Taxation of REITs in India

 

*An eight-part series covering the commercial and legal considerations of REIT listings in India. Click here to read Part III.

The Government started putting in place a framework for taxation of business trusts even before the regulations governing Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) and Infrastructure Investment Trusts (InvITs) were notified by the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI). This was not without reason – progressive regulations and tax reforms have influenced the progress of REITs globally, with REIT markets witnessing sudden growth spurts in countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong almost immediately following favourable tax amendments.

Closer home, five years and multiple amendments later, the Indian tax regime for REITs is a complex proposition and comes with a wishlist from nearly all stakeholders involved in a typical REIT. With Indian real estate likely to provide investment opportunity worth up to USD 77 bn through REIT-eligible commercial office and retail properties across India’s top seven cities by 2020[1], there can be no better time to look at some of the key issues.
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Home Buyers are equivalent toFinancial Creditors Supreme Court Reigns

The Supreme Court in Pioneer Urban Land and Infrastructure Limited vs. Union of India (Pioneer Judgment)[1], has upheld the constitutionality of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Second Amendment) Act, 2018 (Amendment Act)[2]. Through the Amendment Act[3], the ‘real estate allottees’ (home buyers), as defined under Section 2(d) of the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (RERA), were brought within the ambit of ‘financial creditor’ under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC).

A three judges’ bench headed by Hon’ble Mr. Justice Rohinton Nariman disposed off a batch of over 150 petitions filed by the real estate developers challenging the constitutional validity of the Amendment Act. The Supreme Court also held that the RERA has to be read harmoniously with the IBC and, in the event of a conflict, the IBC will prevail over the RERA.


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Model Tenancy Law - Model Tenancy Act Overview - Landlord Rights in India

The announcement of the Union Budget 2019-2020 (Budget) by the Finance Minister, Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman, introduced a few changes in the periphery of the real estate sector. On July 10, 2019, the housing ministry put a policy in the public domain for suggestions, which could act as the model act for States and Union Territories to regulate this segment. The Model Tenancy Act, 2019 (Model Act), takes forward what was proposed in the Draft Model Tenancy Act, 2015.

With property prices far beyond the reach of many millennials, renting has the opportunity to become a far more common housing option. The Model Act brings in transparency enabling a two-fold mechanism wherein the landowners will be less vary of a possible threat of repossession and will let-out their homes to yield rent, which will in turn increase the footing for the real estate market. The concept of sharing spaces both living and working viz. a viz. ownership, presently being the market preference, have been covered under the Model Act.  
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Lease Transactions Under RERA

Real estate is one of the largest industries in India. In the past two decades, the real estate sector has seen a boost in the country, in terms of the quantum of development (commercial and residential properties) and the price of properties. In spite of the same, real estate has remained the most unregulated of sectors, with every State having a different law to regulate properties. Hence, there was no single superior legislation, which would govern this industry.

The absence of a specific, stringent law for this industry led to exploitation of buyers of the property, by the developers. For example, there could be excessive delay in construction and handing over possession of property, biased/arbitrary contracts, deduction in the usable area of the property by developers, and a lack of transparency in the sector, and such like. Due to these issues, the Government of India, introduced a central legislation viz. the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (Act) to regulate the real estate industry, resolve the issued faced by buyers and bring transparency in this sector. All the States have been mandated to form the Real Estate Regulatory Authority for the implementation of Act and form rules and regulations under the same.
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REIT IPO Exit

*An eight-part series covering the commercial and legal considerations of REIT listings in India. Click here to read Part 2.

Institutional investors have demonstrated a steadfast interest in Indian real estate in recent years. Private equity investments in the real estate sector peaked at $2.5 billion in the first quarter of 2019 – the highest since 2008.[1] With the lion’s share of investments being cornered by commercial office spaces, retail and hospitality sectors, the introduction of the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) framework in India comes at an opportune time, providing investors with an additional avenue for potential exits.

However, as the dust settles over India’s first REIT listing, it is now apparent that a REIT IPO is vastly different and distinct from an IPO by a company in many respects. Given the inherent intricacies and nuances of the REIT framework, investors seeking to exit via a REIT listing will need to re-calibrate, re-assess, and re-think their investment strategies, holding structures, investment documentation as well as exit horizons to expediently navigate the new regime.
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 Recent Maha RERA Directions on Change in Promoter

The real estate sector post enactment of the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (Act) is witnessing major consolidation primarily on account of financial constraints faced by small and mid-sized developers. Such consolidation has resulted in developers looking to either exit from their existing projects or enter into collaboration with large established developers for completing such projects.

Hence, in the present scenario, it is of the utmost importance for the industry to know the present legal regime under RERA dealing with new developers / promoters taking over an ongoing projects from existing promoters or from lenders during the process of enforcement of their security over the project.
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 Maharera Amendment Rules 2019

Since the enactment of Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (Act), Government of Maharashtra (GoM) was one of the few States to immediately frame the rules thereunder being Maharashtra Real Estate (Regulation and Development) (Registration  of  Real  Estate  Projects,  Registration of  Real Estate Agents, Rates of Interest and Disclosures on Website) Rules, 2017 (Rules). The Maharashtra Real Estate Regulatory Authority (MAHA RERA) has been taking the lead to enforce and/or provide clarifications from time to time on the Act and the Rules by issuing various circulars and orders. Recently, the GoM has issued a notification on June 6, 2019 amending certain provisions of the Rules (Amendment Rules).
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What’s So Real About Real Estate Anyway?

*An eight-part series covering the commercial and legal considerations of REIT listings in India. Click here to read Part 1.

India is an outlier in global Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) regimes. It is the only country with dedicated legislation for REITs and Infrastructure Investment Trusts (while the US and Japan permit REITs to hold certain infrastructure assets, there is no separate legislation). In a way, this showcases the maturity of the regulatory thought process, and it has already been recognised that there is a compelling case for other developed jurisdictions to introduce a similar InvIT model, which meets the needs of investors as well as protects existing REIT legislation (Source: EY – Global perspectives, 2018 REIT Report).

On a standalone basis, ‘non-traditional’ REITs listed only in the US are the second-largest REIT sector globally (with a market cap of USD 480 billion). These non-traditional asset types include healthcare, data centres, billboards, communication towers, student accommodation, single family rental and fiber optic transmission lines (Source: EY – Global perspectives, 2018 REIT Report). Surprisingly, if most of these asset classes were to plan a REIT listing in India, they would have to think twice – their assets may or may not be eligible ‘real estate’ within the meaning of the REIT Regulations. Which brings us to the question, what exactly is real estate for the purpose of the REIT Regulations?


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No Occupancy Certificate - Criteria for Registration with RERA

The Maharashtra Real Estate Regulatory Authority (MahaRERA) in its recent order has held that mere non-procurement of an occupancy certificate by a developer does not make the developer liable to register the real estate project[1] under Section 3 of the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 (Act).

This order has been passed following a complaint filed by Sulatana Dalal (Complainant) against Asia Group (Developer), before MahaRERA in relation to a project named as ‘Miracle Mall’ situated at Bhiwandi, Thane, Maharashtra. The Complainant’s contention was that even though the building was completely occupied, the Developer had failed to obtain an occupation certificate and committed breach of law. Against this background, the Complainant sought directions from MahaRERA to register the building under the provisions of the Act. 
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