Tax Implications of a Real Estate Assignment: a Tax Exposure Calculator
This article provides an overview of GST/HST and Income Tax rules (current and proposed by the Federal Budget 2022) as they apply to real estate assignments sales.
In order to illustrate the points we discuss in the article, we have created a fun and interactive Assignment Tax Exposure Calculator for real estate assignments in Ontario (HST rate 13%) that result in business income for Income Tax purposes. If your assignment sale results in capital gain for Income Tax purposes, this calculator won't work for you (we might create one for our readers, if there is enough interest). Talk to your tax advisor to determine whether your assignment sale would result in business income or in capital gain.
We hope that our readers enjoy testing their business strategies with our Tax Exposure Calculator as they plan their assignment sales, but we caution them not to rely on the calculator in lieu of professional tax, legal or accounting advice.
Federal Budget 2022
A typical purchase agreement for a pre-construction residential property has a closing date scheduled months, often years in advance. As purchasers wait for the construction to complete/the transaction to close, some choose to assign their rights under the purchase agreement for the property for a fee. Federal Budget 2022 proposes new tax rules that will affect both such assignors and assignees.
Take, for example, Rebecca who purchased a pre-construction condominium in Downtown Toronto in 2017 for $300,000 (including HST) with a November 2022 tentative closing date. She provided a deposit of $60,000 to the builder. At the time of purchase, Rebecca’s intention was to live in the condo. As years went by, Rebecca changed her mind about living in Downtown; she decided to live in the suburbs instead. Lucky for Rebecca, the market value of her pre-construction condo surged to $500,000. In June 2022, Rebecca assigns her rights under the purchase agreement for the condo to a new purchaser who is willing to pay $260,000 ($60,000 to reimburse her for the deposit she made + $200,000 on account of the increase in price). Rebecca thinks she made an impressive profit of $200,000 but she did not consider taxes.
If you are like Rebecca, Federal Budget 2022 has some good news and some bad news for you (but mostly bad).
GST/HST to Apply on All Assignment Sales
The bad news is that effective May 7, 2022, under the Excise Tax Act (Canada) (“ETA”) every individual assignor of residential real estate would have to collect GST/HST on their assignment profit and remit it to the CRA. The rule will apply even to those who believe they are unrelated to the business of real estate and did not have a GST/HST number. Where an assignor is a non-resident, the assignee would be required to self-assess and pay the GST/HST to the CRA. In my example, Rebecca would have to remit 13% HST included in the $200,000 assignment profit ($23,008) directly to the CRA.
Before the Budget proposal, Rebecca’s HST liability depended on whether or not she purchased and assigned a condo in the course of a commercial activity. If Rebecca’s true intentions were to live in the condo, she would have been exempt from HST.
Income from Assignment: Business Income or Capital Gain?
Another element of bad news does not directly follow from the proposals, but raises concerns. Some commentators believe that, as an indirect effect of the Budget, we may see more assignment sales treated as business income (taxed at full rates) as opposed to capital gain (taxed at half rates) under the Income Tax Act (Canada) (“ITA”).
First, if all assignments are “taxable supplies” subject to GST/HST under the ETA, it generally implies the existence of a “commercial activity.” In its turn, a commercial activity generally implies business income treatment under the ITA. Granted, if an activity is deemed to be a “taxable supply” under the ETA, the deeming rule should not extend to a different Act, the ITA, but tax practitioners are watching carefully.
Second, Budget 2022 includes a new “anti-flipping” rule, which deems sales of residential properties owned for less than 12 months to generate business income under the ITA, subject to limited “life events” exceptions, such as a divorce or a job relocation. It is unclear whether the proposed “anti-flipping” rule would apply to assignments when taxpayers technically do not “own” the properties. Stay tuned.
In any event, the new “acceptable” list of life events replaces the current capital vs. income legal test entirely. Instead of determining whether the condo was Rebecca’s capital property or inventory, the focus shifts to merely checking whether her reason to sell/assign was on the list of the “acceptable” ones.
If Rebecca’s assignment profit is treated as business income for income tax purposes, her highest marginal tax rate would be 53.53% in Ontario. In very rough terms, Rebecca should budget well over 50% of her assignment profits for HST remittances and income tax. Depending on her marginal tax rate, she may be able to only keep about $88,000 of her original $200,000 assignment profit.
Before the Budget proposal, Rebecca’s intentions for the property (business or personal) would have been a question of fact. If she could prove that she intended to live in the condo, she would pay no HST and pay tax on capital gain. Her total tax liability would have been approximately $50,000 (25% of the $200,000 assignment profit).
No HST On Deposit Portion of Assignment Price
But there is also good news: the Budget proposes to exclude deposits from consideration for taxable supplies by assignment for GST/HST purposes. This means that GST/HST will only apply on the profit portion of the assignment price (in Rebecca’s case, $200,000), and not on the entire assignment price, which includes the deposit ($260,000). This is a welcome change that eliminates double taxation and is consistent with current caselaw (Casa Blanca Homes Ltd. v. The Queen, 2013 TCC 338).
IMPORTANT: Always speak to your tax professional to estimate or determine tax consequences applicable to your specific situation. DO NOT rely on our calculator for an accurate estimation of your tax liability. Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice and no solicitor-client relationship is created. If you require legal advice pertaining to your specific situation, please contact our tax lawyer.
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