The Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) has made it clear that flat buyers, developers and builders are not liable to pay service tax.
In a circular (F.No.137/12/2006- CX.4) issued on January 29, the board has said that generally, the initial agreement between the developer (promoter/builder) and the buyer is an "agreement to sell". As per provisions of the Transfer of Property Act, this does not "create any interest in or charge on such property".
It is only after the construction is completed and the agreed sum is paid that a sale deed is executed, transferring the ownership of the property from the builder/developer to the buyer, the board has said.
Any service provided by the developer during the construction of a residential complex -- before the execution of the sale deed -- would be "self-service" and, consequently, not attract service tax, the board has clarified.
If the buyer enters into a contract for construction of a residential complex for personal use with a developer (promoter/builder), who provides design, planning and construction, then such an arrangement would also not invite service tax.
Flat buyers don't need to pay service tax It is excluded from service tax under the definition of "residential complex", the board has said.
However, in both these situations, if services of a contractor, designer or a similar service provider are taken, then such persons would be liable to pay service tax, the circular says.
The board has clarified that the builder is not a service provider and, hence, not liable to collect service tax. But contractors or designers engaged by the builder should charge service tax from him.
The Authority for Advance Ruling had in the case of Hare Krishna Developers ruled that the builder/developer was liable to pay service tax.
But in the case of Magus Construction Pvt Ltd, the Gauhati high court had ruled that the builder/developer was not liable to service tax.
The two conflicting judgments had created confusion, which the CBEC circular has now put to rest.
Mehul Sheth is a practicing chartered accountant in Mumbai.