Income and expenses divided according to legal interest
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Co-owners who are not carrying on a rental property business must divide the income and expenses for the rental property in line with their legal interest in the property. If they are:
- joint tenants, they each hold an equal interest in the property
- tenants in common, they may hold unequal interests in the property-for example, one may hold a 20% interest and the other an 80% interest.
Rental income and expenses must be attributed to each co-owner according to their legal interest in the property, despite any agreement between co-owners, either oral or in writing, stating otherwise. Note: Interest on money borrowed by only one of the co-owners which is exclusively used to acquire that person's interest in the rental property does not need to be divided between all of the co-owners.
If you don't know whether you hold your legal interest as a joint tenant or a tenant in common, read the title deed for the rental property. If you are unsure whether your activities constitute a rental property business, read Partners carrying on a rental property business.
Example: Joint tenants
Mr and Mrs Hitchman are joint tenants in an investment rental property. Their activity is insufficient for them to be characterised as carrying on a rental property business. In the relevant year, Mrs Hitchman telephones the ATO and asks if she can claim 80% of the rental loss. Mrs Hitchman says she is earning $67,000 a year, and Mr Hitchman is earning $31,000. Therefore, it would be better if she claimed most of the rental loss, as she would save more tax. Mrs Hitchman thought it was fair that she claimed a bigger loss because most of the expenses were paid out of her wages. Under a partnership agreement drawn up by the Hitchmans, Mrs Hitchman is supposed to claim 80% of any rental loss.
Mrs Hitchman was told that where two people are joint tenants in a rental property, the net rental loss must be shared in line with their legal interest in the property. Therefore, the Hitchmans must each include half of the total income and expenses in their tax returns.
Any agreement that the Hitchmans might draw up to divide the income and expenses in proportions other than equal shares has no effect for income tax purposes. Therefore, even if Mrs Hitchman paid most of the bills associated with the rental property, she would not be able to claim more of the rental property deductions than Mr Hitchman.
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Example: Tenants in common
In the preceding example, if the Hitchmans held their property interest as tenants in common in equal shares, Mrs Hitchman would still be able to claim only 50% of the total property deductions.
However, if Mrs Hitchman's legal interest was 75% and Mr Hitchman's legal interest was 25%, Mrs Hitchman must include 75% of the income and expenses on her tax return and Mr Hitchman must include 25% of the income and expenses on his tax return.
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Last modified: 04 Dec 2005QC 27452
Example: Co-owners who are not carrying on a rental property business
The Tobins own, as joint tenants, two units and a house from which they derive rental income. The Tobins occasionally inspect the properties and also interview prospective tenants. Mr Tobin performs most repairs and maintenance on the properties himself, although he generally relies on the tenants to let him know what is required. The Tobins do any cleaning or maintenance that is required when tenants move out. Arrangements have been made with the tenants for the weekly rent to be paid into an account at their local bank. Although the Tobins devote some of their time to rental income activities, their main sources of income are their respective full-time jobs.
The Tobins are not partners carrying on a rental property business-they are only co-owners of several rental properties. Therefore, they must each include half of the total income and expenses on their tax returns-that is, in line with their legal interest in the properties.
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