SMSF Using an Unrelated Unit Trust for Property Development

Following on from my previous article How a SMSF can Purchase a Property with a Related Party – Using a 13.22c Trust , another strategy for those wishing to engage in property development with their SMSF involvement is for the fund trustee to invest in a unit trust that holds the development land / existing property by subscribing for units in the unit trust with partners so that no related entity group owns more than 50% of the units in the trust.

Propert Development

Where the fund trustee invests in an unrelated trust the trustee for the unit trust is not required to comply with the requirements of regulation 13.22C of the SIS Regulations. This means that the trustee for the unit trust can borrow to fund the land development without the fund trustee breaching the in-house asset rules in s71 of the SIS Act.

To make it very clear the unit trust will be unrelated if the fund trustee and its associates do not:

  • exercise Sufficient Influence; or
  • have a fixed entitlement to more than 50% of the income and capital of the unit trust; or
  • have the power to remove or appoint the trustee for the unit trust.

So each SMSF or related group of investors can own exactly 50% in combination between them and still maintain an unrelated trust and meet the above requirements.

Keep it simple as it  is important that the units in the unit trust carry equal rights to income and capital so that you do not also trigger the non arm’s length income provisions under s295-550 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 (1997 Act).

The diagram below shows 2 unrelated Self Managed Superannuation Funds investing in a unit trust equally (50/50) to carry out a property development. One of the SMSFs uses as related party loan to fund their purchase of the units. Remember it is only the units that are offered as security not the property in the trust.

Unrelated Unit Trust

Each SMSF contributes $350,000 and the property is developed for a total cost of $700,000 and sold for $1m. The$300,000 profit flow back through the Unit Trust to the unit holders equally.

Sufficient Influence

Where two unrelated SMSFs each hold 50% of the units in the unit trust, it is important that the trust management decisions are decided on a 50/50 basis. It should be very clear from documentation and minutes of the trust that decisions are made jointly.

How to avoid distributions to the SMSF being treated as non-arm’s length income?

Where the SMSF invests by way of a unit trust structure, any income received by the fund trustee may be treated as non arm’s length income and taxed at 47% under s295-550(5) of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 (1997 Act), where:

  • the parties are not dealing at arm’s length terms; and
  • the fund trustee receives an amount it would not otherwise have received if the parties were dealing on arm’s length terms.

Similarly, income the SMSF derives as a beneficiary of the trust, other than because of a fixed entitlement to income, will be treated as non arm’s length income and taxed at 47%.

Therefore, it is important to ensure that the unit trust is a fixed trust, meaning that the entitlement of unit holders to receive income and/or capital from the unit trust is fixed and indefeasible. However, even with a fixed trust it is necessary for the income to be no more than the income that would have been derived if the parties were dealing with each other at arms-length (s295-550(5)).

Managing powers of trustee appointment or removal

Again to avoid falling foul of the legislation, the constitution of the trustee company of the unit trust should be designed to ensure that the SMSF trustee and/or its associates do not have the power to control the trustee by effectively having the power to appoint and remove the trustee for the unit trust by reason that they hold a majority of the shares in the trustee. One trap is a constitution that allows the chairperson to have a casting vote where the chairperson is a SMSF Trustee or representative of the SMSF trustee.


When the transaction is structured by way of an unrelated unit trust arrangement, the following documents should be prepared by an experienced legal expert (not off the shelf):

  • purpose specific unit trust deed and accompanying minutes of meeting; and
  • unit holders’ agreement all ensuring none of the requirements breached..

Gradual acquisitions of more units by the SMSF

Where a fund trustee invests in an unrelated unit trust the fund trustee may acquire the units held by the other party over time, subject to complying with the provisions of the SIS Act and keeping their related entity group to less than 50% of the overall trust units.  Keep in mind that where the unit trust is land rich, there may be a corresponding stamp duty liability and there may be capital gains tax implications for the initial owner as well as valuation fees at each transaction date.

Remember the Sole Purpose Test

In the zest for undertaking any strategy I always remind clients about the reason for undertaking any investment. Your aim should be to provide for a better retirement. If that is not the core purpose then you are breaching the sole purpose test and should reconsider the whole strategy. Also you must review or amend your fund’s investment strategy to ensure this investment falsl within it’s guidelines..

Important information (emphasised for use of this material):

The information in this article is provided for illustrative purposes only and does not take into consideration your personal circumstances. You are encouraged to seek financial, tax and legal advice suitable to your circumstances to avoid a decision that is not appropriate. Any reference to your actual circumstances is coincidental. Magnitude, Verante and its representatives receive fees from the provision of financial advice.

Are you looking for an advisor that will keep you up to date and provide guidance and tips like in this blog? then why now contact me at our Castle Hill or Windsor office in Northwest Sydney to arrange a one on one consultation. Just click the Schedule Now button up on the left to find the appointment options.

Liam Shorte B.Bus SSA™ AFP

Financial Planner & SMSF Specialist Advisor™

SMSF Specialist Adviser 

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Verante Financial Planning

Tel: 02 98941844, Mobile: 0413 936 299

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This information has been prepared without taking account of your objectives, financial situation or needs. Because of this you should, before acting on this information, consider its appropriateness, having regard to your objectives, financial situation and needs. This website provides an overview or summary only and it should not be considered a comprehensive statement on any matter or relied upon as such.

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