Household debt and housing costs are rising and some Canadians — especially Millennials —are turning to the “sharing economy” to help mitigate their expenses.
The sharing economy allows individuals to use technology to arrange transactions so they can earn money from assets such as their homes and cars. There are tax implications for those who engage in these transactions.
The latest numbers from Statistics Canada (StatsCan) show household debt at 167.3% of disposable income, which is a record. That means, on average, Canadians owe $1.67 for every $1 of disposable income.
The New Housing Price Index rose 3.3% over the 12-month period ending in February. This was the largest annual growth at the national level since June 2010. The actual (not seasonally adjusted) national average price for homes sold in February 2017 was $519,521, up 3.5% from where it stood a year earlier, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association.
What’s a person to do to keep up? Some people are turning to short-term rentals to make ends meet, according to survey results recently released by Altus Group. According to Altus, which provides real estate research, its FIRM survey found that in the past year, 4% of all Canadian households of all ages had used a short-term rental accommodation service, such as Airbnb. The number rose to 7% for those with a mortgage.
The survey found that 22% of Canadians under the age of 35 had used a short-term rental service in the past year to rent out all or part of their homes. The four markets are Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal.
“There has been a lot of speculation lately about potential investor involvement in short-term accommodation rental services like Airbnb,” Altus stated. “But focusing on households rather investors, how extensive is the practice of short-term rentals of space in principal residences?”
Short-term home rental services such as Airbnb, Flipkey and HomeAway make up part of the sharing, or gig economy. This article deals only with rental services, although the principles also apply to ride-sharing (in services including Uber and Lyft) and other parts of the gig economy.
Even renters are doing it. In large cities, 12% of millennial renters in the four largest Canadian markets said they had used a short-term service to rent out part of their home. Among the general population, 4% of all renters across the country had sublet part of their homes.
StatsCan data supports these results. The statistics agency reported in February that use of “private accommodation services” was highest among Canadians aged 25 to 34 (8.6%), 35 to 44 (4.8%) and 18 to 24 (4.4%). Use of private accommodation services was lowest among people aged 55 and older (2.1%). The agency defines private accommodation services as those “that connect travellers and hosts through a mobile application or website that acts as an intermediary and processes the payment from the traveller to the host.”
In fact, from November 2015 to October 2016, StatsCan found that Canadians spent $367 million on private accommodation services inside Canada, spending an average of $307.
About 69,000 adults living in Canada indicated that they had offered private accommodation services. Most of them were living in Ontario (31.1%), Quebec (26.4%) or British Columbia (25.1%).
However, using the sharing economy to help pay debts or ease the cost of housing or a mortgage isn’t really sharing in the sense of letting people live in your house for free.
Under Canadian tax law, you must declare any income from any source, including any money made through these part-time services.
If you collect more than $30,000 a year, you also have to collect and remit goods and services tax or harmonized sales tax (GST/HST). If you earn $30,000 or less a year, you don’t have to register for a GST/HST account, but you can voluntarily register to recover the tax. Provincial sales tax depends on the province.
Here’s how the CRA defines the sharing economy:
“A technologically fuelled way to consume and access property and services. In this economy, communities pool, loan, and share their resources through networks of trust.”
The tax agency says it’s “co-operating with industries, the provinces, and the territories to identify and address areas in this economy where the tax system and tax compliance might be affected.”
Rental or Business Income?
When it comes to calculating your income tax if you rent out your home on a short-term basis, you must determine if you are earning business or rental income. If you provide only the space, electricity, heat, laundry facilities and parking, you’re earning rental income and should generally file a Form T776, Statement of Real Estate Rentals. Also, the amount of space you rent is important. Two out of five rooms means you’re earning rental income in the eyes of the CRA.
On the other hand, if you provide security, meals or cleaning, you’ll probably be considered to be earning business income. In that case, you file a Form T2125, Statement of Business or Professional Activities. You’ll also have to submit Canada Pension Plan payments. Keep in mind, when you change the use of a property, there could be tax consequences (see lower box).
In either case, you can generally deduct the reasonable expenses you incur to earn the income.
If you rent out only part of your house, you’ll have to calculate what percentage of your home you’ve been using for rental purposes and then multiply that by the number or nights you rented the space.
Keep all of your expense receipts and careful records of your calculations in case the CRA questions your claims.
If you participate in the sharing economy and underreport or don’t report your revenue, you’re participating in the underground economy. That could result in serious consequences.
If you get caught evading tax, you may face fines, penalties, or even jail time, in addition to paying the taxes owed on the unreported amounts. If you have to register for and collect GST/HST on your transactions, but you don’t, the CRA will charge interest or penalties or both, depending on the circumstances.
Filing taxes and claiming expenses if you participate in the sharing economy can be complex. Consult with your accountant for help avoiding an audit and penalties. Your accountant can also help if you didn’t report revenue from previous years and want to make a correction.
Changes in Use
In certain circumstances, according to the CRA, you can be considered to have sold all or part of your property even if you didn’t actually sell it. This can occur if:
Every time you change the use of a property, for example changing all or part of your principal residence to a rental or business operation, you’re considered to have sold the property at its fair market value and immediately reacquired the property for the same amount. You have to report the resulting capital gain or loss for the year of the change.
If the property was your principal residence for any year you owned it before you changed its use, you don’t have to pay tax on any gain relating to those years. You only have to report the gain that relates to the years your home wasn’t your principal residence. Consult with your accountant about your situation.
Also, keep in mind that your mortgage lender may require you to inform it if you plan to occasionally rent out your home. Moreover, if you’re renting an apartment or condo, you’ll want to check with your landlord or the rules of the condominium corporation. You also should check provincial and other laws to about whether you can legally rent out space in your home, apartment or condo.