My Article On Rental Expenses In NST: RED Today

I was asked to contribute an article on what expenses qualify for a deduction against rental income from properties. My article is reproduced below:


ALLOWABLE: There is no ‘standard list’ of deductible expenses but there are common expenses that can be deducted

The biggest grouse that a property owner has come tax submission season will be the amount of taxes that he has to pay on his property rental income. He will then naturally start to rummage through all the property expenses he had incurred to determine what is tax-deductible and what is not.

In situations of doubt, I have known of property owners turning to other property owners asking, “Do you claim such-and-such expenses in your income tax return?“ Well, my sincere hope is that the person he is asking has a good understanding of the tax laws, otherwise it will be a case of the blind leading the blind and both will end up having to face unnecessary tax penalties when it comes to a tax audit.

This article hopes to shed some light on how to determine the tax-deductibility of those expenses.

I have often been asked if there is list of standard expenses that a taxpayer can deduct against the rental income from letting of his investment properties. Quite honestly, there is no ‘‘standard‘ list of allowable tax deductions as the expenses that a taxpayer incurs may be unique to his/her own situation.

Therefore, the taxpayer will have to fall back on the letter of the law to determine if an expense is tax-deductible against rental income. Essentially, the law states that an expense wholly and exclusively incurred in the production of income under subsection 33(1) of the Income Tax Act (ITA) 1967 and which is not prohibited under subsection 39(1) of the ITA, is allowed as a deduction from rental income. What this means in laymen‘s terms is, any expenses that you incur for the year to generate the rental income would generally be tax-deductible. This also means that no private or personal expenses are allowable as a deduction.

Common deductible expenses
Aside from the ‘standard‘ list of tax-deductible expenses that a lot of property owners is asking for, what I can provide you here is a list of common expenses that generally may be claimed as a deduction against rental income:
• Advertising for tenants
• Assessment
• Insurance (e.g. fire, burglary)
• Interest on loan(s) to finance the purchase of the property being rented out
• Legal expenses (renewal of tenancy agreement, recovery of rental arrears)
• Maintenance/service charges

• Pest control

• Property agent fees/commission
• Quit rent
• Rental collection fee
• Repairs and maintenance
• Replacement of rental assets

It is important to note that the expenses are deductible in the year they were incurred, even though you have not made any payment for them during the year.

Having said that, do ensure that your obligations as a landlord towards the expenses which are to be borne by you, are clearly spelt out in the tenancy agreement to avoid any disputes by the Inland Revenue Board (IRB) against your claims for the said expenses.

Non-allowable expenses
Having touched on the tax-deductible expenses, it is also important to know what expenses are not allowable. Typically, initial expenses are not allowed to be deducted from income of letting of real property assessed under paragraph 4(a) or paragraph 4(d) of the ITA since those expenses are incurred to create a source of rental income and not incurred in the production of rental income. Examples of such expenses include:

• Costs of obtaining the first tenant for the property, such as:

° Advertisement;
° Introducer’s commission;
° Legal fees incurred for the preparation of tenancy agreement;
• Other expenses incurred prior to the property being rented out; or
• Renovation and improvement costs.

In the case of expenses incurred prior to the property being rented out, particularly relating to annual property expenses such as quit rent, assessment or insurance costs, then the proportion of the expenses in respect of the period before the property is rented out is not deductible and have to be adjusted accordingly.

However, a distinction (although in many situations, a difficult one) has to be drawn between what expense is deemed to be ‘repairs and maintenance‘ (which is tax-deductible) and what is ‘renovation or improvement‘ (which is NOT tax-deductible). Typically, an expense is deemed to be ’repairs and maintenance‘ if it is incurred on ordinary repair to maintain or restore the real property in its existing state. It will not materially add to the property‘s value nor substantially prolong its useful life, but merely to keep it in good and efficient operating condition.

In the case of ‘renovation or improvement‘, the reverse would then apply, i.e. the expense incurred would:

• materially add to the property’s value;
• substantially prolong its useful life;
• adapt the property to a new or different use; or
• enhance the property’s income-generating ability.
What happens during the period when the property is not rented out?
As explained above, expenses incurred prior to the property being first rented out, are not allowable in calculating the adjusted income from the letting of that property. However, if the property which was previously rented out is left temporarily unoccupied while you are looking for the next tenant, the expenses incurred during the period of non-occupancy will still qualify for deduction. This is on the condition that the property is being consistently kept in a tenantable state and is ready to be let out at any time.

How long then, can a property be ‘temporarily‘ left vacant and yet the property expenses qualify for a tax deduction?

The IRB’s Public Ruling 4/2011 further explains under what circumstances where the expenses incurred for the period the property is temporarily not rented out will be allowable. The circumstances are:
• repair or renovation of the building;
• absence of tenants for a period of two years after termination of tenancy;
• legal injunction or other official sanction; or
• other circumstances beyond the control of the person who lets out the real property.

Under the above circumstances, the expenses for the period the property is not let out are allowable, provided that the property is maintained in good condition and is ready to be let out.

Of course, having explained the concept of tax-deductibility of expenses against rental income, one must never forget or ignore the underlying basis for claiming for a tax deduction, i.e. the need to keep proper records and documentation relating to the claim for those expenses. When it comes to a tax audit, the IRB‘s basis of allowing you a tax deduction for the expenses claimed would all be about the availability of evidence.




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About Richard

Richard Oon Hock Chye has more than 25 years of experience in taxation and business advice, with particular expertise in Malaysian property law. He began his taxation career with Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, a ‛Big Four’ accounting firm, before starting his own practice, ConsulNet Tax Services Sdn. Bhd., in 1996. He is currently the National Tax Director of TY Teoh International, one of the leading consulting service providers in Malaysia. It is a member of the MSI Global Alliance, a global network of more than 250 independent legal and accounting firms, in over 100 countries. Richard sits on the board of two companies listed on the Main Board of Bursa Malaysia, as an independent non-executive director. He is also a regular contributor to several magazines and publications, and has shared his tax expertise on numerous occasions with organisations and property developers. As well as being a member of the Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA), Richard is a fellow member of both the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and the Chartered Tax Institute of Malaysia (CTIM). He is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and holds a tax agent licence issued by the Ministry of Finance. Richard is also the author of the book, ‘Every Property Investor’s Guide To How To Pay Less Tax Legally’.

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