did not render services in New York and he did not have an office in New York. As such, the “convenience of the employer” analogy was inapplicable to the Taxpayer.

Any Takeaways?
Although the ALJ’s opinion does not state that Taxpayer was previously a New York resident, it is safe to assume that he was domiciled in New York before moving to Florida.

However, query over what period of time, and how (gifts, sales, GRATs, etc.), Taxpayer transitioned the management of Business, and transferred the ownership of Family Corp., to his sons? This would have been an important consideration in establishing that Taxpayer was no longer domiciled in New York.

According to the opinion, Taxpayer was not involved in the day-to-day management or decision-making process of Family Corp., and his “management consulting” services were to be rendered “via telephone or electronically.” The ALJ based its opinion on these “facts.”

That being said, Family Corp. nevertheless must have determined that Taxpayer’s ongoing services were important to its continued well-being. After all, New York sought to tax $800,000 (or 59%) of Taxpayer’s salary from Consulting for just one tax year. What, then, was the nature of the advice given? (I should tell you, Business operated car dealerships.)

Query also why the ALJ does not seem to have asked whether the fee payable to Consulting (and thereby to Taxpayer) represented reasonable compensation for the services rendered? What if the fee was excessive? To what would the excess amount be attributed? A form of continuing equity participation in Business? Additional, deferred, purchase price for Taxpayer’s equity in Family Corp.? Payment for Taxpayer’s promise not to compete against Family Corp.? Deferred compensation for services rendered by Taxpayer to Family Corp. when he was still a New York resident?

I don’t believe that I would be going out on a limb to suggest that at least one of these elements was at play. In any case, each of these re-characterizations would have generated New York income.

Or was the Family Corp.’s payment made simply to accede to Taxpayer’s demand for some cash flow from “his” business (not an uncommon occurrence) and to thereby remain in Taxpayer’s good graces? After all, a “last” will and testament (or revocable trust) may be changed at any time before the testator’s (or grantor’s) death. (Back to death again.)

As always, it is best for related parties to treat with one another on an arm’s-length basis. Taxpayer undoubtedly gave up ownership and control of Family Corp. and Business in order to support his claim that he had abandoned his New York domicile, and to achieve certain income and estate tax savings.

Yet Taxpayer appears to have required significant cash flow from Business – he could not afford to part with all the economic benefits associated with Family Corp. Granted, that reality is difficult to reconcile with the ends desired (e.g., no New York tax), but “you can’t always get what you want,” but with a little planning, . . . (you know how it goes).