The Florida Legislature recently delivered a small win for the business community with Florida House Bill 7109. Effective January 1, 2018, Florida Statute 212.031(1)(c) is amended by lowering the sales tax levied against commercial tenants from 6% to 5.8%. A more significant decrease would have been better, but commercial tenants will take what they can get, we suspect. The tax – known as the Business Rent Tax or “the BRT” – affects commercial tenants including retail, office space, and industrial tenants.

What is the BRT?

The Florida Legislature enacted the BRT in 1969, declaring that the business of renting, leasing, letting or granting a license for the use of commercial real property is a “taxable privilege.” In part because Florida has no personal income tax, the state government relies on sales taxes, including the BRT, as a significant source of revenue. Many local governments also impose a local option sales tax on top of the state BRT.

Florida is the only state to levy a statewide tax against commercial tenants, and thereby creates a competitive disadvantage for Florida businesses that lease rather than own their commercial space.

House Bill 7109

Florida’s BRT is unique from a national perspective in two respects: not only is it the only standard, statewide sales tax on commercial real estate rents, but unlike other corporate taxes, it is not pegged to profitability. As a result, the BRT significantly raises occupancy costs on all commercial tenants, regardless of their financial condition. New and/or struggling businesses in Florida may have the greatest difficulty with the burden this tax creates, and these businesses are likely to benefit the most from the tax relief in House Bill 7109.

Takeaway

Many voices within Florida’s business community have pushed for years for steep cuts to the BRT and, beginning in 2018, start to see their lobbying efforts bear fruit. Considering the significant impact the tax has on occupancy costs, the BRT should continue to be the subject of considerable debate in Tallahassee. As with all tax matters, please consult with your tax professional. If you have answer questions regarding the Business Rent Tax reduction and its effects, please contact Caleb Hinton at caleb.hinton@henlaw.com or Paul Shuman at paul.shuman@henlaw.com.