Reporting the sale of your principal residence

The reach of Canada’s system is broad – residents of Canada are taxed on their world-wide income, and the income or capital amounts that escape the Canadian tax net are few and far between.

One of the most significant of those exceptions, particularly for individual Canadian taxpayers, is the “principal residence exemption”. Plainly put, when a Canadian taxpayer sells his or her home, the proceeds of sale are not included in his or her income for the year (and therefore not taxed), no matter how much that home has appreciated in value since it was acquired. And, of course, given the real estate market conditions that have prevailed in recent years, especially in some urban centers, the difference between the original cost of the family home and its later sale price can be very substantial.

There are good reasons for the favourable tax treatment that is accorded family homes (or “principal residences, in tax parlance). A home is often the largest financial asset owned by an individual or a family, and for many Canadians, home ownership forms the basis of their overall financial plan and, often, their retirement plans.

As is always the case in tax, definitions matter. And, for purposes of the principal residence exemption, such principal residence can be any one of the following types of properties:

  • house;
  • cottage;
  • condominium;
  • apartment in an apartment building;
  • apartment in a duplex; or
  • a trailer, mobile home, or houseboat.

 

In order to claim the principal residence exemption on the sale of one’s home, of whatever description, it’s also necessary that the taxpayer own the property (alone or jointly with another person, usually a spouse), has used that property as his or her principal residence at some point during the year, and designate the property as the principal residence on the tax return for the year of sale.

The reference to a tax return may be puzzling to taxpayers who have sold homes but never made any designation on their return for the year. However, concerns about speculation in the housing market led the federal government, in 2016, to make changes which would provide it with more information with respect to properties that were changing hands and on which the principal residence exemption was being claimed. As of 2016 (and subsequent years) taxpayers who sell their homes must complete and include Schedule 3 Capital Gains (or Losses) with their return for the year of sale. And, as of the 2017 tax year, they must also file Form T2091(IND) Designation of a Property as a Principal Residence by an Individual (Other Than a Personal Trust). That form, which is not included in the General Income Tax Return package for 2017, can be found on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/forms-publications/forms/t2091ind.html.

On the T2091, the taxpayer must provide the following information:

  • the address of the property;
  • the year the property was acquired; and
  • the amount for which the property was sold.

 

The taxpayer must also certify the number of years the property sold was used as a principal residence during the period of ownership. 

None of these new rules or requirements alter the basic tax treatment of the sale of a principal residence – the proceeds of sale of a property that was used throughout the period of ownership as the only principal residence of a Canadian resident remain tax-free. The only thing that has changed is the requirement to report on the sale, providing information on the number of years of ownership and the sale price, and certifying the number of those years of ownership during which the property was used as one’s principal residence.

Where the property sold was acquired after 1981 and was used during the entire period of ownership as a principal residence of a Canadian resident, the reporting requirements are relatively straightforward. There are, however, some other situations in which determining whether and to what extent monies received on the sale of one’s home will qualify for the principal residence exemption is more complex, and professional advice may be warranted.

First, prior to 1982, it was possible for each spouse in a marriage to claim the principal residence exemption. Typically, one spouse would claim the exemption on the family home, while the other spouse would claim the exemption with respect to the family cottage. The rules changed in 1982 to eliminate that practice. Consequently, where a married taxpayer is selling a property which was purchased prior to 1982 and a principal residence exemption was previously claimed on a second property which the taxpayer and his or her spouse owned, it would be prudent to obtain professional tax advice on the proper reporting of the current sale.

As well, the principal residence exemption is available only to residents of Canada. Where the person selling a principal residence was a non-resident at any time during the period of ownership, the amount of principal residence exemption claimable may be affected.

A taxpayer who sells a principal residence during the year must report that sale on Schedule 3 to the Return, and that Schedule is always filed as part of the Return, regardless of the filing method used. However, the filing requirements with respect to the T2091 form differ, depending on how the taxpayer files his or her return. Where a return is paper-filed, the T2091 must be completed, signed and filed with the return. Where the taxpayer uses any of the electronic filing requirements, the T2091 is not filed with the return, but must be kept and produced if the CRA requests it.

Finally, the requirement to report the details of the sale of a principal residence is a relatively new one. The obligation to do so is not particularly well known and there is nothing in the 2017 Income Tax Guide to alert taxpayers to that requirement. It is, therefore, entirely possible that an affected taxpayer will be unaware of such requirement and will fail to report. And, since the tax authorities have no way of knowing that a sale of a principal residence has taken place, it’s unlikely that they would ask for that information in the course of assessing the return. Such failure is, however, relatively easily remedied – the taxpayer need only (once the Notice of Assessment for the return has been received) file a T1 Adjustment in which the necessary information is provided. Generally, the CRA will accept that amendment to the return, but it does have the power to impose a penalty for the initial failure to report. That penalty is equal to $100 per month during which the reporting is late, to a maximum of $8,000.

More information on the new reporting requirements can be found on the CRA website at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/individuals/topics/about-your-tax-return/tax-return/completing-a-tax-return/personal-income/line-127-capital-gains/principal-residence-other-real-estate/sale-your-principal-residence.html.


The information presented is only of a general nature, may omit many details and special rules, is current only as of its published date, and accordingly cannot be regarded as legal or tax advice. Please contact our office for more information on this subject and how it pertains to your specific tax or financial situation.
 

Posted: Friday, April 20th, 2018 | Categories: Tax Alerts.

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