A few weeks ago, a seller was bitterly complaining to me about what they had paid for capital gains tax on the sale of their home in Capistrano, Nerja to a Swedish couple, even though no profit had actually been made.
I then remembered an article we published in June 2014 on this matter, where we spread the news about new case law defending the position of taxpayers who had sold a property at a loss and, furthermore, were forced by the city council to pay capital gains tax, even though no profit had been made from the sale of that property.
Many sales take place at a loss and there are many more to come as, in general, current prices are still below those in effect a few years ago.
In the two and a half years since the publication of that article, the position of taxpayers to be able to claim back what they had paid in municipal capital gains tax for the sale of their homes without having made any profit has improved and the government will probably be forced to amend the Law in order to prevent councils from continuing to demand payment in these situations.
First of all, if they want to cancel the capital gains tax bill received from the council, they must know that they need to pay it first and then file a claim, and they will then have no option but to resort to the courts to claim a refund.
However, according to a judgment of the Higher Court of Justice of the Community of Valencia in late 2016, it is not necessary to obtain an expert appraisal to prove the value of the property, as it is understood that the amounts shown in the purchase and sale deeds clearly determine the actual value of the property and, therefore, show whether a profit was made.
So far, taxpayers wishing to file a claim through the courts needed an appraisal to prove that the actual value of the property transfer was lower than the purchase price. However, through this judgment, the amount shown in the purchase and sale deeds can be enough to accredit the values of the property when, through examining the deeds, one can easily see that there has been no increase in the value of the land.
The strongest argument in favour of taxpayers is that the Constitutional Court, in its recent judgment of 16th February, established that making citizens pay taxes for non-existing enrichment in the sale of their homes contradicts the principle of financial capacity set down in art. 31.1 of the Spanish Constitution. The Constitutional Court clarified that capital gains taxes are legal but it is unconstitutional to pay this tax when no actual gains have been made in the sale of the property.
The Constitutional Court also clarified that legislators will be the ones who will have to amend the legal framework of this tax in order to prevent taxation in these situations where no capital gains are made from the sale of a property.
Until the Law is amended, we assume that councils will continue to demand payment of capital gains taxes even when properties are sold at a loss but, after the pronouncement of the Constitutional Court and with the arguments set down in the other judgments mentioned, taxpayers will be able to claim back what they have unduly paid to the council in these circumstances. However, it is true that, for smaller amounts of capital gains tax, it may not be interesting to file a claim, taking into account the costs involved in hiring a solicitor and a barrister.
Many cities in this area: Nerja, Frigiliana, Torrox, Vélez Málaga, etc., issue bills for capital gains tax once the sale is recorded in a Public Deed, for which reason, in order to obtain a cancellation of this bill from the council, it would be necessary to challenge it before the deadline established by law.
If the claim is not filed before the deadline and, therefore, the administrative action becomes unappealable, it will become more difficult to file a successful claim.
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo (C&D Solicitors, lawyer, Málaga)