The Federal Budget for 2022 has made amendments to Part IX of the Excise Tax Act (“ETA”). Effective May 7, 2022, all assignment sales in respect of newly constructed or substantially renovated single unit residential complexes or residential condominium units are taxable.
For clarity, with respect to residential housing transactions, the purchaser (assignor) enters into an agreement of Purchase and Sale with the builder and then sells (assigns) their “rights and obligations” in the agreement of Purchase and Sale to another person (assignee).
Assigning a property is selling the property before you even own it. So you are just selling the contract which contains the right to close on the property. You purchased a property pre-construction condominium with a builder, signed the contract, gave your deposit cheques, and then sold the property before gaining title. For the assignor (the person selling the property), there can be serious tax implications.
Typically, the closing date for a pre-constructions residential property can take several months or even years. During this time, purchasers may decide to assign their rights outlined in the Purchase and Sale agreement to an assignee. The Federal Budget for 2022 now imposes GST/HST tax obligations on assignors and assignees. Essentially, an individual assignor of residential real estate now must collect GST/HST remit it to the CRA. This rule is applicable even to those who do not have a GST/HST number and believe that they are not purchasing and assigning in the course of commercial activity. In cases where the assignor is a non-resident, the assignee is obligated to self-assess the GST/HST. Prior to this amendment, the GST/HST liability depended on whether an individual purchased and assigned their rights in the course of commercial activity and if the purchaser’s true intentions were to live in and use the property, then there would be no GST/HST liability.
Assigning a property and the CRA
Upon detecting an assignment, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) will decide whether or not you should be considered a “builder” of the property. The test the CRA uses is subjective: they try to determine what your intention were when you purchased the property and why you’re selling. They ask questions like:
- Did the seller ever intend to live there; and
- Was this transaction intended to generate profit?
More often than not, in our experience the CRA considers assignors builders if they never took occupancy of the property. And if you are found to be a builder by the CRA, they hold you liable for HST on the sale.
A “builder” is defined in a manner which can potentially include someone that is merely entering into an APS with a builder. For example, subject to a specific exclusion that only applies to individuals, someone that acquires an interest in a home before it is occupied (or a condominium before it is registered) can be a builder if their primary purpose was to either:
- sell the home to any person
- lease the home to someone other than an individual for their personal use
Individuals are excluded from being a builder if they did not acquire their interest in the course of a business or an adventure or concern in the nature of trade, which is determined by considering the following factors:
- nature of the property sold
- length of period of ownership
- frequency or number of other similar transactions by the taxpayer
- work expended on or in connection with the property realized
- circumstances that were responsible for the sale of the property
- taxpayer’s motive or intention
To the extent that the assignor is a “builder,” GST/HST will be payable on the value of consideration that is paid by the assignee and the assignor will be required to collect GST/HST unless the assignee is registered for GST/HST.
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) considers an amount paid by an assignee on account of the assignor’s deposit to be part of the consideration paid for the assignment of an APS, and is therefore subject to GST/HST if the assignor is a builder. Accordingly, unless the assignment is restructured to result in the builder refunding the deposit to the assignor and receiving a replacement deposit from the assignee, the assignee may pay double tax on the deposit.
Assigning a property and the GST/HST implications
If the CRA considers you to be a builder, they expect you to charge and remit sales tax (GST/HST) on the full sales price. The problem becomes almost no one does this on the original sale. Only once CRA has come and audited do they determine you to be a builder, and rule that GST/HST should have been charged.
Because this normally happens after the fact, most “builders” are unable to collect the GST/HST from the purchaser, and are now liable for the amount owing plus penalties and interest. This is typically where most people will file notices of objection, arguing that they are not “builders” and should not be responsible for GST/HST.
Can the assignee claim the GST/HST new housing rebate
The assignment of an APS may also impact the assignee’s eligibility to claim the new housing rebate, as evidenced by the Tax Court of Canada’s recent decision in Chen Sun. The federal new housing rebate is equal to 36% of the federal component of GST/HST paid, up to a maximum of $6,300 (for homes valued at $350,000), with the rebate being gradually reduced and phased out when the value of the home reaches $450,000. For properties in Ontario, the provincial new housing rebate is equal to 75% of the provincial component of GST/HST paid, up to a maximum of $24,000 (for homes valued at $400,000 or higher).
For a purchaser to be eligible for the new housing rebate, the following conditions must be met:
- the purchaser must be an individual that is acquiring the home from a builder, as opposed to an assignor who may not be a builder
- at the time the individual becomes liable or assumes liability, they must acquire the home as their primary place of residence or that of a relation
- ownership of the property must be transferred to the individual after construction is substantially completed
- the first person to occupy the home must be the individual or a relation
- all persons named on the APS must meet the aforementioned conditions
When the purchaser qualifies for the new housing rebate, the builder is generally entitled to pay or credit the rebate amount to the purchaser pursuant to subsection 254(4) of the Excise Tax Act.
In situations where a third party is acquiring ownership of a home or condominium and they receive title directly from the builder, it does not necessarily mean that the APS has been assigned to the third party and that the builder has sold the condominium to the assignee. As argued by the Crown in Chen Sun, if the builder has not accepted the assignment, then the assignee may not be the person that is acquiring the condominium from the builder. Fortunately, in Chen Sun, the court ultimately held that the APS was in fact assigned on the basis that the builder, by its conduct, accepted the assignment and therefore the builder did sell the condominium directly to the assignee. Accordingly, the assignee was eligible to claim the new housing rebate (and the builder was entitled to credit the assignee with the rebate) because the assignee acquired the condominium from the builder and the other conditions to claim the rebate were satisfied.
Deposit portion of assignments
Where an assignment agreement is entered into on or after May 7, 2022, the Budget confirms that GST/HST would not be applicable to the deposit portion of the assignment price. However, it must be indicated in writing that a part of the consideration is attributable to the reimbursement of a deposit paid by the assignor to the builder under the Purchase and Sale agreement. This means that an assignor would only be liable for GST/HST on the amount above the deposit. This also eliminates double taxation.
Where an assignment agreement is entered into before May 7, 2022, and the assignment sale is taxable, the total amount payable for the sale is subject to the GST/HST, this includes any amount paid by the assignor as a deposit to the builder, whether or not this amount is separately identified.
Additionally, once the CRA comes and audits you for one sale, they will review your entire history of buying and selling properties to see if they can determine that you are selling property as a business, and are therefore running a property selling business. They would further audit you to see if any use of the principal residence exemption was correct, if you are entitled to capital gains, or if you should have been claiming business income. Again, the issue with CRA determining that you should be claiming business income is that there are GST/HST implications as above.
How should builders deal with assignments
As the builder and purchaser are jointly and severally liable for housing rebates that have been claimed in error, it is important for builders to make sure that purchasers qualify for the rebate before they pay or credit the purchaser with the rebate. The CRA heavily scrutinizes rebate claims and, to the extent each and every condition to claim the rebate is not satisfied, the CRA will deny the rebate claim. In situations where an APS has been assigned, builders should consider whether:
- they should credit the assignee with the housing rebate or advise the assignee to file the rebate claim directly with the CRA
- it is easier to “tear” up the original APS and enter into a new APS with the assignee
- the assignment has been clearly documented so that there is no dispute that the assignee has become the purchaser under the APS, which may not be the case when only the title is transferred to the assignee at the assignor’s direction
All parties to a transaction in which an APS is being assigned and a housing rebate is being claimed should consider the GST/HST implications of the assignment. Failure to structure these assignments in an appropriate manner can significantly increase GST/HST costs for the respective parties, including:
- builders being assessed penalties for erroneously crediting the housing rebate to assignees
- assignors being assessed penalties for failing to collect tax on the assignments
- assignees paying GST/HST on the replacement deposits
Budget 2022 further introduced that sales of residential properties owned for less than 12 months are deemed to generate business income under the Income Tax Act (“ITA”). These are subject to limited exceptions such as divorce, or relocation for employment purposes. For more information see our previous blog discussing this.
This article provides information of a general nature only. It does not provide legal advice nor can it or should it be relied upon. All tax situations are specific to their facts and will differ from the situations in this article. If you have specific legal or tax questions, you should consult a tax accountant or lawyer.