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'WIN' for property investors with new tax ruling

renovations outdo home building

Investors have always been allowed to maintain their properties, but they were banned from changing them because it would negate the concept of the "single acquirable asset" that the Australian Taxation Office had come up with to more clearly identify assets in SMSFs.

Ken Reiss, a director at accounting firm Chan & Naylor, said the new ruling was a "huge win" and would turn around a situation where investors had lost the desire to use their SMSF to use debt to buy property.

He said the previous rules meant, for instance, that "if an SMSF had used debt to buy a property in Queensland that was destroyed in the recent floods, the insurance proceeds could only be used to pay down debt rather than rebuild".

"In that case, the investor would be left with a block of land that they had no option but to sell" because any reconstruction, even an identical one, would be classed as a new asset.

The new ruling still insists that the improvements be paid for by cash resources in the SMSF rather than by borrowing.

The draft ruling will not, however, allow SMSF investors to buy and bulldoze houses and put up units using borrowings, for example.

Allowable changes include pools, extensions and bigger kitchens, but they must not "fundamentally change" the property.

It also gives owners more room to move when buying a rundown property that needs more than maintenance, although, again, the new work cannot be financed by borrowing.

The decision caps a succession of policies that used to allow borrowing to buy property in super funds until June 1999, which was then banned except for existing arrangements until September 2007.

The ATO brought in the no-improvements rule last year.