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A new law has come into effect through the Parliament last month, denying the deductions for holding expenses associated with vacant land, which currently would be deductible in the ordinary course. The legislation is not only retrospective but also go beyond purely vacant land. Before, the old law allows those who hold vacant land with an intention to build a rental property on it to claim the tax deduction for costs of holding the land such as interest expenses, council rates and other ongoing cost.

When the new law enacted, deductions will be denied mostly for individuals, closely held trusts, and self-managed super funds (SMSFs). It applies retrospectively to costs or outgoings incurred on or after 1 July 2019, regardless of whether the land was held prior to this date. Without the grandfathering provision, the new law is likely to have a significant impact not only on those intending to develop vacant land but also those who have already acquired land for development purpose. This is the same target as previous tax changes that carve out travel claims to visit rental properties and depreciation claims on plant and equipment in some residential rental properties.

The new laws, however, go beyond purely vacant land for residential purpose. Deductions would be denied on land if there is no substantial structure on it. The only problem is that there is no clear definition of “substantial” given by the legislation. The Bill suggests that, for example, a silo or shearer is substantial, but a residential garage is not.

The non-deductible holding costs of vacant land under the measure will be added to the cost base of the asset if the expenses otherwise meet the cost base rules for CGT purposes, which will give relief against any capital gain or loss when the taxpayer ultimately sells the property. Please be aware that the cost of holding capital gains assets purchased before 21 August 1991 cannot be added to the cost base, which means it cannot be used to reduce capital gains or increase capital losses.

Is there any exception to the new law? The answer is YES. Some holding costs that relates to vacant land may continue to be eligible for deductions. For example, land leased to third parties under an arm’s-length arrangement who carries a business activity on the land or land used in a primary production business. However, deductions would be apportioned (at least to some extent) if there are residential premises on the land or being constructed on the land.

In addition, vacant land that is affected by natural disasters or out of control by the owner for a certain period are also exempt from the new law.

There is no denial of any deductions where the person or certain related parties use the land in carrying on a business or where the land is owned by companies, superannuation funds (other than SMSFs), managed investment trusts or certain public trusts.

If you have any tax queries about your ongoing and upcoming property development project, please get in touch with Pitt Martin Accountants & Tax Advisers. We are located at the Sydney CBD. Our contact number is 02 92213345 and email connect@pittmartin.com.au.

Disclaimer: This article is not providing a formal advice and may not suit to all scenarios. Please make an appointment with us to discuss.