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Imputed rent is an estimate in economic theory of the rent a house owner would be willing to pay to live in his or her own house. Imputed rent can thus serve as an important measure between home owners and tenants. Imputed rent is the economic theory of imputation applied to real estate: that the value of a good is more a matter of what the buyer is willing to pay than the cost the seller incurs to create it. In this case, market rents are used to estimate the value to the property owner. Thus, for example, if one could rent a similar property for less than the costs, one is losing money on the deal and vice versa. While the idea of imputed rent applies to any capital good, it is most commonly used in reference to home ownership.
More formally, in owner-occupancy, the landlord–tenant relationship is short-circuited. Consider a model: two people, A and B, each of whom owns property. If A lives in B's property, and B lives in A's, two financial transactions take place: each pays rent to the other. But if A and B are both owner-occupiers, no money changes hands even though the same economic relationships exists; there are still two owners and two occupiers, but the transactions between them no longer go through the market. The amount that would have changed hands had the owner and occupier been different persons is the imputed rent. Imputed rents can alternatively be understood as returns to investments in assets. On these grounds, imputed rents might be included in disposable income, e.g. when calculating indices of income distribution.
Effects of owner-occupancy
- Imputed rents disappear from measures of national income and output, unless figures are added to take them into account.
- The government loses the opportunity to tax the transaction. Sometimes, governments have attempted to tax the imputed rent (Schedule A of United Kingdom's income tax used to do that), but it tends to be unpopular. Some countries still tax the imputed rent, such as Belgium, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland. The absence of taxes on imputed rents is also referred to as Home-Ownership Bias.
In population datasets like the Cross-National Equivalent File, imputed rent is estimated:
- for owner-occupiers, as a small percentage (4–6%) of the capital accrued in the property
- for public housing tenants, as the difference between rent paid and the average rent for a similar property in the same location
- for those living rent-free, as the estimate of the rent they would have to pay to rent a similar property in the same location
- for renters in the private market, as zero
- Bartlett, Bruce (2013-09-03). "Taxing Homeowners as if They Were Landlords". Retrieved 2013-12-20.