Here’s a Good Joke: New Income Tax Data Shows India Has Only 20 Lakh Landlords

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In yesterday’s column I had mentioned that only around 26 lakh Indians (to be precise the number is 26,01,777) filed for income from house property under the individual category, for the assessment year 2012-2013.

During the assessment year 2012-2013, income tax returns for the income earned during the year 2011-2012 had to be filed. A total income of Rs 29,927 crore was declared under this category.

Of this around 6.06 lakh individuals showed an income of less than zero from house property. This would primarily include people who have taken on a home loan to buy a house and are repaying it. During the financial year 2011-2012, an interest of up to Rs 1.5 lakh, paid on a home loan, in case of a self-occupied house, could be set off while calculating taxable income.

This meant that an individual repaying a home loan on a self-occupied house, could show a negative income of up to Rs 1.5 lakh when it came to income from house property. These are the individuals showing negative income against their house property. This negative income could be set off against taxable income and the taxable income could bethus  brought down.

Further, the limit of Rs 1.5 lakh applied only to self-occupied property and not on other homes that a tax payer may choose to buy by taking on a home loan. Any amount of interest paid on such home loans can be claimed as a deduction as long as a “notional rent” is added to the income.

We all know that over the last few years the “rents” have been very low in comparison to the EMIs that need to be paid in order to repay the home loan. The rental yield (rent dividend by market value of the home) is in the region of 2-3%.

Even after deducting a notional rent, the interest component tends to be massive during the initial years. Hence, the difference between the notional rent and the interest paid is negative. This essentially means income from house property is negative. Such individuals who own more than one home financed through a home loan, also earn a negative income from their house property. This negative income helps people with two or more homes, claim huge tax deductions.

This “deduction” has been used over the years by well-paid corporate employees to bring down their taxable income. Further, individuals who use this deduction benefit on two fronts—tax deduction as well as capital appreciation.

Even if, the capital appreciation is not huge, such individuals are happy in claiming just the deduction than actually making money from an increase in price. Hence, they may not sell the flat, even in a scenario where prices may be falling and thus prevent a faster fall in home prices.

Getting back to the point, there were only 6.06 lakh individuals in the assessment year 2012-2013 who had an income of less than zero or a negative income from house property. As I said, these are people essentially repaying their home loans. The interest they pay on their home loans can be set off against taxable income.

It is worth asking here that does India have less than 6.06 lakh individuals living in self-occupied homes on which home loans are being repaid? Something just doesn’t add up here. Honestly, this is bizarre.

As a newsreport in The Economic Times points out:In 2011, the number of accounts was 47.32 lakh, which went up to 47.78 lakh in 2012, with the disbursed amount also increasing from Rs 2.5 lakh crore to Rs 2.6 lakh crore.

If the banks had close to 47-48 lakh home loan accounts in 2011 and 2012, why are only around 6.06 lakh showing up in the income tax data?

Also, around 19.95 lakh people declared an income from house property in assessment year 2011-2012. This is another extremely low number. What does this mean? It means that the number of individuals in India who are earning a rental income from their homes (real as well as notional) is around 20 lakh. How is that possible?  It means is that there are around 20 lakh landlords in the country, if the data from the Income Tax department is to be believed.

It is worth recounting here something that Akhilesh Tilotia writes in The Making of India based on the 2011 Census data: India’s households increased by 60 million to 247 million from 187 million between 2001-2011. Reflecting India’s higher ‘physical’ savings, the number of houses went up by 81 million to 331 million from 250 million. The urban increases is telling: 38 million new houses for 24 million new households.”

This means India had 331 million or 33.1 crore houses in 2011. Now compare this with the fact that there are around 20 lakh individuals earning a rental income from their homes. This comparison clearly tells us how low the 19.95 lakh number, really is.

There are two things that become clear here. One, is that many individuals are just buying up homes as an investment and not putting it up on rent. Anshuman Magazine, chairman and managing director of CBRE South Asia Pvt. Ltd., in a 2015 article wrote that “around 1.2 crore completed houses” are “lying vacant across urban India”.

Further, this is a clear indication of the fact that most landlords are getting their rents paid in cash and not paying any income tax on it. It also leads to the question where did these people earn the money to build these houses in the first place?

Here is another interesting data point—Of the 19.95 lakh who have some rental income, around 14.55 lakh have an average rental income of around Rs 60,000 per year or Rs 5,000 per month. This number is very low as well.

The point being a major part of the black money in India continues to be generated in the real estate sector. The general impression we have had up until now is that black money is generated when real estate is bought and sold. Nevertheless, with this new data it is very clear, that black money is generated even when real estate is rented out.

The column originally appeared on the Vivek Kaul Diary on May 4, 2016

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About vivekkaul
Vivek Kaul is a writer who has worked at senior positions with the Daily News and Analysis(DNA) and The Economic Times, in the past. He is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. Easy Money: The Greatest Ponzi Scheme Ever and How It Is Set to Destroy the Global Financial System , the latest book in the trilogy has just been published. The first two books in the trilogy were published in November 2013 and July 2014 respectively. Both the books were bestsellers on Amazon.com and Amazon.in. Currently he works as an economic commentator and writes regular columns for www.firstpost.com. He is also the India editor of The Daily Reckoning newsletter published by www.equitymaster.com. His writing has appeared across various other publications in India. These include The Times of India, Business Standard,Business Today, Business World, The Hindu, The Hindu Business Line, Indian Management, The Asian Age, Deccan Chronicle, Forbes India, Mutual Fund Insight, The Free Press Journal, Quartz.com, DailyO.in, Business World, Huffington Post and Wealth Insight. In the past he has also been a regular columnist for www.rediff.com. He has lectured at IIM Bangalore, IIM Indore, TA PAI Institute of Management and the Alliance University (Bangalore). He has also taught a course titled Indian Economy to the PGPMX batch of IIM Indore. His areas of interest are the intersection between politics and economics, the international financial crisis, personal finance, marketing and branding, and anything to do with cinema and music. He can be reached at vivek.kaul@gmail.com

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