European tax offices strengthen their ties

Over the years, we have observed from our law firm how the Spanish Tax Office has improved its channels of cooperation with other European tax offices to the point that they are now sharing all types of information on taxpayers.
 
Until now, this cooperation was limited to chasing real estate assets located in Spain owned by taxpayers of other countries who had outstanding tax bills with their home tax office. The Spanish Tax Office collected the debt that a taxpayer had abroad by claiming against real property owned in Spain, regardless of whether the person was a resident.
 
Now the cooperation is even stronger. Administration and inspection proceedings are triggered via the data provided by foreign tax offices. Recently we’ve seen the German and British tax offices inform their Spanish counterpart of known income of nationals of these countries who apparently reside or have their domicile in Spain. Based on this information, the Spanish tax agency sends a claim demanding payment of the undeclared tax and the corresponding penalties, which can reach 50% of the sum owed plus interest on the debt from the deadline for paying the tax. If you have received one of these claim letters in recent weeks, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your tax advisor.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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Tax obligations for owners of real estate in Spain

Owners of real estate in Spain must pay tax on their properties regardless of their place of residence. In practice, resident and non-resident property owners pay the same taxes in Spain, although the names and collection mechanisms of these taxes differ.

A real estate property can generate earnings, either through renting or because of sale. Also, under tax law, just owning a property generates a notional income that is taxable. All these incomes must be declared in Spain, and Spain is the competent state for collecting any tax due. This is according to all the double taxation treaties signed by Spain. These treaties follow the general OECD model under which income from real estate property can be collected in the country it is in, regardless of the country of tax residence of the taxpayer.

In addition to paying any income tax due to the national Spanish tax agency, the property owner must also pay all other taxes due to other agencies. This includes, for instance, the municipal property tax collected each year by the local council. And, when you sell your property, the capital gains tax you also should pay to the council.

Lastly, in Catalonia and some other autonomous communities, there is a further tax on an activity widespread among foreign investors in coastal properties: the short-term leasing to tourists. The tax is a small amount due per night for every person staying in the property, which must be registered for tourist use with the local council.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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The red tape involved in letting a holiday home in Catalonia

Renting out a coastal property to holidaymakers in summer has become quite complicated, although most foreigners are unaware of the many obligations involved.

In recent years, the Catalan regulations on letting tourist accommodation has become particularly strict. The main political reason for this toughening up of the legislation is a cracking down on tax evasion as many letters of holiday accommodation do not declare their rental earnings in Spain (which is required by law, regardless of whether the owner of the property is a resident in Spain for tax purposes).

However, there is an even more compelling reason for the Catalan government to want to control access to the holiday accommodation market. On the coast and in the old parts of the larger cities, particularly Barcelona, tourist flats have become a social problem, owing to the not always civil behaviour of the holidaymakers (who change from week to week), and also an economic problem, owing to the unfair competition such accommodation represents to the hotel sector.

Before you can let your property to tourists, you must register it in the local council’s register of tourist accommodation. Not doing so makes you liable for some very stiff fines (even for just advertising the accommodation online without anyone actually coming to stay). To be listed in the register, you need to certify that the dwelling complies with certain conditions of habitability and energy efficiency. You also need to register the property with the tax authorities so the corresponding tourist tax (paid per night by each tourist) and income tax can be collected.

Registering a property as tourist accommodation can result in unexpected complications (which may even make it impossible to let the property). If you have a flat or house you want to let to tourists, we offer services to assist you in registering the property with the local council, drafting the letting agreements and ensuring compliance with all the official and tax obligations for total peace of mind.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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Tax Amnesty for Pensioners

Reminder from the Spanish Tax Agency on the tax rules for foreign pensioners living in Spain.

In recent weeks, many recipients of foreign pensions residing in Spain have received letters from the Spanish tax authorities reminding them of the obligation to pay tax on their foreign pensions, which are no longer exempt following recent changes to the “Treaties for the Avoidance of Double Taxation”. The letter is as follows:

On becoming aware of the existence of taxpayers liable to pay income tax on undeclared overseas pensions, the Spanish Tax Agency has had to take control actions.

Given the socially vulnerable nature of the group affected, i.e., pensioners, the Sole Additional Provision to Spanish Law 26/2014 of 27 November (published in the BOE Official Gazette on 28 November) introduces two exceptional measures of which you, the pensioner, are informed so you may determine whether you can take advantage of them.

The first measure entails the waiver of all penalties, surcharges or interest arising from a regularisation, regardless of whether the regularisation results from action taken by the Tax Agency or on the taxpayer’s initiative.

The second measure, aimed at encouraging the voluntary regularisation of these cases, entails granting a special deadline of 30 June 2015, before which income tax declarations that correctly declare all the pensions received for all non-expired periods up until 1 January 2015 may be presented.

Presenting declarations before the deadline requires paying all tax due but not the payment of any penalties, interest or surcharges.

After this special deadline, all regularisation procedures will be subject to general tax rules without exception.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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The difference between purchase price and fiscal value when buying or selling real estate

Anyone who wants to invest in property in Spain could imagine that the price at which he acquires the property must coincide with the value declared in the official document the acquisition is drawn up with. However, throughout history, we have been faced with a variety of situations, depending on the economic environment and the changing behavior of the tax authorities.

Those who bought property before the explosion of the housing bubble in 2008 have surely heard at some point in the process of acquisition a proposal about the possibility to declare in the official title deed of sale (in the „Escritura“) a value for the property lower than the price actually paid for it. This practice was very common in order to reduce the tax for both seller and buyer: the buyer pays less for the property transfer tax (Impuesto de Transmisiones Patrimoniales), he has to pay as the purchaser, as the basis for calculating this tax is the declared price of the transmission; the seller also pays less, since the gain on the sale becomes less, and the lower the profit, the lower the income tax (Impuesto de la Renta de las Personas Físicas), he has to pay as the transferor.

Today, times have changed and, surprisingly, we find ourselves in the reverse situation. The current catastrophic situation of the property market may lead to buyers and sellers to specify a higher value than the value actually paid in order to avoid undesirable inspections by state tax authorities. Regardless of the price we pay for real estate, the reference value for the State Tax Agency is a fixed a priori value, the so-called “taxable value”. This value can be calculated for each case, based on the value assigned by the Cadastre, depending on numerous objective factors. In the Golden Years prior to 2008, some municipalities have updated the cadastral value of the property in its territory, raising it under the spectacular rise in prices in the housing market. Once the cadastral values of a community are changed, a new modification is not so simple, and, in addition, legal deadlines must be respected, which can delay the update for many years. For this reason, now we meet occasionally with cadastral values updated before the bubble burst in the housing market, and therefore, the minimum taxable values obtained from them are higher than the average market price.

If these taxable values are not considered at the moment of the formalization of the purchase contract in a public document with tax transcendence, the risk to face a tax audit is very high and it will be difficult to prove that in fact we did not have to pay more for the property which we have acquired, although the price we have indicated in the title deed was really the one we paid for.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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Further increase in the final costs of the transfer of property in Spain

The costs associated with the transfer of ownership may affect the decisions of both parties, buyer and seller, as the net price that the seller receives after deducting expenses and taxes may be much less than expected in the beginning, and the final price to the buyer by adding costs and taxes may be much higher than previously thought.

The parties of a contract for the transfer of property (usually a purchase contract) can decide freely about these matters. However, we are going to analyze now what the laws say when the parties do not achieve an agreement among themselves:

  • The municipality tax on the added value of the property sold, in the case of urban land, is one of the costs to be paid by the sellers. This is a percentage of the difference between the declared value at the time of purchase and the estimated value of the property at the time of acquiring it by the seller.
  • The income tax on the increase in value is also an expense of sellers. If the seller is non-resident, the buyer must submit a deposit (3% of the price) as an insurance tax directly to the tax office. For this reason, this amount is usually subtracted from the purchase price. Subsequently, we have to calculate the payable tax, which also consists of a percentage of the difference between the declared value at the time of acquisition and declared value of the property at the time of sale.
  • The tax on the transfer of property is the buyer’s responsibility. The tax has been raised again in Catalonia and other regions of Spain, and now the buyer has to pay 10 % of the selling price for this concept.
  • The account of the notary (exclusively for the purchase contract) is according to the law at the expense of buyers, unless the parties agree otherwise. The role of the notary in Spain (unlike other countries) is only a formalization, converting the final contract in a public document. This contract has been issued in advance by the parties with the assistance of a lawyer. The notarization of the contract of sale in accordance with Spanish law is not absolutely necessary, but it is very appropriate, because a contract that is not contained in a public document cannot be registered in the registry of property. And such recordation of the change in ownership is not only a guarantee for the buyer, but also a prerequisite when the buyer has to finance the price with a mortgage.
  • What we have just commented justifies as well that the cost of recording the change in ownership in the registry of property has to be paid by the buyer.
  • The costs of preparing the documents to be submitted along with the case, is to be paid by the seller (these documents are normally processed or checked by lawyers). The cost of a lawyer could be common to both parties, as well as the lawyer provides the following services:
    • To provide consulting and legal assistance during the whole process of transfer of ownership.
    • To translate the will of the parties to the legal and technical language.
    • To make a final agreement of sale and prepare it to be notarized by a notary.
    • To foresee the tax consequences of the transaction for both parties and to prepare and submit formally and in time the tax returns in the most convenient manner.

But it is always better for the parties to agree in advance (even in an oral form) the main terms and conditions of the contract, so that the lawyer is able to represent the interests of both parties without any kind of conflict, simply because he develops the sales agreement already adopted by the parties.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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New campaign of the Tax Agency to demand the payment of income tax to non-residents

Even if they are fiscally non-resident, owners of real estate in Spain must file a separate income tax return each year and pay the so-called income tax for non-residents (IRNR) for revenues earned from the property .

The Spanish state tax authorities have not been very demanding until now regarding the payment of income tax to fiscally non-resident property owners. Many homeowners are not aware of the existence of this tax liability and can not understand why they have to file a tax return and pay this tax in Spain, despite the fact that they are not getting any income. They come to Spain just to spend their holidays: they do not work, they do not receive interest income from cash deposits in the bank, they do not rent their property. However, the mere possession of a property in Spain, as in other European countries, is considered by the law as income, even if the property is not rented. State tax rules require that the owner gets benefit of his own real estate anyway, even though these objects are not leased. The only exceptions are the cases in which the property is one’s own domicile or if the property is devoted to economic activity. Both cases can never happen with non-residents.

There is another tax, the municipal tax on property ownership, the so-called IBI (Spanish Impuesto Sobre Bienes Inmuebles), the payment of which the local municipality requires to property owners each year, and which is calculated and declared by the administration itself. In contrast, in the case of the state income tax for non-residents – IRNR-, the tax inspection is not mandated to prepare tax returns for the non-residents, but it is the taxpayer himself who is required to provide an annual tax return, and calculate and pay the property taxes on its own initiative.

This month, many homeowners who spend their holidays in their own apartments or private homes in Spain, received a letter from the Spanish tax authorities, reminding of the existence of the tax on the income of non-residents and the obligationy of paying it. Earlier, the state tax agency was very generous regarding this tax. Now, however, given that the economic situation is so bad, it appears that IRS has become stricter, requiring submission of tax returns and payment of this tax by all non-residents who own property in Spain.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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The risk in buying inherited real estate

Buying real estate is always an important decision because it involves a significant investment. Thus, you should always think about the consequences and know exactly what you risk in your case.

Each case has its own set of problems. Today I want to consider a very specific situation: the children or the surviving spouse inherit a house or an apartment, where the deceased person had his or her permanent residence. During the signing of the necessary notary documents, to reduce the high Spanish inheritance tax, heirs are happy to listen to the proposal for including a declaration in the document of acceptance of the inheritance saying that they have no intention of selling the property in the next five years: this way, it will save quite a large sum for payment of the tax or even pay nothing, and the instrument of acceptance of the inheritance may also be registered in the land registry without problems.

As time passes, the heirs forget that at the time of the acceptance of the inheritance they have signed this declaration to take profit of this exemption from the tax, which was notarized, and then someone appears offering  a very reasonable price for the property (it has happened often so in the golden days, long before the crisis began). Then the heirs decide to sell, and therefore the buyer acquires the property and agrees to pay a high price. It can even be possible that a bank finances the operation with the warranty that the property the buyer is going to acquire is theoretically free from encumbrances. But this is not quite true: there are responsibilities in respect of the property, which are recorded in the register of deeds but of which very often no one thinks (nor the buyer who acquires, nor the notary who certifies the transaction, neither the bank who risks his money): State tax authorities have the right to review the tax declarations filed in each transfer of ownership, and if they do not agree with the calculation and the amount paid at the time of the acquirement, they can unilaterally make a new calculation of the tax, having the warranty, that the property is encumbered in any case to cover potential liabilities to tax authorities, regardless of who nowadays the owner is.

This would mean in our example that the tax authorities could present to the buyer a nasty surprise if it turned out that the conditions for exemption at the time of acquisition of the property by inheritance have not been met: as the real estate acquired by inheritance using the tax deduction should now be charged with a liability to which the current owner has nothing to do. And the tax, which is calculated by the tax authorities unilaterally to be paid by the children or the spouse of the deceased person, the former owners of the property, may represent a high percentage of its value.

That is why we always recommend not signing any contract or pre-contract of sale without first checking with the lawyer the problems that may arise in each case. This case is just one example of the many troubles, lying in wait for buyers at the time of signing the contract without diligence. However, there are many other cases, which include a big risk. The tax authorities are currently in need of resources due to the crisis and have at their disposal a large number of idle officials, who are currently engaged in audits of all types of legal transactions in the last four years (inheritance, sale, donation, etc.), looking for an excuse to be able to submit payments of additional taxes that are still enforceable, and require the additional appropriate amount.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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The European tax authorities strengthen their cooperation

Over the years, we have seen from our office how the Spanish tax office has improved its channels of cooperation with other European tax agencies to the extent that they now share all kinds of information about their respective taxpayers.

This cooperation was limited so far to the prosecution of real estate registered in public inventories in Spain under the name of taxpayers of other countries who had debts in the stage of execution owed to their corresponding state treasury. The Spanish tax office acted as a debt collector to recover the foreign debt, which remained unpaid by the taxpayer, being resident or not, through an action against his property in Spain.

Now, cooperation between tax agencies is going ahead and is being developed in the framework of management or control processes initiated on the basis of data and indicators provided by foreign tax authorities.

The most common case is the experience of foreign retirees living in Spain, with rents, which are in principle tax free, but who are obligated to declare them due to the progressivity of taxes on personal income. Double taxation agreements between Spain and other countries declare as exempted from payment of tax on personal income in the State of residence the pensions paid from public funds of the other State. Starting from this premise, many foreign pensioners living in Spain considered unnecessary to comply with the obligation to provide an annual declaration of personal income. However, many of these retirees receive income from the rental of real estate or bank interests, which must be declared to the Spanish tax authorities. In addition, most of these retirees supplement their income paid out of funds created by the state with other pensions paid from private funds, which are generally much higher than the amount that is considered exempt. Due to the progressivity of the tax on personal income, the percentage that would correspond to the total income earned by a resident in Spain is the one to be applied to calculate the tax on these other private rents which are not exempted. As a result, the final amount of tax paid to the fiscal authorities may be much higher.

In these difficult times, the Spanish state has resorted to claiming the difference between the amount really paid and the ones that should have been paid. It also requires the respondents to perform their official duties. And all this thanks to the valuable cooperation it receives from foreign fiscal authorities, who once benefited from the pursuit of real estate in Spain to their countrymen.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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Residents in Spain are required to declare their assets abroad

Spanish Royal Decree 1558/ 2012, published on 15 November 2012 introduces new reporting requirements for taxpayers residing in Spain: they should declare to the Spanish State tax authority rights and property, such as real estate, bank accounts, stocks, bonds and insurances, held or managed abroad.

This statement should be made exclusively by means of telematics through the Internet, transmitting it with an electronic signature produced when selecting a personal certificate installed in advance in the browser for this purpose. Application deadline is from 1st January to 31st March of the year following that to which the information relates, although the declaration for 2012 will take place during March and April 2013.

The information to be reported to the tax authorities on accounts in financial institutions located abroad includes the following items:
1. Company name or full name of the bank or savings bank and location
2. Full identification of accounts
3. Date of opening or cancellation, or, where appropriate, date of issuance and withdrawal of the permit leading to the liability of the concerned reporter.
4. And, logically, the balance of the accounts at 31 December, and the average balance for the last quarter of the year.

Anyway, no one is obliged to report on the status of the account, if the final balance on 31st December does not exceed, in total, EUR 50.000. The submission of this declaration in the following years will be only required when either of the joint balances of the accounts (the one at 31st December or the average one of the last quarter of the year) experiences an increase exceeding 20.000 euros.

A similar provision is established when the foreign assets are such as securities, stocks, mutual funds, life insurances or disability insurances and temporary or lifelong rents.

For real property located abroad, the information statement will contain the following data:
a. Identification of the property with a brief specification of its typology, as  will be defined by a future order of the competent Ministry.
b. Location of the real estate: country or territory in which it is situated, city, street and number.
c. Date of acquisition.
d. Cost of acquisition.

In the case of timesharing contracts or similar arrangements and in case of usufruct rights the reporter should also indicate the value of the property on the 31st December. The applicable quantitative liability limits are the same as in the previous cases.
This obligation to declare assets is accompanied by a closer cooperation and a increased mutual assistance between tax authorities. We are going to discuss about that in a future article.

Carlos Prieto Cid, Lawyer

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