My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humour/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Best of The Blunt Bean Counter - The Income Tax Implications of Purchasing a Rental Property

This summer I am posting the "best of" The Blunt Bean Counter while I work on my golf game (or more accurately, my golf game in rain conditions). Today, I am re-posting my most read blog of all-time; a post on the income tax implications of purchasing a rental property. This post has over 300 comments; so many that I have stopped answering questions on this topic. As there are many excellent questions within the 300 comments, I posted a new blog a few months ago highlighting those questions. I called that post, Rental Properties - Everything You Always Wanted to Know, but Were Afraid to Ask.

The Income Tax Implications of Purchasing a Rental Property

Many people have been burned by the stock market over the past decade and find the stock market a confusing and complex place. On the other hand, many people feel that they have a better understanding and feel for real estate and have far more comfort owning real estate; in particular, rental real estate. While both stocks and real estate have their own risks, some proportion of both these types of assets should typically be owned in a properly allocated investment portfolio. In this blog, I will address some of the income tax and business issues associated with purchasing and owing a rental property.

The determination of a property’s location and the issue as to what is a fair price to pay for any rental property is a book unto its own. For purposes of this blog, let’s assume you have resolved these two issues and are about to purchase a rental property. The following are some of the issues you need to consider:

Legal Structure

Your first decision when purchasing a rental property is whether to incorporate a company to acquire the property or to purchase the property in a personal/partnership capacity of some kind. If you are purchasing a one-off property, in most cases, as long as you can cover off any potential legal liability with insurance, there is minimal benefit of using a corporate structure. 

In 2011, in Ontario, there is no tax benefit to purchasing the property in a corporation given the fact that the corporate income tax rate for passive rental income is identical to the highest personal marginal income tax rate, 46%. Given their is no income tax incentive to utilize a corporation, when you include the cost of the professional fees associated with a corporation, in most cases, the use of a corporation does not make sense.

In addition, if the property is purchased in one’s personal capacity, any operating losses can be used to offset other personal income. If the property runs an operating loss and is owned by a corporation, those losses will remain in the corporation and can only be utilized once the rental property incurs a profit.

If you decide to purchase a rental property in your personal capacity, you must then decide whether the legal structure will be sole ownership, a partnership or a joint venture. Many people purchase rental properties with friends or relatives and/or want to have the property held jointly with a spouse. Where it has been determined that the property will be owned with another person, most people fail to give any consideration to signing a partnership or joint venture agreement in regards to the property. This can be a costly oversight if the relationship between the property owners goes astray or there is disagreement between the parties in terms of how the rental property should be run.

One should also note that there are subtle differences between a partnership and a joint venture. This is a complicated legal issue, but for income tax purposes if the property is a partnership, the capital cost allowance (“CCA”) known to many as depreciation, must be claimed at the partnership level. Thus, the partners share in the CCA claim. However, if the property is purchased as a joint venture, each venturer can claim their own CCA, regardless of what the other person has done. This is a subtle, but significant difference.

Allocation of Purchase Price

Once the rental property is purchased, you must allocate the purchase price between land and building. Land is not depreciable for income tax purposes, so you will typically want to allocate the greatest proportion of the purchase price to the building which can be depreciated at 4% (assuming a residential rental property) on a declining basis per year. Most people do not have any hard data to support the allocation (the amount insured or realty tax bill may be useful) so it has become somewhat standard to allocate the purchase price typically 75% -80% to building and 25% - 20% to the land. However, where you have some support for another allocation, you should consider use of that allocation. Typically for condominium purchases, no allocation or, at maximum, an allocation of 10% is assigned to land.

Repairs and Maintenance

If you are purchasing a property and it is not in a condition to rent immediately, typically, those expenses must be capitalized to the cost of the building and depreciation will only commence once the building is available for use. When a building is purchased and is immediately available for rent or has been owned for some time and then requires some work to be done, you must review all significant repairs to determine if they can be considered a betterment to the property or the repairs simply return the property back to its original state. If a repair betters the property, the Canada Revenue Agency’s ("CRA") position set forth in Interpretation Bulletin 128R paragraph 4, is that the repair should be capitalized and not expensed. This is often a bone of contention between taxpayers and the CRA,


CCA (i.e. depreciation for tax purposes) is a double-edged sword. Where a property generates net income, depreciation can be claimed to the extent of the property’s net income. Generally, you cannot create a rental loss with tax depreciation unless the rental/leasing property is a principal business corporation. The depreciation claim tends to create positive cash flow once the property is fully rented, as the depreciation either eliminates or, at minimum, reduces the income tax owing in any year (depreciation is a non-cash deduction, thereby saving actual cash with no outlay of cash). Many people use the cash flow savings that result from the depreciation claim to aggressively pay down the mortgage on the renal property. The downside to claiming tax depreciation over the years is that upon the sale of the property, all the tax depreciation claimed in prior years is added back into income in the year of sale (assuming the property is sold for an amount greater than the original cost of the rental property). This add-back of prior year’s tax depreciation is known as recapture.

People who have owned a rental property for a long period, sometimes reach a point in time where they have such large recapture tax to pay, they don’t want to sell the rental property. Personally, I do not agree with this position, since it is really a question of what will be your net position upon a sale and are you selling the property at a good price. However, recapture is always an issue to be considered, especially for older properties that have been depreciated for years.

Also, if you have taken tax depreciation on a property and you decide at some point in time to move into the property, you will not be able to defer the gain under the “change of use” rules in the Income Tax Act. I discuss these "change of use" rules in a guest blog "Your principal residence is tax exempt" I wrote for The Retire Happy Blog.

Reasonable Expectation of Profit Test

Previously, if a rental property historically incurred losses for a period of time, the CRA may have challenged the deductibility of these losses on the basis that the taxpayer had no “reasonable expectation of profit”. Fortunately, the CRA's powers with respect to the enforcement of this test have been severely limited. The test has been reviewed by the Supreme Court of Canada and their view is that where the activity lacks any element of personal benefit and where the activity is not a hobby (i.e. it has been organized and carried on as a legitimate commercial activity) “the test should be applied sparingly and with a latitude favouring the taxpayer, whose business judgement may have been less than competent.” Consequently, concerns previously held in respect to utilizing losses from rental properties, even if the properties are not profitable for some period of time, are now mitigated.

Purchasing a rental property requires a considerable amount of thought and due diligence prior to the actual acquisition. Having a basic understanding of the income tax consequences can assist in making the final determination to purchase the rental property.

Bloggers Note: I will no longer answer any questions on this blog post. There are over 300 questions and answers in the comment section below. I would suggest your question has probably been answered within those Q&A. Thanks for your understanding.

The blogs posted on The Blunt Bean Counter provide information of a general nature. These posts should not be considered specific advice; as each reader's personal financial situation is unique and fact specific. Please contact a professional advisor prior to implementing or acting upon any of the information contained in one of the blogs. Please note the blog post is time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

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