Tuesday, May 1, 2012

With the shape of an 'L' on their foreheads

The Australian Tax Office has released its 2009/10 taxation statistics, which, for us at the Brown Couch, are most interesting for what they say about the nation's landlords and rental housing.

The headline figure, of course, is landlords' rental income, and in 2009/10 Australian landlords – all 1.75 million of them – together collected a new record high of over $28 billion in rents... which, after deductions for expenses (mostly interest payments), works out to be a $4.8 billion loss

That's actually the best income result they've had since 2004/05 (not least because rents kept rising as interest rates went down post GFC).

Australia's landlords haven't collectively turned a net positive result since the turn of the century. That's by design, of course: they're taking advantage of the Australian tax system's uniquely generous treatment of negative gearing, by which these sorts of losses can be deducted against income from other sources, thus reducing the negative gearist's tax liability. This softens the loss, which the negative gearist is thinking they'll more than make up for when they sell the property later for a higher price (and the tax system helps here too, taxing the income from the gain at half the rate that applies to income from work, rent, or interest on a deposit in the bank).

Looking over the graphs, we can see that Australian landlords are not negatively gearing quite as intensely as they were pre-GFC: it's not just net losses that are down, but the proportion of landlords declaring a loss is down too. But they are still the majority: 64 per cent of landlords are net losers, and so are still banking on prices rising higher than their (tax-softened) losses.

(Or, perhaps it is better to say that they were of this frame of mind in 2009/10. Since then, prices have fallen....)


Meanwhile, Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan needs another $10 billion over two years to get the budget into surplus (a surplus required, it might be added, because the budget implicitly guarantees the banks, which have borrowed heavily overseas to fund their own lending to Australian borrowers – mostly for housing). Says the Treasurer:

... in a budget where we are looking for savings it's important to run your ruler over a whole range of tax expenditures to make sure that they are directed in the right areas....
He should be running the ruler over negative gearing.


  1. What's with the class warfare? Landlords making a loss of rent simply means that rents are being suppressed. Would you be happy for rents to rise to cover the cost?

  2. No anon, no landlord 'suppresses' the rent just to make a loss. They take what rent they can, and it comes to a loss because they have borrowed so much and paid so much for the property.

    If anyone is waging 'class warfare', it's the 1.1 million landlords who ducking their tax obligations and speculating in housing - at the expense of the rest of us.


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