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
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.
• Pest control
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.
• Costs of obtaining the first tenant for the property, such as:
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:
How long then, can a property be ‘temporarily‘ left vacant and yet the property expenses qualify for a tax deduction?
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.