If you sold a condominium in Canada’s booming housing market, don’t count your profit just yet – the Canada Revenue Agency could soon be knocking on your door with a large tax bill.

Canadians typically don’t have to pay taxes on the profit we earn when we sell our homes – as long as the home was our “principal residence.” To qualify as a principal residence, the CRA considers factors including whether a person lived in the home, and whether it was designated as a principal residence.

However, the CRA – in what has been dubbed the “Condo Project” – is increasingly challenging Canadians’ designation of their condominium unit as their principal residence.

The distinction can result in a significant tax bill. If you bought a condominium for $300,000 and sold it for $500,000, as long as it qualifies as your principal residence you don’t have to pay any taxes on your $200,000 profit.

However, if the CRA deems that condominium unit to have been an investment property, you would have to pay tax on this gain. In the highest tax bracket, this could result in a tax bill of $46,000!

Making matters worse, if the CRA determines that you were in the business of buying and selling condominium units, the tax bill could be $92,000. If they find evidence that you made a false disclosure, they could levy fines bringing the total tax bill to a whopping $138,000!

Red flags that might lead the CRA to take a closer look at the sale of a unit include:

  • an owner who sells a unit shortly after registration, even if he or she had signed a purchase agreement years in advance;
  • an owner who says he or she intended to move into a condominium unit, but subsequently changed his or her mind;
  • an owner who purchased a condominium unit before it was built and then sold his or her right to buy that unit pursuant to an assignment clause; and
  • an owner who buys and sells multiple condominium units.

Even moving into a condominium may not be enough to satisfy the CRA. One woman purchased a condominium in 2006, and moved in in 2011. However, after moving in she decided it was too small, and moved out fifteen days later. The CRA hit her with a bill for $72,000 in tax, and $36,000 in penalties.

If you get hit with an unexpected tax bill, or if you are considering selling a condominium unit you meant to move into but never quite did, we recommend you talk to a lawyer.