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The controversial case of the taxpayer who claimed a loss on their home

The controversial case of the taxpayer who claimed a loss on their home

Explore the controversy as a taxpayer claims a loss on their home. Gain insights into this unique case with expert analysis from Bates Cosgrave.

The scenario of a taxpayer claiming a loss on their residence has stirred the tax realm. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal’s recent ruling in favor of a taxpayer, who sold her apartment at a loss and subsequently sought a $265,935 deduction in her tax return, has sparked considerable debate.

In this instance, the taxpayer successfully contended that the acquisition and sale of the apartment constituted a short-term profit-making venture, allowing the resultant loss to be eligible for a tax deduction. While tax regulations generally permit the deduction of losses linked to commercial activities, private or capital losses are typically excluded. 

Despite residing in the property throughout the ownership period, the taxpayer argued that her motive for acquiring the apartment was short-term profit, justifying the deductibility of the incurred loss. Unsurprisingly, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) held a divergent perspective.

The case unfolded as follows:

– July 2015: The taxpayer lived in a sizable family home. Following her husband’s demise, she entered an ‘off-the-plan’ contract for an apartment, slated for completion by June 30, 2019.

– December 2016: Notification arrived that the off-the-plan apartment’s completion was delayed until June 30, 2020.

– May 2018: The taxpayer, prompted by her real estate agent’s advice on an opportune selling period, sold her family home.

– May 2018: The taxpayer acquired another completed apartment in the same complex, intending to hold it briefly and utilize the proceeds to settle the off-the-plan apartment. Her aim was profit generation.

– April 2020: The taxpayer entered a contract to sell the apartment at a loss during the initial COVID lockdown.

– July 2020: The sale of the apartment was finalized.

– July 2020: Completion and settlement of the off-the-plan apartment occurred, with funds from the family home sale and the apartment sale contributing.

The Tax Commissioner contended that a profit-oriented approach would involve refraining from residing in the apartment and waiting for a favorable market. However, the Tribunal adopted a lenient standard for proving profit intent, deeming the taxpayer’s residence secondary to her profit motive.

The case’s controversy stems not only from the individual’s claimed loss but also from broader implications for property owners. The ATO’s potential classification of transactions as commercial could subject any profit to ordinary income tax rather than the Capital Gains Tax (CGT) provisions. This raises concerns about the application of the main residence exemption and CGT discount. Had the taxpayer made a profit, she would have faced taxation at her marginal rate without access to these exemptions.

Importantly, the case highlights that residing in a property doesn’t guarantee CGT treatment, affecting property “flippers” who renovate and sell houses. The full ramifications of the case remain uncertain, pending the ATO’s decision on a possible appeal. 

Regardless, determining the tax treatment of transactions involving property, whether on revenue or capital grounds, is a complex process, underscoring the need for professional advice.