Archive for Rental Properties

Personal Property or Rental Property: How to Get the Most Savings from Your Vacation Home

Your vacation home provides you with the benefits of relaxation and time away from the busy day-to-day responsibilities. But, if you play your cards right, it can also be a source of income and tax savings. After all, there’s no real reason to leave your vacation property sitting vacant when you’re not using it. And, this allows you to take advantage of the repair-day tax benefit.

IRS Rules Regarding Rental Property

You won’t be surprised to know that the IRS has a few rules about treating your vacation home as rental property. You see, just because you rent out the property doesn’t necessarily mean that it qualifies as a rental. It’s all about how the numbers play out. When your vacation home is used for both personal use and as a rental property, tax law still classifies your home as personal property if you use the home for personal purposes more than 1) 14 days, or 2) 10 percent of the number of days it was rented out (at a fair market price) to someone unrelated to you, whichever is greater.[1]

Here’s an example of how such a situation may play out:

Non-family members rent your vacation home for 180 days of the year. You personally stay in the home for 17 days out of the year. This gives you 90.6 percent rental use and 9.4 percent personal use. Regarding taxes, you’ll simply treat 90.6 percent of the property as rental property and the remaining percentage as a personal home.[2]

Figuring in Repairs

So, you’ve counted the rental days and the days of personal use. But, are any days used for something else? Certainly! If you’re renting out your property, you’re more than likely taking some days to make repairs. For tax purposes, the repair day counts in neither the personal nor the rental days. It’s a non-use day.[3]

In fact, as long as you spend the majority of any particular day making repairs, it counts as a repair day regardless of anything else that you or anyone else is doing on the property that day.[4]

To this IRS, this means:

  • Any day for which your primary purpose lies in making repairs or providing maintenance to your vacation home, you are not considered to be using the home for personal purposes;[5] and
  • Any time that you make repairs or provide maintenance to your vacation home on a substantially full-time basis for any given day, it is not a personal day. (Now, the IRS does not state this, but according to the law, your repair day counts no matter what the rest of your family is doing during the time you are working on repairs.[6])

Those regulations sound pretty good, so how do they play out in actual situations? Well, before we explain that, let’s just make clear that IRS regulations are not the law. Lawmakers have already passed legislation regarding repair days, and the IRS regulations are partly based on those laws. Here are a couple of examples of what the IRS regulations would mean for your repair activities:

  1. Let’s say that you and your spouse drive out to your vacation home and arrive on a Thursday evening in order to spend Friday and Saturday making repairs for the upcoming rental season. You eat dinner at the vacation property, but don’t start on any work Thursday night. On Friday and Saturday, you spend 8 hours each day working on property repairs. Your spouse helps out with a few tasks, but does not spend the majority of the time working. You both leave a little before noon on Sunday.

Which days count as repair days? All of the days do—Thursday through Sunday.[7]

  1. As another example, you own a mountain in the cabins and rent it out throughout most of the year. For one week, you and your family stay at the cabin, and you spend 3 to 4 hours each day performing maintenance. The rest of the time is spent relaxing, hiking, and fishing. Per the above regulations, you spent substantially full-time working on the cabin, so your entire week is a repair week, not personal use. The relaxation and leisure activities make no difference.[8]

Note that in each of the examples based on IRS regulations, all the family members (you included) worked at least a little bit in both examples. Under the actual laws regarding these situations, that is not required. According to the law, your family does not have to participate in any repairs to your vacation home in order for you to claim those days as repair days.[9] The IRS may try to make these rules sound vague, but the law is clear—you are entitled to use your repair days when counting personal versus rental use.

  1. IRC Section 280A(d)
  2. IRC Section 280A(e)(1)
  3. Prop. Reg. Section 1.280A-1(c)(1)
  4. IRC Section 280A(d)(2)
  5. Prop. Reg. Section 1.280A-1(e)(6)
  6. Robert J. Twohey, TC Memo 1993-547; IRC Section 280A(d)(2)
  7. Prop. Reg. Section 1.280A-1(e)(7), Example 3
  8. Prop. Reg. Section 1.280A-1(e)(7), Example 4
  9. IRC Section 280A(d)

Rent Your Home to Your S Corporation and Get Double the Tax Benefits

S corporations are one of those funny structures that make you wonder if you’re living in another dimension. The corporation is a separate entity from you, but tax benefits pass through the corporation to your advantage. For a sole owner of an S corporation, the lines between individual and company can sometimes become blurred, even in terms of tax law.

Generally, the IRS is very strict about your making sure you keep your personal finances separate from those of your S corporation. That’s why it seems unbelievable that you could rent your home to your own S corporation and receive a tax advantage from this situation. Doesn’t that cross the lines of personal and business interests? Unbelievable or not, if you play your hand right, you may very well be able to pull off this rental deduction situation.

14-Day Rule for Free-Rent

According to the free-rent rule, you cannot take personal residence deductions against rental income when you rent your home for less than 15 days, and the income for that 14-day or less period is not taxable.[1] Furthermore, in Roy, the court ruled that for tax-free rental cases using the 14-day rule, it is not necessary for the rent to be at fair market value (although you probably should document that it is anyway for your S corporation).[2] The free-rent rule is in IRC Section 280A(g), and it provides you with two distinct tax advantages:

  1. On the personal side, you don’t have to report the rent as taxable income, and
  2. On the corporate side, your company gets to deduct the amount it spent on rent.

According to Section 280A, the tax-free residence-rental rule takes precedence over the other provisions in Section 280A. That means this particular tax code is the key to defending the rental of your personal home tax strategy. However, you are going to come up on several obstacles to getting these benefits. Let’s see what they are and how you can get around them.

You can’t get a deduction for renting to your employer.[3] Section 280A(c)(6) states that an employee cannot take a deduction when renting to the employer. For your S corporation, you are the employee; you are the employer. Therefore, you cannot rent to yourself without breaking this rule, right?

Not so fast. When using the 14-day rule, you as an employee are not entitled to any deductions anyway. So, this problem isn’t really a problem at all! Whether you can get personal deductions or not, you still get rental income tax-free. Additionally, as stated above, the 14-day tax-free rent rule overrides this because it is also a provision in Section 280A.

You can’t take deductions for entertainment facilities.[4] All this really means is you need to be careful about how you have your S corporation rent your home. What will it be using the space for? If your company will be entertaining prospects or customers (including patients), then this puts the brakes on your plan. Although there are exceptions, you’re better off just not renting your home to your business for purposes of entertaining. If you absolutely must use your home for entertainment, limit to those situations that are exempt from the entertainment facility rules.[5][6]

You can’t deduct rental to a related-party.[7][8] It turns out this is another one that’s actually not an issue at all. It seems like renting from yourself would count, but that’s not exactly what’s happening here. Your corporation is renting from you, and as a separate entity, your corporation is not you, and it is not related to you (as in the way your family is related to you).[9] Additionally, the related-party rule prohibits deductions when the recipient does not have to include income “by reason of the method of accounting.”[10] But, that’s not the case here. The reason you don’t have to include the income is because tax law says you don’t have to.

You can’t deduct personal, family, or living expenses.[11] Every business owner should be aware that you cannot deduct these kinds of expenses. However, renting out your home to a third-party is not a personal or family use. Tax law already recognizes that some uses of the home, such as a home office, are not included in these categories.[12]

You have to prove an ordinary and necessary business expense.[13] Renting space for business meetings and/or the annual holiday party is unarguably an ordinary and necessary business expense. Every year, businesses deduct these expenses with no problems. On your corporation’s side, the business purpose of this rental expense is clear. Tip: Document your business use of the space, perhaps even taking photos of the activities.

The IRS could consider this a bogus rental with the substance-over-form doctrine.[14] If you follow the advice of avoiding entertainment facility rules, charging fair market value rent, ensuring that business activities actually take place, and documenting all of this, there’s really no reason for suspicion of fraud. After all, tax law itself allows you to take the rent tax-free, and it’s not an issue of substance-over-form for your corporation to deduct rent for business meetings or a space for holiday parties.

There you have it—all of the information you need to justify your personal tax-free rent income and a business expense deduction for your S corporation. As long as you know the rules and document properly, you can come out ahead with your taxes. Remember, paying taxes is about paying what you owe—no more and no less. So, if tax law allows you to avoid taxes or take deductions, it’s your right to do so.

  1. IRC Section 280A(g)
  2. Leslie A. Roy v Commr., TC Memo 1998-125
  3. IRC Section 280A(c)(6)
  4. IRC Section 274(a)(1)(B)
  5. IRC Section 274(e)(4)
  6. IRC Section 274(n)(2)(A)
  7. IRC Section 280A(d)(2)
  8. IRC Section 267(a)(2)
  9. IRC Section 280A(d)(2)(A)
  10. IRC Section 267(a)(2)(A)
  11. IRC Section 262
  12. IRC Section 280A; Rev. Rul. 76-287
  13. IRC Section 162
  14. Gregory v Helvering, 293 U.S. 465, 14 AFTR 1191 (1935); Frank Lyon Co. v United States, 435 U.S. 561, 573, 41 AFTR 2d 78-1142 (1978)

Advice for Real Estate Investors—Maximize Your Tax Savings with Installment Sales

If you’ve been looking at tax strategies regarding your real estate investments, one of the first lessons you probably learned is that it’s good to defer your taxes. Why? Because even if you eventually have to pay those deferred taxes, you get a chance to invest more money early on and take advantage of that growth, rather than losing it right away to taxes.

How the Installment Sale Works

If you’re a real estate investor (sorry dealers—this one’s not for you), you can take advantage of installment sales in order to defer part of the taxes you owe on the sale of your real estate property (or personal property). Doing it this way, you as the seller don’t have to report all the gains on the sale before you actually receive all the sale proceeds. The only catch is that at least one payment in the installment must be received after the year that’s taxable regarding the sale. If the payments are so large that the entire amount is paid within the same taxable year, you lose out on this advantage.

Here’s the easy formula for how much you’ll report each year in taxable gains on the installment payments:

Total Annual Principal Payments x (Gross Profit / Total Contract Price)

Those principal payments include any of your existing loan indebtedness that the buyer is subject to, to the extent that it exceeds your adjusted tax basis. In the case that you do have an existing loan, the buyer is not personally liable to your lender (in contrast to when a buyer assumes a loan). This is called a wraparound mortgage because the buyer is taking a loan on a property on which you already have a mortgage loan, and instead of you receiving the full amount of the sale proceeds to pay off your existing mortgage, your lender continues to receive payments.

To get the gross profit amount for the equation above, you take the selling price minus the property’s basis and selling expenses. This number is the total gain you will report of the course of the installment period.

Total contract price is the sum of all principal payments you will receive throughout the entire course of the installment period. It is calculated by taking the selling price minus liabilities assumed by the buyer that do not exceed your basis (including selling expenses).


There are two primary advantages to using the installment method for a wraparound mortgage:

  1. You may be able to reduce the amount of the payments you receive in the year of the sale (during which time your existing mortgage may exceed your basis).
  2. The contract price may include the face amount of the wraparound mortgage (increasing the contract price in the equation above decreases the percentage of gains you pay taxes on).

You may notice that these advantages do not reduce the amount of gains you will pay taxes on in total. However, they do help you to defer a larger amount of your taxes. You will only incur tax as each installment payment is actually made on the principal (including any down payment). If you get the buyer to agree to pay the closing costs, you can get even bigger tax savings. How? It’s because the closing costs come out of the down payment paid by the buyer.

For example, if the buyer was paying you $35,000 as a down payment, and you pay the closing costs, then the entire $35,000 is taxable. However, if you get the buyer to agree to pay closing costs (and reduce you reduce the sales price and down payment accordingly), they could still pay $35,000, but you will only pay taxes on that amount less the closing costs.

In order for this to work, you cannot be liable for the brokerage commissions. If you are, then having the buyer pay those costs means they are assuming your liability. And, the tax court has ruled that if a buyer assumes your obligation to pay brokerage commissions, that money counts as a payment received by you in the year of the sale. Pay attention here: that negates any tax benefit you would receive from having the buyer pay closing costs.

So, how do you fix this? It’s actually quite easy. When your broker lists the property for sale, make it clear that they should look to the buyer for payment of the brokerage commission rather than making these costs part of the bargaining between you and the buyer. When you plan ahead and state this up-front, you don’t have any obligation for the buyer to assume (i.e. you were never obligated to pay this in the first place). It shouldn’t be too hard for you to get a buyer to agree to such a situation. They will still be in pretty much the same financial scenario either way. But, the second strategy gives you a tax break in the year of sale.

Seller Beware

The main benefit of this whole strategy is your tax-deferral ability. While you are deferring these taxes, you are also earning interest on the installment payments. But, the IRS knows that you are earning interest on its deferred tax dollars. So, you should be aware that for large transactions, you can be charged interest on that deferred tax under installment reporting law (for situations where the sales price is more than $150,000 and the total installment obligations are more than $5 million).[1]

Several court cases have attempted to disallow this strategy; however, the sticking point in these cases has been the documentation. When you’re considering the installment method with a wraparound mortgage, make sure you hire a legal professional to help you draft all the documentation. The buyer’s obligation to pay closing costs should be clearly stated in the purchase agreement, so that you can keep the additional tax savings. Above all, make sure the installment method is the right method for your situation by checking the numbers and seeing what kind of tax savings you’re looking at.

  1. IRS Publication 537

Thinking of Renting Out a Property? Make It Easier with Shared Equity

Renting your real estate can be a wonderful way to increase your cash flow. However, rental properties can also cause you headaches and add a lot of responsibilities onto you, as landlord. After all, in order to rent your property, you have to deal with tenants and handle their needs. However, it turns out there is a way to share some of that ownership responsibility with your tenants. It’s called shared equity, or a rent-to-own agreement.

The Benefits of Rent-to-Own

Typically, as landlord you are 100 percent responsible for the upkeep of the property. You also take on all of the risk, such as being responsible for a mortgage when you have a vacancy. But, when your tenant shares in the ownership of the property,[1] you keep many of the advantages of owning a rental property and also gain additional benefits.

The benefits aren’t one sided, either. Your tenant shares in equity on the home, as well as putting a down payment on it. And, they get a wonderful opportunity to carefully inspect a home before committing to the purchase (and build equity while making their decision!). The tenants also receive tax deductions that they would not be entitled to as typical renters.

If your agreement gives you 65 percent ownership and the tenant 35 percent ownership, then the tenant pays you rent for your 65 percent. You can treat your share just as you would any other rental property. This arrangement is approved by tax law.

Here are some reasons to consider a rent-to-own situation:

  • The tenant shares responsibility for property upkeep. Normally, as a landlord, you would be responsible for any necessary repairs, including scenarios like an unexpected breakdown of the refrigerator that needs urgent attention. With shared equity, however, tenants have their own interest in keeping the property in shape, whether they exercise their purchasing option or agree to sell the property with you. The tenant has become tenant-owner, and they should be expected to provide most of the day-to-day repair work, like lawn care. So, you won’t be getting calls in the middle of the night about urgent repairs! In addition, they are less likely to cause damage to floors, walls, or other parts of the property because increasing the property’s value is now their goal as well as yours.
  • You don’t have to worry about vacancies, which cost you money. Aside from the lost influx of money, you’re also out the money and time spent finding a new tenant and preparing the property for them. If vacancy goes on for several months or more, it’s going to cost you a lot, but a rent-to-own situation ensures that your tenant is in for the long-haul. They’re not likely to just give up their share of the equity in a home they live in.
  • You have no management fees. Management fees are an optional expense, but for many landlords it becomes necessary, especially if you have another job or business. Typically, management companies are hired to take care of things like property inspection, advertising for tenants, and providing or scheduling repairs. With your tenant-owner, none of this is necessary. You have a long-term renter who will more than likely take good care of the property themselves.
  • You tenant has more reason to make their payments on time every month. In a shared equity situation, your tenant is paying towards an end-goal, whether it’s to own the property in entirety or to own their share of the equity at the time of sale. This means that for the duration of the agreement, you know how much rent you will receive and for how long. You also know the possible scenarios for when the rental term comes to an end. Basically, you have a much better idea of your financial outcome than most landlords do.

Your Tax Situation

But, what about the taxes? Here’s something you don’t hear very often. Tax law regarding shared equity is very straightforward. In fact, for the more than 30 years it’s been on the books, there’s only one private letter ruling to use as an example (PLR 8410038). In this ruling, the landlord made a 20 percent down payment and took half the mortgage; the tenant took the other half. At the end of five years, their agreement allowed for the tenant to buy out the landlord by 1) reimbursing the down payment and 2) paying 50 percent of what the equity increased by since the beginning of the agreement to the landlord. During those five years, the tenant paid the landlord both a rental fee and 50 percent of the mortgage.

The sharing of expenses is, likewise, straightforward and laid out in tax law. Any tax benefits must be divided according to ownership interest. In the above case, both the landlord and the tenant-owner would receive 50 percent of the tax benefits.[2] In addition, for most shared equity situations, the relationship between parties is considered tenants-in-common. That means you’ll have to follow state tax laws, which typically require expenses such as repairs, taxes, and interest to also be divided according to ownership interest. Since your tenant will likely be completing repairs, they do have the right to request reimbursement from you for half the cost. Regardless of whether they pay 50 percent or 100 percent, the tenant only gets tax benefits for their vested interest (as do you).[3] Of course, you’ll want to check your particular state’s tax laws in this area.

Pay attention to how you agree to divide expenses in your equity-share agreement. In one court case, the landlord owned 50 percent of the equity but paid 100 percent of mortgage interest and property taxes on two properties.[4] It didn’t matter how much he paid; he could only deduct 50 percent from his taxes. Just because each party pays 50 percent of the mortgage doesn’t necessarily mean your ownership percentage is 50 percent each. Other factors, such as down payment, can come into play. Always check with an attorney when signing an equity-share agreement.

Calculating the Rent

Tax law also specifies that you and your tenant will need to come to a rental agreement based upon “fair market rent”.[5] All of this planning in advance should make you one happy landlord. You’re getting a written guarantee of how much cash you’ll be receiving for years to come.

As you know, any situation that deals with tax law requires proper documentation. So, be sure to keep a file with all the necessary information. One thing you will need to provide is evidence that your rent price is fair. Some ways to do this are to clip ads for other rentals in the area, print online ads for your area, get a written opinion from a consultant or rental management company, or get information from nearby tenants on what they pay for rent (including their names).

You’ll probably do some of this research anyway in order to come to your determination. The key is to hang on to your research documents. Research you performed but didn’t document don’t count for anything with the IRS, and as landlord, you bear the burden of evidence.

Following the Rules

Once you’ve found the perfect tenant-partner, you’ll want to follow three rules in order to comply with tax law.

  1. The equity-share arrangement must be detailed in a written agreement.[6] This document must include details regarding ownership of the residence by two or more people; agreement that one of the parties must occupy the dwelling as their primary residence; and, agreement to rent payment.
  2. The relationship must be one of joint ownership. According to tax law, both parties will own the property even after the rental period ends. The tax law technically stipulates a period of 50 years of ownership, but what you really need to know is that you both must, in fact, own the property.[7]
  3. Tax benefits are earned according to ownership. As stated above, you can only claim benefits for your share of ownership in the property.

Before entering a shared equity situation, plan accordingly. You’ll want to choose someone trustworthy to enter into a long-term ownership with. Hire a real estate attorney to help make sure you consider all the possible scenarios, and get everything in writing. And, always, always keep your records. If you do rent-to-own right, you can make renting your property both easier and more profitable.

  1. IRC Section 280A(d)(3)(C)(ii)(I).
  2. Prop. Reg. Sections 1.280A-1(e)(5)(iii)(B)(3); 1.280A-1(e)(5)(iii)(C) Example.
  3. Estate of Boyd v. Commr., 28 T.C. 564 (1957).
  4. Joseph J. James v Commr., TC Memo 1995-562.
  5. IRC Section 280A(d)(3)(B)(ii).
  6. IRC Section 280A(d)(3)(C).
  7. IRC Section 280A(d)(3)(D).

Increase Deductions on Your Vacation Home with a Hidden Tax Technique

Usually, when you want to research which tax deductions are available to you, you go to the IRS’s publications and tax regulations documents. The IRS can even be pretty helpful at times by letting you know exactly what you need to do in order to get your deductions. However, the technique in this article won’t be found in any of the typical tax literature. In fact, you’d only find it if you’ve been reading up on old court cases or tax treatises.

The Precedent

So, how does this tax tactic help you if it’s not approved in IRS documents? Aside from the typical sources for supporting your deduction strategies, you can also use tax court precedents. In 1981, Dorance and Helen Bolton found their money trapped behind vacation home deduction limits, but they decided to get creative and find a way around those limits.

Because they set this precedent, you can legally use the same technique today, even though the IRS doesn’t publicize it for everyone’s use. In fact, the IRS’s calculation methods for vacation homes are much more stringent. Nevertheless, the IRS is required to allow the method used by the Boltons because the tax court has ruled it a legal tax strategy.

How this Money-Saving Strategy Works

Do you have a second home, a ski cabin or beach house for example, that you both rent out and use for your personal use? If so, you’ve probably found that the vacation home rules cap the deductions allowed for rental expenses.[1] Additionally, for properties that qualify as a “residence” those rules are at their most stringent. Your property is considered a residence for tax purposes if you take advantage of its personal use for the greater of the following two time periods:[2]

  • More than 14 days in a year, or
  • More than 10 percent of the days you rent it at fair rental price during the year.

You see, when your home qualifies as a residence, you have to split your deductions between residence and rental property, and that creates two primary disadvantages for you: 1) your rental expenses are limited to your rental income, and 2) part of your mortgage interest and property tax deductions are considered rental expenses, which—because of the limit in #1—reduces the amount of other rental expenses you are able to deduct.

Now, here’s what the Boltons did to mitigate these disadvantages. They were able to come up with a way to decrease the amount of mortgage interest and property taxes that counted as rental expenses. Let’s take a look at how their method differs from that of the IRS:

  • IRS MethodCount the property’s total use. That means of your tenants rent the property for 75 days and you personally use it for 25, you divide the rental use days by the total number of days, 100. The use percentages divide up as 75 percent rental and 25 percent personal. Assuming your mortgage interest and property taxes come to $10,000, you must count $7,500 (i.e. 75 percent of $10,000) towards the rental expense limit.
  • Bolton MethodDetermine percentages for the entire year, not just for days of use. With this calculation, you take that same 75 days of rental use and divide it by 365 days, giving you only 21 percent rental use for the year. Again, given $10,000 in mortgage interest and property taxes, you now take 21 percent of that, getting a rental expense total of only $2,100. The Bolton method leaves you with an additional $5,400 of rental expenses that can be deducted.

To see how the numbers work out after deductions, here’s the Boltons’ case:[3]

  • 91 days of rental use
  • 30 days of personal use
  • 244 unoccupied days
  • $2,700 in gross rental income
  • $3,475 in expenses for mortgage interest and property taxes
  • $2,693 in expenses for rental property maintenance

The Boltons were able to claim an additional $1,738 in deductions. Adjusting for today’s dollars, you can save substantially more than that. This case has been on the books for more than 30 years and remains seldom-used, but the IRS is required by precedent tax law to allow it.[4] Now you know the secret, so start claiming your full rental deductions on your vacation home this year.

  1. IRC Section 280A(e).
  2. IRC Section 280A(c)(5) and (d)(1).
  3. Bolton v Commr., 77 TC 104, aff’d 694 F.2d 556 (9th Cir.).
  4. McKinney v Commr., 732 F.2d 414.

You Can Do 1031 Real Estate Exchanges

Have you heard about 1031 real estate exchanges? It turns out they are a great way to save money on taxes. You may not realize this, but paying income taxes on the disposition of rental, business, or investment real estate is voluntary. You have another option!

Even people who have heard of 1031 real estate exchanges often don’t take advantage of them. Perhaps it’s because the name makes it sound like something too difficult to mess with. The truth is that the process is simple; don’t let the word “exchange” fool you.

The Basics of the 1031 Exchange

Here is what you need to know: the Section 1031 tax-deferred exchange is merely a sale and a purchase. It involves four parties: 1) the seller (you), 2) the buyer, 3) the seller of your new property, and 4) a qualified intermediary who knows how to qualify your sale and purchase as tax-deferred. The process requires only a few necessary steps:

  • Hire an intermediary.
  • When you sell to the buyer, the intermediary holds onto the money. Don’t touch the money yourself.
  • You then purchase your new property using the funds being held by the intermediary.
  • All of the taxes are deferred as long as you receive no cash and do not obtain debt relief!

Who Can Act as Intermediary

For your sale and purchase to qualify for tax-deferred status, your intermediary must be someone impartial who does not benefit from the exchange. Specifically, you cannot have had a business relationship with the person in the last two years[1]. That means the ordinary people you may think of to help with your finances—your attorney or accountant—won’t work.

Don’t get discouraged. Professional intermediaries are available who specifically handle these kinds of situations on a daily basis. You can do a quick online search for “1031 intermediary” and find plenty of candidates. Because they are fairly common, you can usually get a fairly good price (perhaps less than $500) on hiring an intermediary.

Tip: Be aware that like any purchase of services, hiring an intermediary does carry risk. They are a business, and although it’s not common, it is possible to come across dishonest intermediaries who steal their clients’ money. Be sure you check the company’s background. Also, intermediaries can go bankrupt. This would entirely throw off your sale and purchase if the funds from the first sale are missing. That means you won’t be able to complete the exchange. You’ll have to pay the taxes, and you won’t have the money from the sale—bad news all around.

Most professional intermediaries are legitimate companies that make their money through helping clients to save on taxes. However, you should always protect yourself and your investments. Make sure you go with a company with an established reputation, and check into options to protect your money, such as bonds or an insurance policy. Also, ask the intermediary if they offer some type of protection for your funds.

Time Limits on Making an Exchange

Okay, so most of this doesn’t sound too complicated. Don’t let the simple process make you get lax. Section 1031 sets hard, fast rules about how long you can take to complete an exchange. Be efficient; meet the deadlines. If you don’t, you lose out on your tax-deferred advantage, no exceptions or second chances. Here’s the information you need:

  • Start DateThe date on which you close the sale for the property you are selling triggers the “initial transfer date”. Once you have relinquished the property, the Section 1031 exchange officially begins.
  • Identify DateYes, you have a time limit on how long you can take to identify the property you intend to buy. You should formally identify your possible choices by the forty-fifth day after the initial transfer date[2]. Please note that this is not the date by which you must purchase the property; you merely need to have a few specific options picked out.
  • Close Date—The close date is not the day you close the sale on your new property. It is actually the date on which the exchange is fully completed and you have identified the new property title in your name. The closing of the exchange must be completed within whichever of the following two time frames is shorter[3]: 1) 180 days after the initial transfer date, or 2) the due date of your tax return.

Before you begin to panic, remember that you are allowed to extend the due date of your tax return. You may even be able to get the full 180 days by extending your return. So, if your exchange closes after October 17, file the extension to get more time to complete process.

Other options also exist to buy you a little time. When you know it may take a while to find a suitable replacement property, you can delay the start date. How? One way is to offer your potential buyer a triple net lease to occupy the property until you’re ready to close[4].

How to Prove Identification

You may have noticed that you need to formally identify a property by the forty-fifth day after initial transfer. Ugh, more paperwork, right? Fortunately, it’s easy enough to record your identification of a property. Just put down the earnest money, and you have your evidence that purchase of the replacement property is in process. If you haven’t put down earnest money, you’ll have to sign a document that you provide to the qualified intermediary[5].

Keep in mind that you’re allowed to identify up to three replacement properties regardless of fair market value, whether you’re selling one or multiple properties[6]. You can identify more than three new properties if the total fair market value of the properties does not exceed 200 percent of the fair market value of the properties you sold. The deadlines may be strict, but these rules allow plenty of flexibility in choosing new properties. Even better, the Section 1031 rules work for pretty much any real estate (rental buildings, vacant land, business facilities), as long as it’s domestic and not for personal use[7].

In fact, you can even build on vacant land or rehab a building with a build-out or construction exchange[8]. When identifying the replacement property, you simply include plans for the structure or build-out you will have constructed (make sure this is completed within the designated 180-day period). The qualified intermediary then pays out the funds to the contractor as work is completed.

All you have to remember to qualify for tax-deferral is that all of the proceeds from your original sale must be used to acquire a replacement property. Do not collect cash on the deal. Do not attempt to reduce your debt through the exchange. If the property you purchase is a fixer-upper and did not cost the full amount you sold the original property for, simply complete enough improvements (through your intermediary) within the 180 days in order to use up all the funds. Otherwise, you have all the same options for selling real estate that you normally would, including owner take-backs[9], also completed through the intermediary.

Special Rules about Buyers and Sellers

You may be wondering if certain individuals, like relatives, are excluded from taking part in the sale and purchase. The good news is you are allowed to make the exchange transaction with someone you are related to, but you will be disqualified for tax deferral if an exchanged property is sold again within the next two years[10]. This only applies in cases of siblings (full and half), parents, grandparents, spouse, and descendants (biological and adopted)[11]. Entities in which you own (directly or indirectly) more than fifty percent in value are also considered related parties for this purpose.

Selling a property is not always easy. You’ll be happy to know that Section 1031 also allows “reverse exchanges”[12]. This simply means your intermediary can buy the new property with money you put up in advance before you have sold your original property. Be aware: the 180-day time frame still applies, with the start date taking place once you close on the new property. You’ll need to sell your original property by then to avail the tax advantage.

If you’d like to take advantage of these tax savings, be sure to contact a knowledgeable intermediary who can ensure the correct process is followed. Special rules exist for particular types of property, such as those being converted to rental properties, so make sure you’re working with someone who has experience with your type of situation and understands all the details. The rules get more complicated when you start trying to exchange personal property (e.g., office equipment) or intangibles like a business personality. Keep it simple with real estate exchange to get maximum return for the least effort.

  1. Reg. Section 1.1031(k)-1(k).
  2. IRC Section 1031(a)(3)(A).
  3. IRC Section 1031(a)(3)(B); Reg. Section 1.1031(k)-1(d).
  4. Private Letter Ruling 8118023.
  5. Reg. Section 1.1031(k)-1(c)(2).
  6. Reg. Section 1.1031(k)-1(c)(4)(i).
  7. IRC Section 1031(h).
  8. PLR 200842019.
  9. IRC Section 453(f)(6).
  10. IRC Section 1031(f)(1).
  11. IRC Sections 1031(f)(3); 267(b); 707(b)(1).
  12. Revenue Procedure 2000-37.

Maximize Your Tax Deductions on Business Repairs

When you own business properties, they will occasionally require repairs; that’s just a fact of business ownership. So, whether you need to make repairs on your place of business or your rental buildings, keep these simple truths in mind:

  • You can either increase your net worth with tax-favored repairs.
  • Or, you can decrease your net worth with tax-impaired improvements.

Now, which would you prefer?

Boosting Your Net Worth with the Right Fixes

The fixes that you can label as repairs are vastly more valuable to you than those labelled improvements. That means you need to know the difference between the two so you can a real monetary difference. Of course, it’s important to note that this only applies to an office or rental building that you own.

Fortunately, the IRS released a guide on this subject titled Capitalization v Repairs[1]. Without this guide, some tax deductions linger in an indeterminate gray area, which can be infuriating when it comes time for tax preparation. If you don’t know how the IRS classifies a particular fix, you lose control of your money. However, with the right planning, you can classify particular fixes as repairs and regain that financial control.

Here’s an example of how tax-favored repairs work:

  • Scenario 1: You put an entirely new roof on your office building. Uh-oh! Now you have to depreciate that roof over thirty-nine years, which means you have lost quite a bit of money up-front.
  • Scenario 2: Instead of completely replacing the roof on your building, you replace thirty-five percent of the roof one year, twenty-five percent of the roof a couple years later, fifteen percent of it a few years after that, and then twenty-five percent the following year. Each of those repairs can be deducted immediately, leaving you with a hefty financial advantage.

Defining a Repair

Do you see the difference in the above scenarios? Repairing is maintaining or mending. It is a fix that keeps a property running in its ordinary and efficient operating condition. A repair[2] does not 1) add to a property’s value, or 2) prolong the life of the property by an appreciable measure. You see, a repair ensures that you can continue using a property for the purpose you obtained it for, as opposed to increasing the value for a possible sale in the future[3]. An improvement, on the other hand, is a fix that 1) increases the property’s value[4], 2) prolongs its useful life substantially[5], or 3) modifies the property for a novel use[6].

Take a look at this actual situation to get an idea of how these definitions might play out (numbers are not in today’s dollars). A man purchased a four-unit apartment building (with one tenant residing) that was in poor repair for $30,000 and spent $6,247 for a contractor to fix it up. The contract work included removing tree limbs that were rubbing the roof; repairing water damage; repairing electrical wiring; cleaning the carpets, floors, and exterior; repairing the front porch; and, installing new cabinet doors and new countertops.

When the owner was audited, the IRS deemed the entire amount an improvement. The owner, however, disagreed, and the Tax Court allowed $5,000 worth of repair deductions[7]. The court only required the owner to capitalize $1,247 for the new cabinet doors and countertops.

Why did the court side with the building owner? First, the court noted that a tenant was living in the building. This meant the property was commercially active at the time of the fixes. If you’re repairing a rental property, having tenants in the building is beneficial to your claim of making repairs. Second, the $5,000 in repairs was not considered a large amount of money compared to the initial $30,000 spent to purchase the property. That is, the court could justify the expense as repairs rather than improvements to increase the property value.

Note: There is no defined amount of money that distinguishes a repair from an improvement. Two people could make the same fixes for the same amount of money and get differing tax results. That is why it is important for you to document the facts surrounding your repairs and present those facts when making a case with your tax preparer.

Tips on Making a Case for Repairs

By following a few best practices, you can make it easier on yourself to get the right tax deductions. A good way to get a favorable result for deductions on repairs is to get separate invoices for repairs and improvements[8]. This is especially important when you are carrying out a large renovation project. The IRS specifically states in its audit technique guide that repairs are not considered repairs when they are made as part of a general rehabilitation project[9]. So, keep those invoices separate! In fact, you’ll give yourself a lot fewer headaches if you just hire different contractors to do the repair work at different times from the improvements.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Always Document the Reasons for Your Repairs—Repairs, by their nature, are preceded by an event that indicates their need. For instance, you repair a water pipe because it begins to leak, or you repaint an exterior because the weather has faded it. Record these reasons as evidence of the need for repairs.
  • Fix Only Small Parts at a Time—This is pretty self-explanatory. When you replace something in its entirety (i.e., putting on a new roof, replacing an entire wall, installing new flooring), you are making an improvement[10]. When you focus on simply fixing a part of that roof, wall, or floor, you are making a repair[11].
  • Use Comparable Materials—If you want your claim for tax deductible repair work to be accepted, you should replace worn materials with those of similar, or even less expensive, quality[12]. If you’re using higher quality materials, the work may be considered an improvement[13].
  • Consider the Reason for the Repair—Another aspect to consider when making a case for fixes to be considered repairs for tax purposes is the condition of part being fixed up. A repair can only be made to something that is worn out, deteriorating, or broken[14]. If you’re not restoring or replacing a damaged part of the property, or if work expands to parts of the property that are not damaged, it becomes an improvement.

What’s the Main Concern?

Why is the IRS so particular about whether you are making repairs or improvements? They suspect you may buy a property to renovate, and then write off the renovation as repair costs. In its audit technique guide, the IRS distinguishes between money used to “put” or to “keep” the property in efficient operating condition[15]. Simply stated, if improvements need to be made in order to put the property in efficient operating order, then they are capital improvements. But, if they are only made in order to keep the property in efficient operating order, then they are repairs and are tax deductible.

This is not to say that you should not consider making improvements to your properties. Indeed, if you plan to sell, improvements may be exactly what you need. However, this article is a helpful guide for how to get the most out of your tax deductions when you are attempting to repair the buildings you still use. With proper documentation, you can designate whether the work you have done on your buildings is considered a repair or an improvement, and that means you have the power to take control of how much of your money goes to taxes.

  1. IRS Audit Technique Guide, Capitalization v Repairs, LB&I-4-0910-023.
  2. Reg. Section 1.162-4.
  3. Illinois Merchants Trust Co. v. Commr., 4 B.T.A. 103, 106 (1926), acq.
  4. Reg. Section 1.263(a)-1(a)(1).
  5. Reg. Section 1.263(a)-1(b).
  6. Also see Reg. Section 1.263(a)-1(b).
  7. Roger Verl Jacobson v Commr., TC Memo 1983-719.
  8. E.g., Allen v Commr., 15 T.C.M. 464 (1956).
  9. IRS Audit Technique Guide, Capitalization v Repairs, LB&I-4-0910-023.
  10. Reg. Section 1.162-4; e.g., Ritter v Commr., 47-2 USTC Section 9378 (6th Cir. 1947) (new roof).
  11. E.g., Kingsley v Commr., 11 B.T.A. 296 (1928) (patching roof), acq.
  12. E.g., Illinois Merchants Trust Company v Commr., 4 B.T.A. 103 (1926).
  13. E.g., Abbot Worsted Mills, Inc. v Cagne, 42-2 USTC ¶ 9694 (D. N.H. 1942).
  14. Sanford Cotton Mills v Commr., 14 B.T.A. 1210 (1929) (portion of decayed floor replaced).
  15. IRS Audit Technique Guide, Capitalization v Repairs, LB&I-4-0910-023.

You Can Deduct Rental Losses by Qualifying as a Real Estate Professional

Do you manage rental properties on the side? Even if real estate is not your primary profession, you can benefit from tax advantages by qualifying as a real estate professional. Rest assured, your primary employment does not necessarily inhibit your ability to qualify; however, qualification does depend upon how many hours you put into property management versus other employment. You can even gain the same advantages if your spouse qualifies as a real estate professional (if you file taxes jointly).

What Are the Benefits?

Once you are classified as a real estate professional, you are eligible for passive loss tax deductions. These require the government (as your partner) to pay their portion of the taxes. When you have the proper tax advisor helping you to plan accordingly, you have a good chance of getting your IRS partner to provide their portion earlier. This means you’ll have more money free to invest and build your profits with.

As a qualified real estate professional, you can deduct your rental properties’ passive losses immediately, regardless of each property’s income level. If you do not qualify, you may not be able to deduct rental property losses until after the property is sold (unless your joint income is less than $150,000).

How to Qualify as a Real Estate Professional

Qualification depends on your rental property management spending for the course of the year[1]. You or your spouse will qualify if you:

  • Spend greater than 50 percent of your personal service work time participating in real property businesses that you materially take part in or in real property trades; or,
  • Spend greater than 750 hours of your investment analysis and personal service work time participating in real property businesses that you materially take part in or in real property trades.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you work 926 personal service hours throughout the year managing your properties and 920 hours on your W-2 job running your law firm (not including sick days, holidays, or vacations). In this scenario, you would pass both requirements to qualify as a real estate professional. That means you if you materially take part in your rental properties, you may deduct their losses. Just keep in mind that time spent on investment analysis counts toward the hours requirement but not the greater than 50 percent requirement[2]. Also, one spouse must completely meet the requirements. You and your spouse cannot combine your hours together. However, tax law deems that if one spouse qualifies, then both are considered real estate professionals for tax purposes[3].

What Exactly Is “Real Property Businesses or Trades”?

You may have noticed that the requirements hinge on your time spent in real property businesses or real property trades[4]. The terms apply not only to rental properties. In fact, any of the following count toward your service hours:

  • Rental
  • Leasing
  • Conversion
  • Management
  • Operation
  • Brokerage trade or business (including real estate agents)
  • Construction
  • Development
  • Reconstruction
  • Redevelopment
  • Acquisition

Please note: Any work performed as an employee does not count towards the service hours requirement. The exception to this is if you, as an employee, are a five percent owner in the business[5] (i.e., you own more than five percent of your employer’s capital or profits interest, outstanding stock, or outstanding voting stock.

How Do You Prove It?

Now you know what the requirements are, but the IRS obviously requires proof on your part. They will not simply take your word for it that you spent X number of hours working on your business and trades. Fortunately, the IRS has an audit guide for rental properties that lists two proofs an examiner will check for[6]:

  1. You must log the hours spent and services performed during those hours, and provide this documentation when requested. The requirement to track your service hours is discussed in Reg. Section 1.469-5T(f)(4). Acceptable forms of evidence[7] include identification of provided services and approximate hours spent based on narrative summaries, calendars, or appointment books. Just find a way that works for you to track your time and stick to it.
  2. You must provide documentation detailing the amount of time logged in other activities. This allows the examiner to see whether the claimed hours make sense.

To sum things up, you can increase your legal share of government subsidies pertaining to your rental properties. One way is for your total income to be below the threshold. In that case, you can deduct losses up to $25,000. Otherwise, you must qualify as a real estate professional.

  1. IRC Section 469(c)(7)(B).
  2. Reg. Section 1.469-9(b)(4).
  3. IRC Section 469(c)(7)(B)(ii).
  4. IRC Section 469(c)(7)(C).
  5. IRC Section 469(c)(7)(D)(ii).
  6. IRS Passive Activity Loss Audit Technique Guide (ATG), Training 3149-115 (02-2005), pp. 2-5, 2-6.
  7. Ibid., p. 4-7.

Are You a “Dealer” or “Investor” for Tax Purposes?

Tax law is forever classifying people and making structures that either create benefits or disadvantages on your tax return. Part of getting the most from your return is about understanding the definitions of the IRS. Two that seem very similar, but have distinctly different consequences on your taxes, are real estate dealer and real estate investor.

What’s the Downside of Each?

We’ll start by discussing the disadvantages. That’s right—there is no golden choice when trying to figure out if you classify as a dealer or an investor. In either case, there will be some disadvantages.

As a real estate dealer:

  • Your profits are taxed at both the ordinary income rates (up to 35 percent) AND the self-employment rates (up to 14.13 percent).[1]
  • You may not depreciate property that you are holding with the intention of selling.
  • You may not use the tax-favored installment method to report dispositions of your property.
  • And, you may not use the Section 1031 exchange to defer taxes on properties you hold as a dealer.

As a real estate investor:

  • You are subject to the net capital losses limit of $3,000 (applied after gains are offset against losses).
  • You must treat selling expenses as a reduction in sales proceeds, which means those expenses produce benefits at the capital-gains tax rates only.

Admittedly, the dealer gets the lesser deal when it comes to disadvantages. The investor does get to depreciate property, is allowed to sell using the tax-favored installment method, and may choose to use a Section 1031 exchange, thereby deferring taxes on a disposition.

What about the Up Side?

Every coin has a heads and a tails. And, it’s the same with tax designations. Both dealers and investors gain some advantages from their respective positions.

Advantages for real estate dealers include:

  • You are treated as a business and may treat most expenses as ordinary business deductions (advertising, commissions, legal fees, real estate sales, etc.).
  • Your property sale losses are not limited capital loss cap of $3,000 that limits investor properties.
  • Your losses are deducted as ordinary losses.
  • You get to deduct the entire loss (either immediately or using the net operating loss rules to deduct it over time—these rules allow you to carry back your losses up to five years and forward up to twenty years).

Advantages for real estate investors include:

  • Your sales profits are taxed at 15 percent or less, a tax-favored capital gains rate.
  • You are not subject to the self-employment tax.

Practical Application

So, what does all this mean for you and your business? Let’s run through some example numbers. For the example, we’ll say you have a $90,000 profit from a property sale. Based on the tax rates mentioned above, your taxes as a dealer could be as high as $36,370.[2] Your taxes as an investor might be as high as $13, 500.

You can clearly see that having your properties qualify as investment sales generates a considerable tax savings—potentially $22,870!

However, depending upon your business structure and activities, it may not be possible to define all of your property sales as investment sales. No problem. The IRS has no qualms with an individual taxpayer acting as part dealer and part investor. You read that right; you can balance the pros and cons of each situation. It’s simply a matter of taking each property on a case-by-case basis.[3]

Not so fast. You may think the IRS is giving you some kind of free gift by allowing this pick and choose method, but it’s not quite as unstructured as all that. You will be required to make a clear distinction in your record books. You didn’t think the IRS was going to let you off without documentation, did you? And, this means you must decide before-hand which route you’re going with each property sale. You cannot simply go back over your sales at tax time and assign designations. You will have to establish what your intent was with the sale—dealer sale or investment sale.

Tips on Documentation

Good documentation of your purpose and activities helps you to establish your case with the IRS. You should determine, and make note of, your intent for the property throughout the process:

  • When you purchase the property;
  • During your ownership; and
  • At the time you sell it.

If you keep records throughout the process (not just at the time of sale) it gives your case credibility. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that if your return is challenged in court, they will likely examine the sale when they rule on whether you acted as a real estate dealer or real estate investor on a particular property.[4] None of this means that your purpose may not change between the time you buy a property and sell it, but at least you will be prepared to understand and plan for such a scenario.

The All Important Point-of-Sale

Important: The point-of-sale is the most critical part of the process in determining your investor or dealer status. It’s often the deciding factor in IRS decisions. Although a single piece of real estate can have features of both dealer and investor property, it can only be treated as one or the other. Take a look at the characteristics of each from a tax standpoint.

  • Real Estate Dealer—First off, dealer property is held with the intention of being to customers in the ordinary fashion of business or trade.[5] If you buy and sell many properties throughout the year, you are likely a dealer regarding those properties.[6] Unfortunately, the IRS has not established any set number for determining dealer status, so it’s all about making your case. In fact, number is only one factor, and in previous rulings:
  1. A company earned dealer status with only one sale because it had already agreed on sale to a third party prior to purchasing the property itself;[7]
  2. A taxpayer, Mr. Goldberg, did not earn dealer status even with 90 home sales in a year.[8] In his case, the homes were built for rentals and used as such prior to the time of sale.

However, in the majority of cases, more sales equal dealer properties. In addition to the influence of the number of properties sold, real estate that you subdivide also has an increased chance of achieving dealer status,[9] except under Section 1237.[10] Removing a lien can also make a property more salable under the ordinary processes of business[11] (recall that dealer property is sold in the ordinary course of business).

Several other traits indicate a dealer business transaction over investment actions. They include active marketing and sales activities,[12] property held for a short period of time (indicating the intention to turn over the property for profit),[13] generally making your living as a dealer,[14] regularly buying and selling real estate for your own account,[15] and buying property with the proceeds from another property.[16]

  • Real Estate Investor—In contrast to dealer property, investor property is held with the intention of producing rental income[17] or appreciating in value. This means that investor properties are typically held for longer periods of time[18] and are not often sold, unlike the quick turnover of a dealer property.[19] Other situations in which a court may rule your property is an investor property include acquiring the real estate by inheritance,[20] dissolution of a trust,[21] or a mortgage foreclosure.[22] It’s even possible for you to make improvements to such property prior to selling it and still retain investor status.[23] [24] Just don’t put the proceeds into more real estate or subdivide the property[25] if you want to maintain that status.

If you don’t make clear in your documentation which type of property sale you are making, the IRS will make the decision based on their interpretation, and that is not the best situation for you! So, look at those characteristics above again. Since you’re going to know at the outset what your purpose is with each property, you can make sure to include as many of the appropriate features as possible well before the sale.

  1. The usual self-employment tax rate times the Schedule SE adjustment.
  2. Assuming the real estate profits were your only income.
  3. Tollis v Commr., T.C. Memo 1993-63.
  4. Sanders v U.S., 740 F2d 886.
  5. IRC Section 1221(a)(1).
  6. Sanders v U.S., 740 F2d 886; Suburban Realty Co. v U.S., 615 F2d 171.
  7. S & H, Inc., v Commr., 78 T.C. 234.
  8. S & H, Inc., v Commr., 78 T.C. 234.
  9. Revenue Ruling 57-565
  10. IRC Section 1237.
  11. Miller v Commr., T.C. Memo 1962-198.
  12. Hancock v Commr., T.C. Memo 1999-336.
  13. Stanley, Inc. v Schuster, aff’d per curiam 421 F2d 1360, 70-1 USTC paragraph 9276 (6th Cir.), cert den 400 US 822 (1970); 295 F. Supp. 812 (S.D. Ohio 1969).
  14. Suburban Realty Co. v U.S., 615 F2d 171.
  15. Armstrong v Commr., 41 T.C.M. 524, T.C. Memo 1980-548.
  16. Mathews v Commr., 315 F2d 101.
  17. Planned Communities, Inc., v Commr., 41 T.C.M. 552.
  18. Nash v Commr., 60 T.C. 503, acq. 1974-2 CB 3.
  19. Rymer v Commr., T.C. Memo 1986-534.
  20. Estate of Mundy v Commr., 36 T.C. 703.
  21. U.S. v Rosbrook, 318 F2d 316, 63-2 USTC paragraph 9500 (9th Cir. 1963).
  22. Cebrian v U.S., 181 F Supp 412, 420 (Ct Cl 1960).
  23. Yunker v Commr., 256 F2d 130, 1 AFTR2d 1559 (6th Cir. 1958).
  24. Metz v Commr., 14 T.C.M. 1166.
  25. U.S. v Winthrop, 417 F2d 905, 69-2 USTC paragraph 9686 (5th Cir. 1969).

Tackle the Gray Area and Claim a Home Office Deduction on Your Rental Property Business

For those of you who run a real estate rental business, you may find that the IRS is a little tougher on you about claiming a home office deduction. The sticking point is that, depending on your circumstances, the IRS may consider your real estate business an investment rather than a business. In order to claim this deduction, your home office must be connected to a “trade or business”. So, the trick is to provide documented evidence that your rental endeavors are a business you run.

The Gray Area

A home office can save you thousands on taxes because you are able to deduct a percentage of your mortgage interest, property taxes, and even utilities as business expenses. However, when you’re lurking in the shadows of this gray area in tax law, you can find yourself arguing with an auditor who simply does not believe that your deduction is legitimate.

That is exactly what happened to Dr. Edwin Curphey, who owned a rental property business and had his home office deduction rejected. He ended up taking his case to court and winning his deduction.

It usually seems like the IRS has no end to specifications and rules to follow. However, in the case of deducting a home office for your rental property business, the law is fairly vague. This gray area leads some auditors to interpret such situations in different ways, so you have to be prepared with the right knowledge when tackling this deduction.

Unfortunately, no set method exists for proving your claim. You can, however, piece together information that will help in making your case. In order to determine whether you qualify for the deduction, your best bet is checking out precedent cases to see who has previously won the deduction and who has not.

Gray Area Guidelines

What’s the main difference between an investor and a business owner? It’s pretty simple. An investor collects money without having to perform any work, but a business owner actively works with a property. That means to be considered a business, you need to show the IRS that you do more than simply handle money[1].

Here’s where the fuzzy requirements come in. In order to qualify, you have to present evidence of activities that indicate you are doing work with your rental properties, but there is no definite set of activities that are required by the IRS. Some actions that indicate actual business activity may include[2]:

  • Management
  • Making repairs
  • Performing cleaning tasks
  • Advertising
  • Resolving tenants’ problems

You may not do all of these in association with your real estate rental business, but your chance of making a successful deduction increases with the more you do. The good news is you can still claim your rental property income on the Schedule E (just like investment property) while making the case that it’s a business. This means you’ll be able to avoid the self-employment tax, unless you offer your tenants significant services, such as a housekeeper[3]. In that case, you’ll need to use the Schedule C[4].

What If You Run Multiple Businesses?

If you run multiple businesses, you may be using the same home office space for all of them. In that situation, you’ll have to be extra careful because each business has to meet the home office requirements in order to qualify your office space for a deduction[5]. When one of the businesses does not qualify, you should find a separate office space for it, if possible. Otherwise, you’ll lose your legitimate deduction for the business or businesses that do qualify!

Three simple requirements must be met for the home office deduction:

  1. The home office must be your principal place of business;
  2. You must use it regularly; and
  3. The space must be used exclusively for business purposes.

In general, the requirements for deducting a home office are not hard to meet. Owning rental property, however, is a little different from other businesses. Don’t let a misunderstanding of the rules keep you from claiming your legal deductions. If you’re operating your real estate rental business and performing regular business activities for it, then it qualifies, regardless of whether you have another full-time job.

  1. Neill v Commr., 46 BTA 197.
  2. Curphey v Commr., 73 TC 766.
  3. Reg. Section 1.1402(a)-4(c)(2).
  4. Schedule E Instructions (2013), dated Dec. 4, 2013, at p. E-5 (under “Line 3”).
  5. Hamacher v Commr., 94 TC 348.