We previously blogged that the Florida Legislature enacted a reduction to the state sales tax rate on commercial real property leases from 6% to 5.8% effective January 1, 2018. The language of the new statute is unclear as to whether the rate decrease would apply to current leases. However, we have confirmed with a representative of the Florida Department of Revenue that they interpret the rate reduction as applying to current leases for periods after December 31, 2017.
Governor Rick Scott signed House Bill 7109 on May 25, 2017, which reduces the state sales tax rate on commercial real property leases from 6% to 5.8% effective January 1, 2018. However, this rate decrease will not apply to current leases, because the bill provides that the tax rate in effect at the time the tenant occupies or uses the property is applicable, regardless of when a rent payment is due or paid. The bill does not change the local option sales tax, which is imposed in 0.5% increments. So, for example, the applicable rate in Sarasota County for leases commencing on or after January 1, 2018, would be 6.8% (instead of the current 7%). Florida is the only state that charges sales tax on the lease of commercial real property.
There are various ways to structure a foreign investment in US real property and each has its own advantages and disadvantages (see below for a link to a previous blog post on this topic). A frequently chosen structure is a pass-through or fiscally transparent structure which, very generally, has income tax advantages (especially upon a disposition of the property), but US estate tax disadvantages. Over time, however, clients age and their plans change, and so we are sometimes called upon to convert a pass-through structure to a structure with US estate tax advantages (i.e., typically by inserting a foreign corporation into the structure), but which has income tax disadvantages. Converting such structures can at first blush seem relatively simple, but there are several traps for the unwary. A common approach to converting such structures is for the foreign client to contribute their ownership interests in the US pass-through entity (such as a partnership or LLC taxed as a partnership or disregarded for federal income tax purposes) to a foreign corporation. Normally, such a transaction would be tax-free under IRC section 351 as a contribution to the capital of a corporation. However, FIRPTA complicates the picture. Specifically, FIRPTA rules add additional requirements in order for this transaction to be tax-free, including that the ownership interest in the US pass-through entity (which is considered a US real estate property interest (“USRPI”) for FIRPTA purposes), be exchanged for another USRPI. Stock of a foreign corporation is generally not a USRPI, and therefore the contribution of the ownership interests in the pass-through entity to the foreign corporation would be considered a taxable sale. There are at least two planning techniques to avoid this issue that involve the use of a US corporation or having the foreign corporation elect to be treated as a US corporation for federal income tax purposes, but both techniques have their own set of advantages and disadvantages that must be carefully considered.
A previous blog post on structuring options for foreign investment in US real estate can be found here: