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August 30, 2006

Employer Provided Housing is Taxable to Expat Employees

The taxpayers were liable for taxes on the value of the lodging provided by a government contractor. Hargrove et al. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2006-159 (8/8/2006).

During at least some of the time during the 1999 – 2002 tax years, several couples worked for TRW Overseas Inc. at the Joint Defense Space Research Facility/Joint Defense Space Communication Station (defense facility) in Pine Gap, Australia. TRW was a U.S. government contractor that provided services at the facility.

The work for TRW required accepting assigned housing in Alice Springs, Australia, which was approximately 22 miles from the defense facility and was outside of its physical boundaries. The housing was scattered throughout Alice Springs and was on publicly accessible roads that were adjacent to homes available to the general public. While living in Alice Springs, the taxpayers did not pay any rent or utility expenses and did not conduct any TRW or defense facility work from the homes.

The IRS determined that the couples were liable for deficiencies for one or more years for the 1999 – 2002 tax years as the result of excluding the value of their housing from income and that some of them owed corresponding accuracy-related penalties. The taxpayers filed Tax Court petitions in which they argued that Code Section 119 gave them the right to exclude the value of their employment-related housing from their income and that Code Section 912 provided an exclusion for certain living allowances. The taxpayers also asked the Tax Court to review the accuracy-related penalties’ propriety.

The Tax Court held that the couples were liable for the taxes assessed. According to the Tax Court, the couples could not exclude the value of the housing that TRW provided from their taxable income because – although accepting the lodging was a condition of employment and it was furnished for TRW’s convenience – the lodging was not on TRW’s business premises. It said Dole v. Commissioner, 43 T.C. 697 (1965), established that the phrase “on the business premises” means either living quarters that are an integral part of the business property or premises on which an employer conducts some of its business activities. The Alice Springs housing was not integral to TRW’s business, and the couples’ occupancy of that housing did not serve any important TRW business function. The court also concluded that the income exclusion under Code Section 912 did not apply to the living allowances because that provision is limited to civilian officers and employees of the U.S. government.

Finally, the court upheld the accuracy-related penalties because the couples did not show any reasonable cause for the underpayment or that they acted in good faith regarding it. More specifically, they did not provide adequate justification for the disallowed exclusions under Code Sections 911 and 912.