Federal Court finds student accommodation is the supply of “commercial residential premises”

In ECC Southbank Pty Ltd as trustee for Nest Southbank Unit Trust v Commissioner of Taxation [2012] FCA 795 the Federal Court accepted the taxpayer’s contention that the supply of shared and studio style apartments was the supply of “commercial residential premises” and therefore taxable, rather than the input taxed supply of residential premises (as contended by the Commissioner).

The central question was whether the complex, as a whole, fell within paragraph (a) of the definition of “commercial residential premises”, being “a hotel, motel, inn, hostel or boarding house” or paragraph (f) as “anything similar to residential premises described in paragraph (a)”.

The Commissioner contended that none of the words “hotel”, “motel”, “inn”, “hostel” or “boarding house” described accommodation “similar to that which would be expected for those who own or rent a house or apartment”.  The Commissioner contended that a resident of the premises in question rented his or her accommodation in much the same way as a person would rent any apartment for the purpose of exclusive or shared residence.  The policy of the GST legislation was that “those renting a house or apartment are to be on the same footing as person who own their own homes – neither is to pay GST in connection with such occupation”.

The Court considered whether the premises in question were similar to each of the types of establishment referred to in the definition of commercial residential premises.  The Court found as follows:

  • there were a number of features which distinguished the premises from a hotel or motel
  • the premises bear a much closer resemblance to a hostel than a hotel.  While meals were not provided to residents as they might be in the case of a more traditional hostel, the Court found that this did not mean that the premises could still be fairly described as a hostel, or at least similar to a hostel.
  • the premises were not similar to an inn or boarding house.

The Court also placed weight on the attributes specified at para 15.12 of the Explanatory Memorandum to the 2006 amendments to the definition as normally found in commercial residential premises (the Court also noted that Greenwood J referred to these attributed in Meridien Marinas Horizon Shores Pty Limited v Commissioner of Taxation [2009] FCA 1594 at [74]):

  • are run by a controller for a commercial purpose;
  • have multiple occupancy;
  • are held out to the public as such;
  • have a central management;
  • provides services in addition too commercial accommodation;
  • are used for the main purpose of accommodation.

The Court found that the premises met all of these requirements.  In doing so, the Court noted as follows:

It is true that in comparison with some other types of establishment referred to in the relevant definition, the level of services provided in addition to accommodation may seem slight.  But the services provided by staff to residents through the reception desk are by no means insignificant and, considered along with all other relevant matters, confirm my view that the Urbanest premises are properly regarded as commercial residential premises for the purposes of the GST Act.

The Court also noted that the fact that accommodation is the principal place of residence of the individual concerns does not mean that the supply is not taxable as commercial residential premises.  In such circumstances, the Court noted that the value of the supply may be substantially reduced for GST purposes by Division 87.

It will be interesting to see whether the Commissioner appeals the decision to the Full Federal Court.

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