It is that time of year again where all income from property investments must be declared to SARS and is subject to income tax, this includes all rental income. In preparation for tax season, taxpayers can start gathering all the supporting documents that are needed to submit their tax returns. The first important point to note when reviewing the income tax implications of residential properties is the difference between; the income tax of primary residences and buy to let residential properties:
Primary residences are occupied by the owner of the property and there is therefore no taxable income that is generated from the ownership of the property. All the costs that are incurred in relation to the property are therefore of a personal nature and cannot be deducted for income tax purposes.
Rental properties are leased by a tenant and the owner of the property (the lessor) receives a monthly rental income in return for leasing the property. The rent income must be included in the taxable income of the property owner regardless of whether the property owner is an individual, corporate entity or a trust. All the costs that are incurred in order to generate a monthly rental income can be deducted from the income that the property owner receives when calculating the owner’s taxable income for tax assessment purposes. Rental of residential accommodation includes:
- holiday homes
- bed-and-breakfast establishments
- sub-renting part of your house e.g. a room or a garden flat
- dwelling houses and
- other similar residential dwellings
“The important factor with owning an investment property is that all expenses are deductible from the rental income, before tax is calculated. These Costs typically include property management fees, municipal rates, levies charged by body corporates, repairs and maintenance, insurance premiums and municipal service costs that are paid by the property owner. Proper accounting records therefore need to be kept in order to provide SARS with supporting documents for the deductions that are claimed for income tax purposes if required to do so”, says Craig Hutchison, CEO Engel & Völkers Southern Africa.
How is tax calculated on rental income?
The rental income you get should be added to any other taxable income you may have. Any amount paid to you in addition to the monthly rental is also subject to income tax. These additional amounts or lease premiums are usually paid in the form of lump sums at the start of the lease and the full amount is subject to tax in the year that it accrues or is received. A refundable deposit paid by a tenant is not taxable provided it is kept separately in a trust account and is not used by you but if it is forfeited by the tenant then it’s taxable.
Can the taxable amount be reduced?
Yes, the taxable amount (rental income) may be reduced as you may incur expenses during the period that the property was let. Only expenses incurred in the production of that rental income can be claimed. Any capital and/or private expenses won’t be allowed as a deduction.
Which expenses are allowed?
Expenses that may be deducted from taxable income include:
- rates and taxes
- bond interest
- agency fees of estate agents
- insurance (only homeowners not household contents)
- garden services
- repairs in respect of the area let and
- security and property levies
Which expenses are not allowed?
According to Alvin van Staden, Director/CA(SA) at The Consulting Services Hub (TCSH), maintenance and repairs should be noted as specific costs and should not be confused with improvement costs. The latter is a capital expense that would be included in the base cost of the property, to effectively reduce the capital gain (or loss) on the disposal of the property, for capital gains tax purposes.
When it comes to VAT expense claims, the supply of residential accommodation by means of a “dwelling” is an exempt supply for VAT purposes, and you can’t deduct VAT incurred on its expenses. However, if the “dwelling” is used to earn rental income through the supply of “commercial accommodation” (such as hotels, B&B’s and lodges), the owner will be entitled to a VAT expense claim in terms of specific rules as stipulated within the Act, if they are a registered Vat vendor
What if the expenses exceed the rental income?
Should the expenses exceed the rental income, the loss should be available to be off-set against other income earned by the homeowner, provided that losses are not “ring-fenced” in terms of prevailing anti-avoidance provisions. For more information, see our Guide on ring-fencing of assessed losses arising from trade conducted by individuals. The homeowner must effectively be able to satisfy SARS that he is carrying on a bona fide trade through the rental of his property.
In certain circumstances can a lessor qualify for specific allowances?
Yes. Tertius Troost, Tax consultant at Mazars South Africa explains that in certain circumstances a lessor could qualify for specific allowances when letting out a property, which the lessor may deduct from the rental income they earn from the property.
Urban Development Zone (UDZ) allowance
If the property is located in an UDZ, the lessor will be able to claim a certain allowances. These allowances are dependent on the nature of the building. Of critical importance is that the lessor will need to obtain a certificate from the developer or municipality stating that the property is in an UDZ.
Here is a checklist of documents to be kept on file for tax season (for an entire year or part off where applicable)
- Monthly Rates & Taxes statements
- Monthly Bank Statement of home loan
- Levy’s or HOA statements
- Homeowners insurance
- Any utility bills included in the rental income
- Advertising invoices or agency fees statements
- Slips and invoices for any repairs done (example geyser bursting)
- Garden services or any other services necessary to make the home rentable
When it comes to selling your property, there is more to it than just putting the property on the market and making an effort to spruce it up. Unfortunately, aesthetics aren’t all you have to worry about. If you are selling your home you are going to most certainly need a number of compliance certificates required by law before the sale can go through and be registered. “It is advisable for the seller to ensure that they have all the certificates of compliance in place before putting the property on the market. You can do this after the offer has been signed, however if there is an issue with obtaining any specific certificate, it could potentially delay the sale. The onus falls on the seller to ensure that their house is legally fit for sale”, states Craig Hutchison CEO Engel & Völkers Southern Africa.
According to Property 24 some of these compliance certificates are required under national regulations (e.g. your electrical certificate and your electrical fence certificate) while others are required in terms of municipal by-laws (e.g. Cape Town’s water certificate requirement or a beetle certificate for coastal properties), and some required by institutions such as banks before providing finance, have become standard practice. Without these certificates in place, you run the risk of putting the sale at risk.
Home owners are often caught unaware of the certificates of compliance that are required when selling a house, and are consequently shocked by the associated costs which they did not budget for. Each certificate will cost approximately R450.00 ex VAT, provided that there is nothing wrong. However without these certificates you’ll be held financially responsible for any incidents that occur once the new owners have taken moved in. The new regulations might have made the sale of a property a bit more complicated but it enables the buyers, the assurance that the property is in good condition and has no hidden defects or costs when it comes to plumbing, electrical, gas or even beetle infestation.
The most common certificates are:
This certificate must be issued by a qualified and registered electrician and includes a report as well as confirmation that all electrical installations on the property comply with the prescribed standards of safety.
Certification that the water installation on the property is in line with municipal and
building guidelines. This certificate must be issued by a registered and qualified plumber.
A gas certificate will ensures that any gas installation on the property complies with the Occupational Health & Safety Act. This is of course, only required if any gas is installed on the property.
The beetle certificate will confirm that the wood structures on the property are free from certain beetles that eat and destroy wood. This certificate is not provided because of any legislation, but it is a practise that has developed over the years and has become firmly embedded in property transactions. Certain areas, particular those in circulation in the coastal provinces (Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal) continue to require a beetle certificate before transfer, given that these are the regions in which these beetles are most prevalent.
An electric fence certificate will declare that the electric fence installation complies with the Occupational Health & Safety Act. The seller and purchaser can agree to waive the requirement to supply this certificate on full title properties. A new certificate only needs to be obtained if a change was made to the electric fence installation after the original certificate was issued.
Love thy neighbour is a theory most of us grew up with. When spaces are small, boundaries are shared and neighbours are diverse, it can sometimes become a challenge. It takes time and effort to get to know your neighbours, and if you don’t make the effort, don’t expect one in exchange.
If you have nice neighbours you are very lucky, however in reality some are not very pleasant and can make your life miserable at times. It is worth making the time getting to know those who live next to you, as neighbours can play an important role in our lives and our community, and it’s always a good thing to keep in mind that you are a neighbour too.
“Since the beginning of time we have seen countless dramas unfold due to neighbourly disputes and as many estate agents will testify, small problems between neighbouring properties can at times cause larger issues when it comes to the selling or the buying of one of the properties in question”, states Craig Hutchison, Engel & Völkers Southern Africa.
With the increasing trend to fit as many houses into developments and gated areas as possible, we are also seeing more instances of larger stands being subdivided and homes being built closer together. The problem however that arises with this is the increasing conflict that may occur between neighbours. “If you are a property owner you are entitled to the free use and enjoyment of your home. You may convert or alter your property provided that in doing so, you stay within the limits of local authority regulations and that you do not interfere with the legal rights of your neighbours”, says Craig.
In our modern society disputes between neighbours can arise over a number of issues. The most common disputes that arise are usually over:
Encroachment is where you have erected a structure on your property and part of the structure is on a neighbouring property. This is trespassing and the encroaching land owner is legally responsible. Structures referred to include any building, driveway, path, retaining wall, fence, trees or any other improvements.
When views are blocked by new building plans, neighbours do have some rights. In the case of over-coverage, unsightly buildings, inappropriate use of buildings and loss of views, plans can still be challenged and demolition ordered, even after the building has been erected.
Boundary walls and Fences:
With boundary walls and fences, the generally accepted rule is that it is the joint property of the neighbours who are both equally liable for the walls/fences maintenance and repairs. However neither can make any changes to it without the consent of the other. Boundary encroachment is seen as the most common dispute, this can cover anything from tree trunks and branches encroaching on a neighbour’s property, roots uplifting neighbours pavement or at times walls or leaves falling into the neighbour’s pool. If your neighbour is not prepared to do anything and you don’t want to live with overhanging branches from your neighbour’s trees, you should ask him or her to cut them away, and to remove the cuttings from your side of the fence. If he or she refuses to do this, you can cut the branches back to the property line – however you’re not allowed to keep the cuttings unless your neighbour refuses to take them. If he or she refuses to take them you’d be within your rights to dispose of them, and to recover the costs of the disposal from the neighbour. Should none of these work, you could apply for an interdict to compel the neighbour to remove the branches.
Having to deal with noisy neighbours is a common and most popular complaint. The disturbances can range from a variety of sources including barking dogs, loud music, arguing and shouting, banging doors or drilling. South African law makes a distinction between ‘Disturbing Noise’ – which is “objective and is defined as a scientifically measurable noise level,” and ‘Noise Nuisance,’ which is “a subjective measure and is defined as any noise that disturbs or impairs or may disturb or impair the convenience or peace of any person.”
What are the rules?
Disturbing Noise in the urban environment is usually governed by municipal by-laws. An example of this kind of noise would be loud music. Music is generally tolerated until 10pm on a Friday and/or Saturday evening before you can take steps. The urban myth says you can make noise until 10pm on a week night and 12pm on a weekend but, in actual fact most municipalities have by-laws in place that focus on the number of decibels rendered rather than the actual time frame in which noise is made.
Noise Nuisance is more subjective and usually happens over a longer period of time. It’s defined as noise that “disturbs or impairs or may disturb or impair the convenience or peace of any person,” this could include any of the following:
- dogs that bark incessantly;
- playing a musical instrument or operating a television set loudly;
- operating machinery or power tools;
- shouting and talking loudly;
- operating a vehicle that causes a noise;
- driving a vehicle on a public road in a manner that causes a noise nuisance;
- the discharge of fireworks in a residential area causing noise nuisance.
Noise Nuisance is illegal at all times and is enforceable at any time of the day.
Dealing with the problem:
The most practical and cost effective way to deal with a noise nuisance would be to approach your neighbour directly and politely and tell them of the problem. If you are unable to reach an amicable solution, you should consider appointing a mediator to achieve resolution to the dispute. As with most legal matters it is sensible to try all avenues to resolve a matter before a court is approached. Should you have exhausted all of the above methods to no avail then you are able to take the following legal steps:
- The first option is to lay a complaint with your local authority by way of a written statement. Law enforcement officials will investigate the problem to see how serious the situation is. If necessary, they can instruct the reduction of the noise and if the offenders don’t comply, they can issue a fine, and in extreme cases even confiscate the equipment causing the noise nuisance
- If the above fails and the offender persist it is then possible to approach the court.
The affected party has two options in this regard:
- Apply for an interdict to prevent your neighbour from causing the specific noise.
- Sue your neighbour for damages suffered as a result of excessive noise caused by him/her.
An interdict can be granted if the neighbour’s conduct is unlawful / threatens to be unlawful. Be very specific about what type of noise is being complained of. The courts generally take the following factors into account when determining if the actions are unlawful, the type of noise; the degree of persistence; where the noise occurs; the times when the noise is heard; all efforts made to resolve the matter.
The following will have to be proven:
- The noise has negatively affected your quality of life
- your health
- your comfort
- your general well-being
If an interdict is issued and the neighbour still persists with the unlawful actions, the neighbour may be found guilty of contempt of court, in which case the court may impose a fine or alternatively imprisonment in serious cases. It doesn’t matter what the type of nuisance, for it to be subject to interference and relief by courts or a local authority, it must be substantial and continuous and one must bear in mind that your neighbour enjoys the same rights as you do to enjoy the use of his property.
The legal principal is that “a man is allowed to have free use and enjoyment of his property, provided that in doing so, he does not infringe on the rights of his neighbour.” Our judges have adopted the view that “some discomfort, inconvenience or annoyance from the use of neighbouring property needs be endured”.
Peaceful neighbour, peaceful life
There are many types of neighbours and different kinds of disputes, but one thing we all agree on is that a polite but direct discussion about any issue can often and will most likely resolve the problem. Having neighbours has its own advantage and disadvantage however you will find that the advantages of having neighbours are more than the disadvantages. Such as having someone with an extra pair of eyes on your property when you are away, the famous ‘cup of sugar’ in case of in emergency – whether it be a quick jumpstart to a flat battery or a trip to the hospital in the case of bigger emergencies.
“Even if it is merely a friend to enjoy a rugby game and braai with on a Saturday – neighbours could potentially become your best friends. After all, your home is your most valuable asset and it is important to ensure that you get along with your neighbours and that you can return home to a harmonious environment with no conflict at the end of each day, so always be considerate and lodging a complaint, take a moment to reflect on situations where you might also have been or could be on the other side of the fence” Craig concluded.
Years ago, selling property was considered a hobby or part-time job. Anyone was able to register and start selling. In 2008 the industry underwent rapid change, and being an agent is now a fully-fledged profession.
Although from a general public perspective, the exact process is not quite clear and there is still a perception that being an estate agent is very much a ‘get rich quick’ scheme. It is common practice for clients to negotiate commission, which is why we look at the common miss-conceptions people have about estate agents.
1. Anyone may sell property for a living
False > A Real Estate Qualification is required by anyone who sells property as a profession and you must be in possession of a valid FFC issued by the EAAB (Estates Agency Affairs Board). The applicant needs to first complete a 12 month internship (no exemptions allowed) whilst being mentored by a professional and experienced estate agent where after they can then proceed to complete the FETC (the Further Education and Training Certificate) in Real Estate at level NQF4. Lastly candidates must also write and pass the Professional Designate Exam (PDE) after they have been found competent by Services SETA in their NQF Level 4 portfolio of evidence. For a new agent, it will take between 2-3 years to complete the whole process and be a full status real estate agent.
2. Agents only earn commission
True > Agents do not earn a fixed income and work only for commission (there are rare exceptions in the development sectors). Agents work at their own risk; if they do not succeed in a sale they will not be earning an income. Professional agents are constantly investing money and time into the marketing of their properties and their business, to ensure they have the clients to match the buyer and seller up quickly. This is done with no certainty of an income whatsoever, the commission is only earned by the agent whose marketing actions were the real cause for the property to actually sell. The percentage commissions also vary between estate agencies and one would not expect to pay a standard percentage across the board.
3. Being an agent is easy money
False > The average time which a property is on the market, is 3 months. This means that for every property an agent sells, they had to put in 3 month’s worth of work. The end result might be that a property is listed and sold, however prior to the property coming to the market, the agent was already busy canvassing their area and shortlisting their clients and all of these activities take marketing material, phone calls, car payments, fuel costs and more.
When it comes to the actual commission, the figure which a seller pays is also not money in the bank. Agents have a commission split with the company they work for which covers part of their costs and for the support and network they have access to, as well as royalty fees if they are part of a network and then of course income tax as everyone else.
All of the funds they spend on marketing, promoting and showing a property can only be regained if the property sells, however if the property doesn’t sell all these expenses fall to them and not to the seller. Hence there is no easy money to be made without constant, dedicated hard work.
4. Agents commission can easily be cut
False > An agent that offers a low commission fee may not be able to provide as wide a range of services and exposure that a larger agency with a higher rate may be able to provide. Sellers often do not understand what exactly an agent will do for the sale of a property and why going the agent route will result in a more efficient sale process and ultimately what the seller will get in return.
In return for the commission, the seller should get an extensive marketing plan specifying exactly how the property will be marketed and which services will be provided (Professional photos, posted on their website; adverts placed on property websites/advertising in magazines). All these costs will be carried by the agent and the agency.
To acquire the best possible agent is therefore much more important than trying to undercut the sales commission, in most cases this is your most valuable asset and you would want the right expertise working on it. Sellers should be very cautious of agents who promise them a higher price based on a lower commission. Often you will still find the listing, 5 months later with a reduced price and an uninspired marketing plan.
The best example to see this practically – will you go to a GP for a specialist consult? Or a friend instead of a qualified attorney? The rate for the specialist is higher, however you know that you are in good, well trained hands.
Agents who easily lower their commission might not value their skills or service provided high enough. Alternatively if you can easily negotiate their commission down – how much faith will you have in their capability to negotiate the best possible price on your home? Just as you would not immediately fall foot-in-door with a bargaining strategy with your doctor, attorney or even your auditor, you should consider the same when dealing with an estate agent as they are professionals in their own field. If we turn the table around, what if everyone wanted to negotiate your salary on a daily basis?
5. Selling real estate can be a part-time job
False > Working as a part-time agent may seem like an excellent idea but it is not as easy as it seems. It takes a lot of hard work to become an agent, if you work elsewhere during this time period getting things done might become quite strenuous. To be a successful as an agent, it takes ongoing training and full focus on daily activities and client service, doing this part time would not be beneficial for the agent or the seller.
Agents must devote large amounts of their time at first to finding future clients and building a reputation and in order to do this they must always be available. Agents must drive to appointments, accept calls from clients at all hours to answer questions and prove themselves on an on-going basis to the prospective clients who might have other options.
Real estate is an all-hours job, you may not have to work 40 hours per week, but you will have to work all hours of the day and weekends. Agents must always be in the pursuit of other potential clients and impress them with their superior and professional skills to maintain a solid reputation and relationship. It is a very competitive market, and there are other agents who are also willing to work just as hard.
Many people have dreams of making it big as a real estate agent, but they want to start slow. People want the freedom, income, and the other benefits that come with being a real estate agent, and this would be ideal, but unfortunately in the real world – we can never have it all.