Understanding Section 54: A Guide to Capital Gains Tax Exemptions on Residential Property Sales

The world of finance and taxation can often seem like a labyrinth, especially when it comes to understanding the nuances of the Income Tax Act. However, with the right guide, navigating through this complex web can become a less daunting task.

Today, we will be delving into one of the critical sections of the Income Tax Act – Section 54 – which deals with capital gains tax exemptions on the sale of residential property. This section is essential for individuals who plan to sell their residential property and are considering their options to save on capital gains tax.

2. Background

Before we plunge into the depths of Section 54, let’s first briefly understand what capital gains tax is. When you sell an asset that has increased in value since you acquired it, the profit you make is referred to as a capital gain.

The government taxes this profit under the head of ‘Capital Gains’, which can be classified as either short-term or long-term, depending on the duration for which the asset was held.

Capital gains tax can take a significant chunk out of your profits, so it’s essential to plan your taxes well. The Income Tax Act has laid out certain provisions under which tax exemptions can be claimed on capital gains. One of such provisions is Section 54, which we will be discussing in this article.

3. Detailed Explanation of Section 54

Section 54 of the Income Tax Act provides for a tax exemption on the capital gains arising from the sale of a long-term capital asset, specifically a residential house property. This exemption is applicable if the capital gains are reinvested into purchasing another residential property.

This section is applicable to individuals and Hindu Undivided Families (HUFs) who have sold a residential property and made a long-term capital gain. A long-term capital asset refers to a property held by the individual for more than 24 months. This duration is a key factor in determining whether the capital gain will be classified as a short-term or long-term gain.

4. Key Provisions of Section 54

Here are the key provisions of Section 54 that you should keep in mind:

4.1 The Capital Gain Should Arise from the Sale of a Residential Property

As per Section 54, the exemption is only available on the capital gains made from the sale of a residential house property. The property should be classified as a long-term capital asset, i.e., it should have been held by the seller for more than 24 months.

4.2 Reinvestment of Capital Gains

The capital gains from the sale must be reinvested in purchasing another residential house. The property purchased can either be an under-construction property or a ready-to-move-in house.

The reinvestment can happen in two ways:

a. Purchase of a New Property: The seller should purchase a new house one year before the sale of the original property or two years after the sale.

b. Construction of a New Property: The seller should construct a new house within three years after the sale of the original property.

Reinvestment OptionsTimeframe
Purchase of a New Property1 year before or 2 years after the sale
Construction of a New PropertyWithin 3 years after the sale

4.3 Amount of Exemption

The exemption on capital gains will depend on the amount of capital gain and the cost of the new property:

a. If the cost of the new property is greater than the capital gain: The entire capital gain will be exempt from tax.

b. If the cost of the new property is less than the capital gain: The exemption will be limited to the cost of the new property.

4.4 The Option to Purchase or Construct Two Houses

The Finance Act, 2019 introduced a provision allowing the seller to purchase or construct two residential houses instead of one, provided the capital gain does not exceed INR 2 crores. However, this option can only be exercised once in a lifetime.

4.5 Limit on the Cost of the New Asset

The Finance Act, 2023 introduced a further provision that if the cost of the new asset exceeds INR 10 crores, the amount exceeding INR 10 crores shall not be taken into account for the purposes of this section.

For Any Query

5. Conditions for Non-Utilization of Capital Gain

In some situations, you might not be able to use the capital gains for the purchase or construction of a new property before the due date of filing of the return of income under section 139. In that case, the unutilized amount can be deposited under the Capital Gains Account Scheme (CGAS) in any authorized bank. The amount deposited in CGAS can be used to purchase or construct a new property within the time limits mentioned above.

If you don’t utilize the amount deposited under CGAS within the specified time, it will be treated as capital gain of the year in which the time limit for purchase or construction expires.

Here’s how it works:

  1. If the capital gains aren’t used to buy or construct a new property before the due date for filing income tax returns, the unutilized amount must be deposited in a Capital Gains Account Scheme with a bank.
  2. If the amount deposited in the Capital Gains Account Scheme isn’t utilized within the specified timeframe (2 years for purchase and 3 years for construction), it will be treated as capital gains in the year the specified period ends.

Absolutely! Let’s work through some examples to illustrate how Section 54 works in practice.

Examples

Basic Exemption Claim

Scenario:
Let’s say Mr. A sold his residential property in January 2023 for INR 50 lakhs. He purchased this property in 2000 for INR 10 lakhs (Indexed Cost). He then buys a new residential property in August 2023 for INR 40 lakhs.

Working:
The long term capital gain would be INR 50 lakhs (sale price) – INR 10 lakhs (indexed purchase price) = INR 40 lakhs.
Since Mr. A reinvested the entire capital gain in a new residential property, he can claim the entire INR 40 lakhs as an exemption under Section 54.


Partial Exemption Claim

Scenario:
Ms. B sold her residential property in March 2023 for INR 70 lakhs. She had bought this property in 1998 for INR 20 lakhs (Indexed Cost). She then buys a new residential property in September 2023 for INR 45 lakhs.

Working:
The long term capital gain would be INR 70 lakhs (sale price) – INR 20 lakhs (indexed purchase price) = INR 50 lakhs.
Since Ms. B reinvested INR 45 lakhs (which is less than the capital gain), she can claim INR 45 lakhs as an exemption under Section 54. The remaining INR 5 lakhs will be subject to long-term capital gains tax.


Exemption for Two Properties

Scenario:
Ms. D sold her residential property in May 2023 for INR 1.5 crores. She had bought this property in 1997 for INR 30 lakhs (Indexed Cost). She then buys two new residential properties in India for INR 60 lakhs each in 2023.

Working:
The long term capital gain would be INR 1.5 crores (sale price) – INR 30 lakhs (indexed purchase price) = INR 1.2 crores.
As per the provision, Ms. D can invest in two residential properties as the capital gain does not exceed INR 2 crores. Since she reinvested the entire capital gain in new residential properties, she can claim the entire INR 1.2 crores as an exemption under Section 54.


These examples cover a range of scenarios and illustrate how the exemption under Section 54 works. However, everyone’s situation is unique, so it’s always advisable to consult with a tax professional.

For Any Query

6. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Section 54

Q: Can I claim the exemption under Section 54 if I sell my property and use the proceeds to buy a plot of land?

A: No, the exemption under Section 54 is only applicable if the capital gain from the sale of the property is reinvested in buying another residential property or in constructing one.

Q: I sold a property and used the proceeds to buy a house abroad. Can I claim the exemption under Section 54?

A: No, the property must be purchased or constructed in India to qualify for the exemption under Section 54.

Q: Can I use the exemption for more than one house?

A: Yes, you can purchase or construct two residential properties in India to claim the exemption under Section 54. However, this option can only be exercised if the capital gain doesn’t exceed INR 2 crores and can only be used once in a lifetime.

Q: I sold a commercial property and used the capital gain to buy a residential property. Can I claim exemption under Section 54?

A: No, the exemption under Section 54 is only available for capital gains from the sale of a residential property.

Q: What if the cost of the new property is more than the capital gain?

A: If the cost of the new property is more than the capital gain, then the entire capital gain is exempt from tax. However, you won’t get any benefit for the excess money spent on the new property.

Q: How do I claim the Section 54 exemption in my Income Tax Return?

A: You need to disclose the capital gain from the sale of the property in the appropriate sections of your Income Tax Return. After calculating the capital gain, claim the exemption under Section 54 in the ‘Exemptions’ section. The exemption will be reduced from the total taxable capital gain.

Remember to keep all the documents related to the sale and purchase of the property safe, as they might be required to substantiate your claim.

Section 54 vs Section 54F

While both Section 54 and Section 54F of the Income Tax Act deal with capital gains exemptions related to residential property, there are key differences to understand. In this section, we’ll compare the two based on their specific stipulations and conditions.

CriteriaSection 54Section 54F
Asset SoldApplies to the sale of a residential house.Applies to the sale of a long-term capital asset other than a residential house.
Asset Bought/ConstructedThe taxpayer must purchase or construct a residential house.The taxpayer must purchase or construct a residential house.
Number of HousesOne house can be bought or constructed, although an option to buy or construct two houses is available if capital gains do not exceed INR 2 crores. This option, however, can be exercised only once in a lifetime.Only one house can be bought or constructed.
Condition of Owning HousesThere is no restriction on the number of houses the taxpayer can own in addition to the new asset.The taxpayer should not own more than one residential house apart from the new asset at the time of transfer of the original asset. If the taxpayer purchases or constructs any other residential house (other than the new asset) within the specified time frame, the exemption will not be allowed.
Investment AmountThe exemption is available if the capital gain is reinvested. If the entire capital gain is not reinvested, the remaining amount will be taxed.The exemption is based on reinvestment of the net consideration. If the entire net consideration is not reinvested, the exemption is proportionally reduced.
Investment Time FrameThe new residential house must be bought one year before or two years after the sale, or constructed within three years after the sale.The same time frame applies as in Section 54.
Deposits in Capital Gains Account SchemeAny unutilised capital gain should be deposited in a Capital Gains Account Scheme before the due date of filing income tax returns.Any unutilised net consideration should be deposited in the Capital Gains Account Scheme before the due date of filing income tax returns.
Cap on InvestmentFrom 1-4-2024, if the cost of the new asset exceeds INR 10 crores, the amount exceeding INR 10 crores will not be taken into account for exemption purposes.A similar provision is applicable in Section 54F, but it is based on the net consideration and not on the cost of the new asset.

To summarise, both Section 54 and Section 54F provide exemptions on capital gains tax, albeit under different circumstances. It’s critical to understand the conditions and provisions associated with each to make the most of the available tax benefits. As always, consulting with a tax advisor or professional can provide further insights based on specific individual circumstances.

Conclusion: Section 54 Capital Gain Exemption

Understanding and implementing Section 54 of the Income Tax Act can be an effective way to save on capital gains tax from the sale of a residential property. By reinvesting the capital gains in a new residential property within the stipulated time, a taxpayer can claim an exemption and reduce their tax liability.

However, it’s essential to be aware of the various conditions and stipulations outlined in this section. Failure to adhere to them could result in a loss of the exemption and a consequent increase in tax liability. These include, but are not limited to, the timing of the purchase or construction of the new property, the number of new properties bought or constructed, and the total cost of the new property.

Additionally, the introduction of new provisions in the Finance Act, 2023 has added a layer of complexity to this section, and it is crucial to stay updated with the latest amendments.

In conclusion, while Section 54 presents a valuable opportunity for saving taxes, navigating its intricacies can be challenging for the uninitiated. It is always advisable to seek the advice of a tax professional to ensure you’re accurately applying the provisions of this section and optimizing your tax savings.

Disclaimer

The materials provided herein are solely for educational and informational purposes. No attorney/professional-client relationship is created when you access or use the site or the materials. The information presented on this site does not constitute legal or professional advice and should not be relied upon for such purposes or used as a substitute for professional or legal advice.

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27 Comments

      1. Can the amount invested in capital gain bond be redeemed before the completion of the lock-in period of 5 years after the payment of tax in necessary arises?

  1. Sir, I sold a house in last fy and had capital gain of rs 10 lacs. I parked it in my savings ac. Before filing itr but In current fy I invested the sum along in purchasing a new house, hence, I didn’t declared capital gain in my return as it was utilised before return filing.did I did anything wrong ? Do I need to file revised return ?

  2. Hi Sir

    Can I invest my capital gain in under construction residential flat with possession timeline of say 4 years.

    Please explain.

    Regards

    Nimish Kansal

  3. Hello Sir,
    I recently sold a residential house and investing the proceeds in a new construction.
    I understand I can take capital gain exemption under section 54.
    I also have 2 other residential properties besides the one I sold and the new construction I booked.
    Can I still avail section 54 capital gain exemption? The table in your article for section 54 says there is no restriction on the number of houses the taxpayer can own in addition to the new asset.
    Please share your contact information to my email below.
    Thank you,
    Ram Vasudevan

  4. Sir, excellent and well clarified sec 54 and 54F. Can you please add an example for net consideration in 54F? If I sell stocks valued 50 lacks with long term capital gains of 20 lacks, then the net consideration means 50 lacks minus brokerage expenses and not 20 lacks minus exempted 1 lack ? Great if you clarify !

  5. Ahuja sir,

    I purchased a residential house agreement dt. Nov 2021, but I got possession in dec 23 , OC dated 31st aug 23.

    Now I sold my residential property in Jan 24.

    Can I claim LTCG.

    1. hi,

      this subject is not clarified directly by the act, but is considered in various case laws and is complex in nature. We would try to make a separate post on it covering all the aspects. if you need specific answer urgently, feel free to contact us on email.

  6. What’s will be time limit to retain the new house property Purchased or constructed which is claimed for exemption u/s 54 to offer it for LTCG by sale of the same.

    1. Please do a proper computation of capital gain including finding out the indexed cost. Exemption is only if you reinvest capital gain, no other exemption is available for senior citizens specifically for capital gain.

  7. Hi Sir,

    What would be the capital gains tax if i sell under construction property after 2 years of allotment? Will I be able to claim LTCG under section 54?

    Thank you,
    Arjun

    1. hi,

      this subject is not clarified directly by the act, but is considered in various case laws and is complex in nature. We would try to make a separate post on it covering all the aspects. if you need specific answer urgently, feel free to contact us on email.

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