By Russell Cocks, Solicitor
As of 1 January 2024, practitioners need to ensure that the form of contract that they are using for the sale of real estate complies with amendments to the Sale of Land Act 1962, being new s 10G and s 10H. These amendments apply to contracts for a purchase price of LESS THAN $10,000,000 indexed: s 10I.
It is the responsibility of practitioners to ensure that contracts that may be signed after 1 January 2024 are compliant. These changes also need to catch up with any contract that was prepared before 1 January 2024 and may be awaiting execution, especially those provided to estate agents in anticipation of a sale, but which did not occur before 1 January 2024.
Section 10G provides that a condition in a contract is of no effect to the extent that the provision purports to require the purchaser to contribute to the vendor’s Land Tax. Such conditions are virtually universal, so this change will affect 99.9% of contracts for the sale of land. The section only applies to contracts that come into force after 1 January 2024.
Including a condition in breach of the Act in a contract AFTER 1 January 2024 exposes the vendor to a substantial financial penalty.
Land Tax is not a factor in the great bulk of conveyancing transactions that relate to the sale of a Principal Place of Residence or, to a lesser extent, exempt farming properties, as these categories of property do not attract Land Tax, so no adjustment is required. However, it will still be an offence to include reference to Land Tax in the adjustment condition, so it is important to ensure that ALL contracts are reviewed to ensure that Land Tax is REMOVED from the outgoings to be adjusted at settlement.
The change will have the greatest effect in relation to the sale of commercial/industrial properties and where a vendor owns multiple properties. While adjustments may be conducted in the “normal” way if the contract was signed before 1 January 2024, no adjustment can be made in respect of Land Tax for any contract that came into existence after 1 January 2024.
An area where this change will be significant, and perhaps not before time, is where a residential land subdivider includes adjustment conditions that pass on what can be substantial and generally unexpected Land Tax liabilities. In extreme examples, subdividers include conditions that pass on the vendor’s Land Tax, often at the subdivider’s high rate, from the date of the contract rather than the date of settlement. This results in “Mum & Dad” purchasers unwittingly becoming responsible for many thousands of dollars of the subdivider’s Land Tax. It may be this extreme example of consumer abuse that has prompted this “big stick” response of prohibiting Land Tax adjustment at all.
In a similar vein, s 10H prohibits contractual conditions (including in options) that seek to adjust the vendor’s existing Windfall Gains Tax (WGT) liability. WGT commenced on 1 July 2023 (see the Legal Practitioners Liability Committee Windfall gains tax hub for details) so it is not likely that this amendment will affect any or many contracts. WGT MIGHT potentially apply to any land (except GAIC land) that is rezoned with a consequential gain in value. The amendment only prohibits adjusting WGT in respect of an EXISTING WGT liability (assessment). It does not prohibit an adjustment condition in a contract that allows adjustment of a future WGT assessment which arises during the course of the contract. The parties may agree that this will be borne by the vendor, who will receive the assessment, maybe the responsibility of the purchaser at settlement or may be apportioned between the parties according to some agreed formula.
A vendor with an EXISTING WGT liability must take that liability into account when calculating the price for which the vendor is prepared to sell the land. That EXISTING WGT liability CANNOT be passed on, in whole or in part, to the purchaser and will become payable by the vendor in full at settlement.
In addition to changing how Land Tax can be adjusted on sale, amendments to the Land Tax Act 2005 change existing Land Tax obligations and create new obligations.
Section 34A presently imposes a vacant residential land tax on taxable land capable of being used for residential purposes within certain municipal districts of Melbourne. That tax is to be extended from 1 January 2025 to apply to all land in Victoria which is taxable vacant residential land. This tax applies to homes, not vacant land, which have been vacant for more than six months in the preceding calendar year, commencing 2024, and attracts land tax at the rate of:
- 1% Capital Improved Value (CIV) in first year;
- 2% CIV in second year; and
- 3% CIV in third year.
Section 34B(2)(b) introduces a new tax from 1 January 2026 on vacant land suitable for residential use within metropolitan Melbourne if the land has been vacant for five years in one ownership. This tax applies to unimproved land.