Capital gains tax rules need to be enforced: economist
NZIER's principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub wants capital gains tax collection on residential rental properties enforced more rigorously and has called for a more equitable system which doesn't inherently favour housing investment.
In a video interview on nzherald.co.nz, Eaqub said capital gains tax on investment property was often discussed in New Zealand as if it didn't exist - but it already does.
"If landlords are buying intending to make a profit - and hopefully most people do - then they have to pay tax on it when they sell it. Capital gains tax already exists in New Zealand but it's difficult to enforce well because of the culture of the country, the thinking that housing is sacred and no one gets to have dibs on it," he said.
Labour Party and Green Party policy is for the tax, but not on the family home.
Andrew Bruce, Auckland Property Investors Association president, also said capital gains tax was already in place but needed to be implemented. However, landlords were generally over-taxed, Bruce said.
A Herald Digipoll survey in June of 750 New Zealanders found almost 41 per cent of respondents were either strongly or moderately in favour of the tax, up from just under 38 per cent in July 2011 and more than 10 percentage points higher than the number of respondents who said they would vote Labour in September.
In Auckland, 45 per cent of respondents backed the policy in the latest survey. Those across New Zealand strongly or moderately opposed went from 37 per cent in July 2011 to just under 35 per cent last month.
Eaqub said enforcing the existing tax would not rescue New Zealand from property bubbles because that would never be its intention.
Landlords would oppose the tax being enforced, he said, citing Australia which has the tax but still suffers property booms and busts. New Zealand was out on a limb internationally with such low enforcement and payment of this tax. "The rationale for the tax would be to create an even tax setting by applying taxes on all transactions in the economy," Eaqub said.
"This won't be a saviour but enforcing it would mean the tax system becomes fairer. This is not so much about Inland Revenue but needs to be led by politicians, deciding what to do with tax on housing and clarifying existing rules," he said.
Eaqub, who has just written a book on regional gaps between New Zealand cities and regions, says his next book will be called Generation Rent and examine the reasons for the rising number of tenants, lack of affordability, social and demographic effects and how that is changing the country.
Eaqub, a committed tenant who spurns housing investment and thinks it's dangerous for the country, said the title aimed to provoke a big debate about that issue.
On September 1, he opens the NZIER's first Auckland office on the first level of Shortland Chambers, Shortland St.
"We want to grow the business and there's opportunities here. Half of our clients are in Auckland," he said. NZIER has about 20 staffers in Wellington and will open with three in Auckland.
"It's very important to be in the cultural capital of Wellington and the economic capital of Auckland. Business is so much about face-to-face contact," he said.
Zombie towns left for dead
"Zombie towns" have emerged where jobs are scarce, populations are declining, wages are low and prospects look grim.
Shamubeel Eaqub coined that phrase on TV show The Nation, discussing his new book, Growing Apart, Regional Prosperity in New Zealand.
"If we rank our regions internationally, Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury are comparable to France, Finland and Saudi Arabia respectively. But the smaller regions look like Timor-Leste (Northland), Greece (Manawatu-Whanganui and Gisborne) - or other emerging economies such as Cyprus and the Seychelles," he writes.
Aucklanders and Wellingtonians can earn $75,000 to $130,000 a year but people outside those cities might be on only $47,000 to $80,000.
"In Kawarau, half the families live on less than $40,000 a year; in Orakei, the richest local board in Auckland, more than half the families earn over $100,000 a year. In Kawarau, a third of the population are dependent on some kind of social welfare; in Orakei the figure is less than 10 per cent. Those two places sit at opposite ends of the spectrum," he wrote