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 as a result of sale. Also, under tax law, just owning a property generates a notional income that is taxable. All these incomes have to 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 located 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 have to 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 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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The Spanish Tax Office has declared a tax amnesty for pensioners

The Spanish government is granting a special deadline for income tax declarations to all foreign nationals who are resident in Spain, as well as to any Spanish pensioners who have returned to the country after emigrating. These persons can now pay the whole amount of tax owed to the tax authorities with any penalties or fines for late payment waived.

If you reside in Spain for more than 183 days in a year, you are automatically classed as a resident for tax purposes, and as a consequence your worldwide income must be taxed in Spain. This also includes your pension. If you are retired and you do not have presented a tax declaration in Spain yet, you have until the middle of next year to submit a declaration and pay the tax, free from any penalties or interest.

There are now minimum amounts below which no income tax needs to be declared. For 2013, this minimum annual income for foreign pensions stood normally at €11,200. This amount is irrespective of whether you want to be assessed on your own or together with your spouse. However, this does not apply to government pensions (for civil servants), as these must always be taxed in your country of origin.

The increasingly closer exchange of information and data between the various Eropean tax authorities had made the Spanish Treasury aware of how many foreign pensioners, and emigrants who have returned from abroad, do not pay tax at all on their foreign pensions here or at least do not do it according to the rules. Pensioners are often elder and have greater difficulties understanding the legal situation in Spain, as they have been living abroad for many years. On the other hand they generally do not have many assets. That is why the Spanish government has set a special deadline of 6 months, beginning on 01.01.2015 to give such persons an opportunity to clear their debts with the tax office by paying 100% of their tax spar­ing themselves any interest and penalties for late pay­ment.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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Spain condemned to end the tax discrimination in the inheritance of non-residents

On November 16, 2011 we published an article on this blog about the accusation presented by the European Commission to the European Court against the Kingdom of Spain of discrimination against non-resident at the time of inheritance. After a long process, the judges in Luxembourg finally gave the reason to the Commission.

On September 3, 2014 the Court of the European Union ruled in the case C127/12, concerning an appeal of the European Commission against the Kingdom of Spain for not complying with the founding treaties of the European Union. In its statement, the Commission requested the Court to declare the breach of obligations of the Kingdom of Spain as European partner because of the introduction of differences in the tax on inheritance and in the gift tax, depending on the place of residence of the participants, that is, whether or not they are resident in Spain. In practice, upon the acceptance of the inheritance or donation in Spain, non-residents generally pay much higher taxes than residents.

This requirement of the European Commission was the end result of a process initiated in 2007, in which the European government had already asked Spain to change its laws concerning the taxation of the gift or inheritance. A little change was made, but it did not satisfy the Commission of the European Union, who filed a lawsuit in the Court of the European Union against Spain. The state attempted to defend itself, but the court concluded that the state law in the application of inheritance and gift tax discriminates against non-residents, and this discrimination is an affront to the freedom of movement of capital, one of the fundamental freedoms, which should save the Union.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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Acquisition of property by non-residents: important issues that must be considered

We take a lot of risks when deciding to buy a property in Spain. If
the seller is a non-resident owner, there are specific risks that are usually not taken into account by investors.

A big part of the real estate on the Spanish coast belongs to owners who do not reside in our country and it is usually a house or apartment for holiday. If we buy this real estate to owners who are not residents, we must not forget the need to
be cautious to avoid later unexpected problems with the administrations.

The most common risk is the obligation to pay the council tax on the increase in value of urban land (the so-called “plusvalía municipal”). The law provides that this tax should be paid by the seller, and so, the buyer does not usually care about this expense when calculating the total cost of the investment transaction. However, when the seller is not a resident, the law obliges to pay this council tax to the buyer as a substitute of the seller, the one who should be actually required to pay it. This exception to the rule has its own logic, as it tries to avoid that the administration has to prosecute abroad the non-resident sellers who did not pay their taxes voluntarily, because when they sell their property in Spain, they very often do not retain any other property in the country, and, therefore, they are technically insolvent. In this case, the municipality requires the payment of the tax to the party who is closer and this is the buyer.

That is why during the registration of the purchase contract we should require the seller the corresponding provision of funds (or withhold the foreseen amount of the tax from the money that is still owed ​​to the seller for the property). If this exception to the general rule is not considered and no precautions are taken, in the case that the municipality requests that we as buyers pay the tax on the increase in land value because the seller did not pay this tax freely, we will have no choice but to undertake this payment, because, before the Spanish administration, we would be the only one who is obliged to pay. Another thing is that we can claim ourselves afterwards from the seller what we have paid to the municipality, through a civil action against him.

Carlos Prieto Cid – Lawyer

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Planning your succession by setting up a company

One of the most important legal topics for owners of apartments or houses in Spain is how to transfer this property to their heirs with minimal tax and handling cost. An interesting option is to set up a trading company (or other type of legal entity) and transfer the property to it

The following pattern is very often repeated in many families, who spend their holidays every year in Spain: a couple buys a property by the sea to come here every summer with their children; the children grow up, create their own family and continue spending the holidays with their own children in the house of the parents. The grandparents, often pensioners, keep the property in stand and handle all related processes, while the children spend with the grandchildren their holidays there. This situation persists without any problems until the moment where the grandparents can no longer take care of the property for reasons of age. From this point on, and especially after the death of grandparents, the new co-owners have to face, if no precautions have been taken, apart from the usual problems of handling an inheritance, the problems of the management of the property, which is alternately used by the heirs. In addition, the summer residence of the family is often not used exclusively, and the time periods in which the family does not use it personally, is rentes to tourists, thus creating rental income from property.

One way to simplify the procedure of inheritance and, above all, to allow easy control of the house and the income it can generate, is to create a commercial company, which eventually becomes the owner of the property. It would be ideal to set up the company before the acquisition of the property takes place. In this case, the company would already would be the owner of the property from the beginning and the cost of the transfer of the property from the previous owners (the grandparents in the above example) to the company does not arise. But even if this is not the case, the tax costs of this transfer are lower than that of the transfer to the children through inheritance or gift. Shareholders of the company may change over time (you can include other children and even their spouses) without change of ownership, which would imply costs and taxes on the transfer of property.

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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