Rental Income: There’s More to It than Just Collecting Rent Checks
Payment for the occupancy of real estate is includable in the landlord’s gross income as rents. Generally, rents are reportable by the landlord in the year received or accrued, depending upon whether the landlord uses the cash or accrual method of accounting. What constitutes rent is not always obvious and depends on factors that include the lease and relevant facts and circumstances.
Types of Rents
- Amounts paid to cancel a lease – It is fairly common for a landlord to receive payments in consideration for allowing a tenant to terminate their lease before the expiration date. This payment is included in the landlord’s rental income in the year of receipt.
- Advance rent – Generally, advance rent is immediately taxable to the landlord. The regulations specify that advance rentals must be included in income for the year of receipt regardless of the period covered or the method of accounting employed by the taxpayer.
- Security deposit – A security deposit that is refundable at the end of the rental period is excluded from income. If a landlord requires a security deposit to be used to pay the last month’s rent under a lease, it is included in gross income in the year of receipt.
- Expenses paid by a tenant – If a tenant pays expenses on behalf of the landlord, those payments are considered rental income by the landlord. The tenant is entitled to deduct those expenses.
Improvements by Tenants
If a tenant makes an improvement to the landlord’s property that is a substitute for rent, the value of the improvement is taxable to the landlord as rental income.
Permanent improvements by a tenant usually enhance the value of the landlord’s property. The mere enhancement in value of the property does not, by itself, constitute rental income to the landlord. Court cases have held that a tenant’s payments for improvement costs will not be treated as deductible payments in lieu of rent unless it is demonstrated that both the landlord and tenant intended the payments to be in lieu of rent. If a landlord agrees to receive reduced rents in exchange for a tenant’s improvements, the cost of the improvement is plainly rent.
Under certain lease arrangements, also known as net leases, the tenant or lessee must pay specified expenses of the lessor. For tax purposes, these payments are treated as additional rental income by the lessor and additional rent expense by the lessee. Assuming the landlord would have been entitled to a business deduction if it was paid directly, the landlord is entitled to a business deduction for the amount paid by the lessee.
From experience, most lessors (landlords) recognize income only for the actual rent paid, and the lessees (tenants) generally deduct the net leases expenses paid as expenses other than rent.
Before entering into a lease, it is important for a landlord to consider the provisions included in the lease and their impact on taxable rental income.