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Canadian Real Estate Investment Trusts

Canadian REITs

by Harry Domash

Late to the party compared to the U.S., Canadian Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) were first established in 1993. Unlike U.S. REITs, which are corporations, Canadian REITs are unincorporated investment trusts. Otherwise, U.S. and Canadian REITs (pronounced “reets”) are similar.

Differences U.S. vs. Canadian REITs
Both U.S. and Canadian REITS do not pay federal income taxes as long as they distribute a specified percentage of net taxable income to shareholders. However, the minimum percentage is 90% for U.S. REITs, but 100% for Canadian REITS.

Because Canadian REITs are not incorporated, in theory, unitholders are liable for their debts and other liabilities. However, most REITs take steps to shield unitholders from REIT liabilities.

The Canadian government limits foreign ownership of REITs to 49%. If that limit is exceeded, the trustees decide which foreign owners must dispose of their shares.

While U.S. REITs typically pay quarterly dividends, most Canadian REITs pay unitholders monthly.

Tax Issues
The Canadian government requires that REITs withhold 15% of shareholder distributions defined as return on capital. The tax withholding applies to REITs held in tax-sheltered as well as regular accounts. U.S. citizens may claim a foreign tax credit up to $300 for single tax payers and $800 for married couples filing jointly. Those limits apply to the total of all foreign dividends received during a year, not to each REIT. For amounts above those limits, U.S. taxpayers must file IRS Form 1116. The credit received from Form 1116 depends in each filer’s tax situation. 

Return of capital distributions are not subject to withholding. However, since REITs typically don’t classify distributions as return of capital until the following year, U.S. holders must apply for a refund from the Canada Revenue Agency.  

The withholding issue aside, Canadian REITs offer a significant advantage to U.S. investors in that distributions are subject the maximum 15% capital gains tax rate, not the ordinary income rate that applies to dividends received from U.S. REITs.

Real Estate Operating Companies
A few publicly traded Canadian real estate operators are organized as Real Estate Operating Companies (REOCs) instead of REITs. The advantage to the REOC is that it is not required to pay out all of its taxable income to shareholders. That gives the REOC more flexibility in terms of allocating its resources.

Here are the publicly traded Canadian REITs and REOCs, listed with the largest firms, in terms of market-capitalization, first.

Ticker Company Name Description Market Cap $ million

REI.UN

RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust

REIT - Community Shopping Centers

6,534

HR.UN

H&R Real Estate Investment Trust

REIT - Office, Industrial, & Retail

3,226

FCR

First Capital Realty Inc.

REOC - Community Shopping Centers

2,689

CWT.UN

Calloway Real Estate Investment Trust

REIT - Community Shopping Centers

2,573

BEI.UN

Boardwalk REIT

REIT - Multi-Family Residential

2,319

REF.UN

Canadian REIT

REIT - Office, Industrial, & Retail

2,222

BOX.UN

Brookfield Office Properties

REIT - Urban Office

2,010

D.UN

Dundee Real Estate Investment Trust

REIT - Office & Industrial

1,685

CAR.UN

Canadian Apartment Properties REIT

REIT - Multi-Family Residential

1,468

CUF.UN

Cominar Real Estate Investment Trust

REIT - Office, Industrial, & Retail

1,434

PMZ.UN

Primaris Retail REIT

REIT - Shopping Malls

1,396

CSH.UN

Chartwell Seniors Housing REIT

REIT - Senior Housing Communities

1,290

AP.UN

Allied Properties REIT

REIT - Urban Office Properties

1,072

AX.UN

Artis Real Estate Investment Trust

REIT - Office, Industrial, & Retail

1,037

MRT.UN

Morguard Real Estate Inv.

REIT - Office, Retail & Mixed Use

854

NPR.UN

Northern Property REIT

REIT - Residential & Commercial

805

KMP

Killam Properties Inc.

REOC -  Multi-Family & Mfg. Homes

488

CRR.UN

Crombie Real Estate Investment Trust

REIT - Office, Retail & Mixed Use

467

WRK.UN

Whiterock Real Estate Investment Trust

REIT - Office, Industrial, & Retail

368

PLZ .V

Plazacorp Retail Properties Ltd.

REOC - Retail Malls & Strip Centers

241

RMM.UN

Retrocom Mid-Market R. E. Invest. Trust

REIT - Community Shopping Centers

207

SRQ.UN

Scott's Real Estate Investment Trust

REIT - Community Shopping Centers

52

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