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Threat to sell 100-plus Canberra properties for land tax debts

The ACT government may repossess more than 100 investment properties because landlords have fallen into tax debt.

The Revenue Office has named 103 sites across the city, mostly houses and units but also a handful of business addresses, on which their owners owe at least a year's worth of rates or land tax.

But a property owners' group says the "naming and shaming" is unnecessary, and warns it may breach privacy laws.

Revenue Commissioner Kim Salisbury began the blitz in February by identifying a small number of addresses that were deep in arrears, and added more in March and April.

He has now significantly expanded the controversial campaign, doubling the list's size last week by adding another 47 properties.

The identified addresses are all investment properties. The tenants are not responsible for the debts.

Mr Salisbury says he is targeting only those landlords who persistently refuse to pay tax. He says the latest 47 properties have accrued debts of $339,000, or about $7200 each.

He confirms his office will apply to sell the sites if the debts are not cleared within 12 months.

"The sale-of-land program for outstanding rates and land tax on investment properties will become a regular component of our debt-recovery program."

But ACT Ratepayers and Property Owners' Association president Peter Jansen said the legislation that allowed the Revenue Commissioner to name the sites was written years ago and was "no longer compatible with contemporary attitudes towards privacy".

"We have much stronger rights to privacy today than we used to back when this legislation was written," Mr Jansen said. "I believe this campaign breaches [federal] privacy laws."

Mr Jansen said he wanted the federal Privacy Commissioner or a court to rule on the legality of Mr Salisbury's actions.

"But putting the legal question aside, there's also the matter of whether this is appropriate and necessary. Why can't he just warn the owners?"

Before this year, Mr Salisbury had never invoked his power to identify properties in tax debt, a power that had been used only twice since self-government.

ACT legislation allows the Revenue Commissioner to name housing and land for which rates and land taxes are more than a year in arrears.

If the owners haven't cleared the debt a year after the property is named, the government can apply to take over and sell the property.

Mr Salisbury said in April his campaign appeared to be working, but he would not say last week how many properties on the list were now debt-free.

Do you know more? Send your confidential tips to ps@canberratimes.com.au

16 comments so far

  • I agree, naming is childish. Give them the appropriate number of warnings, then sell them up and recoup the expenses. This is a no-lose situation for the government, so why make it personal?

    Commenter
    John
    Date and time
    June 25, 2014, 9:21AM
    • They are not naming and shaming. They have to "name" before they can acquire. One year after the property is listed as being in arrears the Revenue Commissioner can then apply to acquire. If they do not "name" then the Revenue Commissioner cannot acquire.

      By making the list public there can be no argument that the owners were not given the ability to know about the arrears.

      Commenter
      Hacked off
      Date and time
      June 25, 2014, 2:53PM
    • Rogue operators should be weeded out. These clowns should be threatened to have licenses suspended/cancelled as well.
      Real estate is full of clowns who cannot uphold their simple duties ... I would argue that any landlord who does not adhere to rules of tenancy agreements should also have properties taken from them.
      Maybe this is a help along with the unaffordable housing crisis for low income or homeless Australians. The government should acquire the properties & then lease them out at 30% less than market rents to families in need.
      Little landlords thinking the world owes them a favour should not get any right to run a shonky business.
      Remove negative gearing & we may get rid of even more rogue operators & get more money back in government tax revenue.

      Commenter
      Yuppy
      Location
      Yuppy Ville
      Date and time
      June 25, 2014, 6:13PM
  • Warn the owners, Mr Jensen? Having previously worked in accounts receivable in a private firm, I very much doubt the owners would have received only one warning. More like multiple warnings but still decide to thumb their noses at the obligation to pay what they owe. Absolutely no sympathy for them and if it requires the properties being identified - and it's the property which is identified not the persons - tough.

    Commenter
    Faj
    Date and time
    June 25, 2014, 10:09AM
    • Warn them, then take legal action and sell the property if still required. In the meantime the ACT Government charges 10.5% interest on outstanding rates & taxes. Its in a no lose position for the ACT Government it doesn't need to make it personal. If the court decides that the property is in the wrong then the owner pays, plus interest, plus penalties and their loss becomes public knowledge. If the property owner was in the clear then they have been defamed and could sued then we all pay. If the ACT Revenue Office were a private organisation or at least operated like one the debts would have been cleared by now without a doubt.

      Commenter
      Peter
      Date and time
      June 25, 2014, 5:23PM
  • I just find it funny (and sad for the owner) that one of the properties listed is currently on allhomes is for rent by one of the major real estate agencies. You'd think they'd be all over that so they don't lose the commission. PS. Real estate agents are meant to notify ACT Revenue if they're taking over a property for land tax purposes.

    Commenter
    Ye Old Hag
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    June 25, 2014, 10:31AM
    • There is house in my street that has a heap of people living there, its dodgy as and i am sure the owner is just taking cash or weed for payment. It would be great if that place goes.

      Commenter
      Ha
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      June 25, 2014, 10:57AM
      • Yes, Ye Old Hag. The agent managing the property should be advising ACTRO that a property is rented but only if it is part of the property managment agreement with the landlord. The landlord should check their agreement to see who is responsible for notifying ACTRO. The responsibility and obligation is with the landlord. Just don't expect the agent to be responsibille for everything once it is being managed by them. I believe many DHA properties get caught out by this.

        Commenter
        Sally
        Date and time
        June 25, 2014, 11:15AM
        • A persons tax affairs are a matter between the government body and the individual/corporation concerned. It is a very juvenile and immature action undertaken by the ACT government. They should be sued by those concerned, and the winnings used to clear the debt. Win-Win. Government gets their money, and taxpayer gets the rights for their matters to be private between tax authorities and themselves.

          Commenter
          Thriller
          Date and time
          June 25, 2014, 11:53AM
          • Well these properties don't have the owners names on them, and as investment properties they also don't have the owners locatable at the street addresses.

            Personally I think that being loud about the intention will make owners who don't pay their taxes really take notice - the government really. is. taking. those. properties. it's not a letter in the mail asking for payment - this is a list of actual things that are actually happening.

            I think it's a great warning, and I think that anyone who identifies themselves publicly by starting legal action about privacy laws will probably find that this legislation needs to be updated hrm yes but there's not going to be any compensation paid hrm yes.

            And if this one list is the only one that is made public due to privacy considerations then fine - it'll already have done its job.

            However - IF you were looking for somewhere to rent, and you saw one of these addresses - you would not rent there, because it could well be sold out from under you and that (from experience) sucks. SO, it's possible that the owners could claim that, regardless of privacy, this public list has directly impacted their income through the property, and perhaps the sale value of the property.

            Commenter
            Raida
            Location
            chewing salty razors
            Date and time
            June 25, 2014, 1:50PM

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