Tag Archives: real estate investment

The U.S.-Japan Income Tax Treaty

Japan has long been one of the United States’ largest trading partners.  Japan is also one of the United States’ longest-standing tax treaty partners.  The first U.S.-Japan income tax treaty was concluded in 1954.  Updated treaties were signed in 1971 and 2003, and a protocol in 2013 further modernized the treaty.  The U.S.-Japan income tax treaty largely follows the model tax convention published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), of which both countries are members.

The U.S.-Japan income tax treaty helps reduce the incidence of double taxation and encourages the cross-border movement of people and goods.  In general, the tax treaty allocates or restricts taxing rights between the two countries so that a resident of either the United States or Japan does not pay tax in both countries with respect to the same income (or pays reduced rates of tax in one of the countries).

For example, dividends paid by a company which is a resident of the United States to a resident of Japan may generally be taxed in both Japan and the U.S., but the rate of tax imposed by the United States with respect to such dividends is limited to either 5% or 10% (or, in some circumstances, such tax may be eliminated).  In the case of interest and royalties paid by a resident of one of the countries, only the country in which the recipient of the interest or royalty payment resides may tax such payments.  Similarly, capital gains derived by a resident of the United States or Japan from the sale of property other than real estate are generally taxable only by the country in which the seller of the property resides.  Gains from the sale of real estate and certain real estate holding companies, however, remain taxable in both countries under the tax treaty.

The tax treaty also provides for tie-breaker rules so that the same person is not considered a resident of both countries and provides a limited safe harbor for wages and salaries paid to residents of one country who perform employment services in the other country.  Other provisions relate to the taxation of diplomats, athletes, and branches or “permanent establishments” of multinational businesses, among other special situations.  Where disputes regarding the taxation of cross-border activities arise, notwithstanding the provisions of the treaty, the treaty provides a dispute resolution mechanism whereby the U.S. and Japanese governments can come to a mutual agreement to reduce or eliminate the additional taxation.

Recent U.S.-Japan income tax treaty documents and Treasury Department technical explanations are available at treasury.gov.

Nicholas A. Gard
ngard@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2563

Tax Reform Swings a Hand Ax at Carried Interests; What Does it Mean and How Can I Plan Around It?

While tax reform has a long march before becoming law, the amended House of Representatives bill passed yesterday swings an ax at lower-tax-rate-capital-gain-eligible “carried” partnership interests, though it swings a smaller ax—like a hand ax rather than a full-sized ax—than proposals in years past.

This latest proposal focuses on limited industries and allows an escape hatch for interests held more than three years. Here are the details:

How Do I Know if I Have a Carried Interest, and Why are Carried Interests Special?

The phrase “carried interest” applies to a partnership interest granted to a partner for services.  The idea is that the capital-investing partners “carry” the service partner, who does not make a capital contribution in proportion to the service partner’s interest.

Partnerships often structure carried interests to have little or no value at grant, causing the recipient to recognize little or no wage or other compensation income at that time.  Later, if the partnership recognizes long-term capital gain, the partnership allocates part of that gain to the service-providing partner.  This results in the service partner paying tax at a tax rate as little as half the rate on wage or compensation income (approximately 20%, as compared to approximately 40%, depending on the circumstances).

Why Change the Tax Treatment of Carried Interests?

Critics complain that carried interest partnership allocations amount to a bonus that should be taxed at the higher ordinary rates, like wage income and other incentive compensation.  The most vocal criticism focuses on hedge funds, private equity firms, and real estate investment firms, where critics see carried interest allocations as the equivalent of management fees.  Past Congressional proposals would have recharacterized a percentage or all partnership allocations to carried interests as compensation income, without regard to industry.

Carried interest advocates respond that many carried interest holders invest years of effort before receiving an allocation to their partnership interests, and therefore make the equivalent of an investment associated with a capital contribution.

Proposed Changes in the House Bill

The amended House bill takes a middle ground between the current law and prior Congressional proposals to curb the eligibility of carried interests for long-term-capital gain allocations. The bill focuses on carried interests in hedge funds, private equity firms, and real estate investment firms, not traditional operating businesses.

In targeted firms, the bill allows a partnership to allocate long-term capital gain to a carried interest partner who has held his or her partnership interest more than three years. If the partner has held the interest for three years or less, the proposal recharacterizes the allocation as short-term capital gain. In most cases, short-term capital gain characterization results in income taxation at the same rate as wage or other compensation income, but still allows the partner to avoid employment taxes.

It remains uncertain whether this proposal will survive reconciliation with a to-be-passed Senate tax reform bill.

Future Planning

Even if the proposal becomes law, look for motivated taxpayers to form “shelf” entities to begin the running of the three-year holding period while undertaking limited business activity. The taxpayers will then have such partnerships ready to use in the future, when a more substantial opportunity arises. Others will design hybrid debt-equity capital structures such that even service-providing partners’ interests qualify as capital interests rather than carried interests.

Read the carried interest proposal (see Section 3314 of the House amendment to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act).

How to Sell Raw Land or Air Rights to a Real Estate Developer and Receive Back Finished Condominiums Tax-Free

When a land owner sells to a condominium developer, both the land owner and the developer have motivations favoring the developer “paying“ the land owner with finished condominium units instead of cash. Such a transaction reduces the developer’s up-front cash investment while sometimes enabling the developer to use all the land as collateral for senior financing. While more risky than a cash sale, the seller may receive condominium units more valuable than the cash price the seller could realize.

What gets in the way of these transactions?  Often, the seller balks because the seller lacks the cash to pay capital gains tax on the value of the condominium units received back. To alleviate that problem, transactions are sometimes structured as partnership “mixing bowl” co-investments and redemptions, or as combination ground lease-Internal Revenue Code Section 1031 exchange transactions. These structures may defer capital gains tax; however, they also are subject to restrictions and frequently sufficiently convoluted so as to interfere with the developer’s business structure or senior financing.

In some circumstances an alternative sale structure offers a better solution. Under the alternative, the seller takes the positon that the receipt of finished condominiums is exempt from capital gains tax under Internal Revenue Code Section 1038. These same rules exempt a seller from tax when the seller forecloses on a delinquent purchaser on traditional seller financing (in tax parlance, an installment note). Unlike the mixing bowl or combination ground lease-Internal Revenue Code Section 1031 exchange structures, the Section 1038 structure more closely resembles traditional seller financing, making it potentially more palatable to senior development lenders and more simple for all the parties to understand and implement.

To learn more—including understanding scenarios involving air rights rather than raw land—follow this link to materials summarizing all these potential structures originally presented in an American Bar Association Section of Taxation webinar.

Please note that we post these materials with permission from and subject to the copyright of a co-presenting firm, Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone, LLP.