Tag: rental property

Should I Acquire and Hold Rental Real Estate in an LLC?

At KRS, we get this question often from both new and seasoned investors acquiring new properties. Here’s what investors need to consider.

Should you buy and hold rental real estate as an LLC?Limited Liability Company

A limited liability company (LLC) is a legal structure that provides the limited liability features of a corporation and the tax efficiencies and operating flexibilities of a partnership.

The owners of an LLC are referred to as “members.” The members can consist of two or more individuals, corporations, trusts or other LLCs. Unlike a corporation, an LLC is not taxed as a separate business entity. Instead, all profits and losses are “passed through” to each member of the LLC.

A central motivation behind investors forming LLCs is to protect the LLC’s members (owners) from personal liability for debts and claims. At its very root, an LLC is utilized to keep creditors – such as suppliers, lenders or tenants – from legally pursuing the assets of a member. There are exceptions to the limited liability, such as in cases of illegal or fraudulent activity.

Disregarded Entity

LLCs are typically taxed as partnerships, which file separate tax returns. However, a single-member LLC, owned by one individual, does not file a separate tax return, but reports the activity on the tax return of its sole owner (Schedule C for business operations or Schedule E for rental activities). LLCs with one owner are commonly referred to as a “disregarded entity.”

Do I need an LLC?

Many real estate investors and landlords often ask whether they should purchase their rental property in an LLC. I have read numerous articles by attorneys, tax advisors, real estate professionals, and insurance agents with opinions on this matter. I believe there is no “one size fits all” answer. Just as in selecting which property to acquire, where investors consider multiple factors including cash flow, appreciation, capital expenditures, interest rates, proximity to transportation and etc., there are multiple considerations in choosing whether or not to acquire a property in an LLC.

Here are factors investors and landlords should consider when making their decision:

  1. Cost – I have seen clients utilize websites that charge fees as low as $100 to form an LLC (plus state filing fees). It is not uncommon to find an attorney’s fees to form a single-member LLC (including state fees) range from $1,000 to $3,000 depending on the state of formation.
  2. Filing fees – most states have an annual filing fee to keep the LLC in good status. That fee is currently a flat $50 in my home state of New Jersey. However, in New York, the fee can range from $25 to $4,500 depending on gross revenues (disregarded LLCs in New York are subject to a $25 flat fee).
  3. Type of property – the type of property to be purchased impacts risk. For example, a single family rental in a good neighborhood is less risky than a multi-unit property or commercial property.
  4. Financing – it is typically easier to obtain financing as an individual than as a commercial entity (i.e., an LLC).
  5. Interest rates – an individual borrowing to acquire an investment property may pay a higher rate than an LLC borrowing for the same property.
  6. Insurance – an umbrella policy provides coverage beyond the basic property insurance and covers additional risks. Umbrella policies may also pay for attorneys appointed by the insurance company and paid to defend you. Depending on an investor’s risk tolerance, an umbrella policy should be considered whether the acquisition is made with or without an LLC.
  7. Net worth – without an umbrella policy, an individual with a high net worth may be exposing his or her other assets to claims of creditors of his or her rental investment.

Transferring to an LLC

Frequently an investor has already closed on a property and the question arises regarding subsequently transferring the property to an LLC. After the property has been deeded there are concerns that should be reviewed including:

  1. Mortgage – if there is a mortgage on the property, contact the lender. Many mortgages have a “due on sale” clause, which means that if you transfer ownership of the property, the lender could require you to pay the full mortgage amount.
  2. Transfer tax – transfer of real property, depending on state law, may be subject to a transfer tax. Some states may exempt the transfer to a wholly owned LLC.
  3. Title insurance – a review of the title insurance policy should be undertaken to determine if the policy continues after transfer.
  4. Leases – tenant leases should be updated to reflect the LLC, and not the individual, as the owner of the property.

Acquiring real estate in an LLC should be included in an investor’s thought process or deal checklist before an acquisition. As the projects grow in size, value and risk protection afforded by an LLC will likely make their use instinctive.

We’ve got your back

If you have additional questions about rental properties and LLCs, we’re here to help. Contact me at [email protected] or 201.655.7411.

Will President Trump Benefit or Distress Real Estate?

What will Trump's impact be on the real estate industry?The presidential campaigning has finally ceased and the transition to the Trump presidency has begun. Many questions are being asked in real estate circles, but mostly, how will President Trump’s policies impact real estate in this country?

Here are my thoughts.


Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump was firm about deporting immigrants. It is quite common that immigrants who come to this country find work in the construction industry.  A large immigrant deportation effort would put pressure on the number of skilled workers available in the real estate industry, especially in residential real estate.

A labor shortage in the construction industry will force builders to compete for skilled workers with higher wages. Those costs would most likely be passed on to buyers in the form of higher new home prices.

Mortgage Interest Deductions

Trump’s tax plan effectively limits the mortgage interest deduction, without eliminating it entirely. This is accomplished by increasing the standard deduction from $6,300 to $15,000.

Under the current system, for example, a homeowner paying mortgage interest of $10,000 would itemize the deduction and receive a greater tax benefit, because their interest deduction would be greater than the standard $6,300 exemption.

Under Trump’s potential changes, however, there would be no need to itemize the $10,000 mortgage interest, as the proposed standard deduction is already greater. Americans therefore may be less incentivized to buy homes as their taxes would not be significantly different than if they had rented.

Real Estate Agents and Brokers

If housing prices soar due to a lack of skilled labor force and the value of a mortgage interest deduction is diminished, residential real estate brokers and agents may find transactions and commissions drying up. A decrease in real estate activity will affect the bottom line for brokers and agents alike.

Commercial Real Estate

I would be doing a disservice to the real estate ‘mogul’ without mentioning the potential impact on commercial real estate.

There is a potential for a pullback on new construction for commercial projects, large residential and mixed-use developments. If the capital markets experience a shock – which could be interest rates, inflation, or regulation – the difficulty of obtaining construction financing coupled with a muddy economic outlook may push some developers to abandon plans for new projects.

What are your thoughts on the Trump presidency and how it will impact the real estate industry?

How to Ruin a Like-Kind Exchange

How to ruin a 1031 exchangeRecently, I had a taxpayer call me regarding the sale of a rental property. The taxpayer sold the property for approximately $500,000 and there was approximately $100,000 of tax basis remaining after depreciation. The combined federal and state tax exposure was almost $100,000.

The taxpayer indicated he wanted to structure the sale as a like-kind (IRC 1031) exchange as he had already found a replacement property and wanted to defer the income taxes. My first question was, “Did you already close on the sale?” The taxpayer’s response was, “Yes, I received the funds, and deposited the check directly into my bank account.”

It was not fun for me to relay this to the taxpayer, but I had to let him know his receipt of the funds caused a taxable event. I further explained that to structure a 1031 exchange properly, an intermediary was needed to handle the sale and related purchase of the replacement property. Once the taxpayer received the funds, it became a taxable event.

Getting a Like-Kind Exchange Right

To avoid the same error, taxpayers should contact their advisors before completing the sale transaction. I have worked with taxpayers who did not realize a like-kind exchange was available to them, and was able to properly structure the transaction in mere days before the closing of their property.

Following the specified guidelines to completely defer the tax in a like-kind exchange are critical. If you anticipate a sale of real estate and want to defer gain recognition, consult with your tax advisor before closing the sale.

We’ve Got Your Back

Check out my previous blog, Understanding IRC Code Section 1031 and Why You Should Care for more details on properly deferring tax in a like-kind exchange transaction. If you have questions about this type of transaction, give me a call at 201.655.7411 before you close on the sale.

Can Real Estate Professionals Pay No Income Taxes (a la Donald Trump)?

real estate professionals can deduct tax losses resulting from their real estate activities

As a CPA with a substantial real estate practice, I found the recent controversy regarding Donald Trump’s tax losses and the possibility that he paid no federal income tax to be quite interesting.  Although we do not know what part, if any, of the losses arose from Mr. Trump’s real estate activities, it is not unusual or illegal for real estate professionals to deduct tax losses resulting from their real estate activities.

News reports indicate that Donald Trump’s 1995 federal income tax return reflected a tax loss of approximately $916 million dollars, which may have been carried forward to offset income and reduce Trump’s taxes in succeeding years. As this revelation appears to be the source of public outrage, I wanted to explain taxation of rental real estate and how owners and investors may legally benefit from losses.

Trump most likely operates many of his business ventures as “pass-through” entities, such as partnerships and limited liability companies. Pass-through entities pass through all of their earnings, losses and deductions to their owner, for inclusion on their personal income tax returns. In the case of losses, the owner or member can use these losses to offset other income and carry forward any excess to future years. As with all things taxes, there are requirements that must be met (see Passive Loss Limitations in Rental Real Estate).

Owners of rental real estate are not only allowed to deduct for mortgage interest, real estate taxes and other items, but also depreciation. The Internal Revenue Code allows for depreciation of assets used in a trade or business, which include rental real estate. This is an allowance for the wear and tear of the building and astute taxpayers can further benefit from depreciation by accelerating their depreciation deductions (see my blog, The Tax Benefits of Cost Segregation in Real Estate). While many properties are increasing in value, the owners are receiving an income tax benefit in the form of an annual tax deduction for the wear and tear of the building.

If certain requirements are met, a real estate professional, as defined by the Internal Revenue Code (there is no reference to “Mogul” in the Code) can offset other items of income with losses generated by their real estate activities. I have more details on the income tax advantages of being a real estate professional in a previous blog posting, Passive Activity Loss and the Income Tax Puzzle for Real Estate Professionals.

Donald Trump invested in many business ventures during the 1980s and 1990s and real estate may have only been a small part of the substantial loss reflected on his 1995 tax return. Without Mr. Trump’s tax returns, we will never know. As an accountant, I’m more curious about the transactions that gave rise to the loss and the application of the specific tax law provisions permitting deduction of these losses.

What are your thoughts regarding the ability of real estate professionals to offset other items of income with their losses from real estate activities?

Beware of Phantom Income

Real Expenses vs. Phantom Expenses

As a real estate investor, it is essential to know the difference between a real expense and a phantom expense. An investor might think a $1,000 roof repair is a good thing since he or she can deduct it as an expense. What if you never had to make that repair in the first place? You would have $1,000 of taxable income in your pocket. Being taxed isn’t automatically a bad thing, since that means you are making money on the property.

real estate and phantom incomeWhat is a Phantom Expense?

Depreciation is the perfect example of a phantom expense since it allows an owner of real estate to recover the value of the building against rental income. The IRS allows a deduction for the decrease in value of your property over time, irrespective of the fact that most properties never really wear out. Simply put, depreciation allows you to write off the buildings and improvements over a prescribed period of time, providing a “phantom expense” that is used to offset rental income.

Residential real estate and improvements are depreciated over a 27.5 year period. Commercial real estate and improvements are depreciated over 39 years.

Debt Amortization

In addition to a depreciation deduction, the Internal Revenue Code allows for the interest portion of a mortgage payment to be deducted for income tax purposes. The principal portion of a mortgage payment is treated as taxable income or “phantom income“.

During the initial years of a typical mortgage loan, the principal reduction (debt amortization) is normally offset by depreciation deductions and interest expense, decreasing taxable income. In the later years of a typical loan amortization, principal reduction will exceed interest expense and depreciation, thereby increasing taxable income and generating a seemingly disproportionate tax liability (the dreaded phantom income).

Disposition of a Property

A taxpayer may incur phantom income upon disposition of a property. Phantom income is triggered when taxable income exceeds sales proceeds upon the disposition of real estate. Usually, this results from prior deductions based on indebtedness. You may have deducted losses and/or received cash distributions in prior years that were greater than your actual investment made in the property. If you are planning to dispose of a property and believe you are in this situation, there are strategies to minimize the tax impact including IRC 1031 exchanges, which are discussed in my blog Understanding IRC Code Section 1031 and why you should care.

Real estate investors who want to maximize their after tax cash flow need to be cognizant of phantom income and compare their cash flow to taxable income. This analysis should be undertaken regularly as it may impact their investment returns. If you have questions about phantom income and your real estate, contact me at [email protected] or 201.655.7411.

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.

HiResTypes 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.

Net Leases

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.

Your tax professional can help you determine the tax effects of any rental arrangements you may have. As always contact me at [email protected] if you have any questions.

Passive Loss Limitations in Rental Real Estate

If you think purchasing a rental property will make a great tax shelter, you may need to dig a little deeper into “passive loss limitations” and how they may affect your real estate investment.

rental property and passive loss limitationsFirst, consider that your rental property (like many other businesses) may not yield positive cash flow at first. Improvements to the property, tenant issues, and other expenses may end up putting you in the negative column. If you do end up with a rental loss, you are subject to complex IRS rules regarding how much of your rental losses you may deduct from other income you earn during the year.

Rental property ventures are treated differently than other business investments by the IRS. In the rental property investment realm, these are “passive loss” limitations.

What is a Passive Activity?

The IRS recognizes two types of passive activities:

  • Rentals, including both equipment and rental real estate, regardless of the level of participation.
  • Trade or businesses in which the taxpayer does not materially participate.

To that second point, you are considered to materially participate in an activity if you are involved in the operation of the activity on a regular, continuous, and substantial basis. Generally, real estate activities are passive activities even if you do materially participate. (There is an exception for real estate professionals, which I will discuss in a future blog.) Passive activity loss limitations are reported on your tax return using Form 8582. You can learn more here about passive and non-passive activities as defined by the IRS.

What Triggers Passive Loss Limitations?

Income tax losses from rental properties and limited partnership investments in which you do not materially participate are subject to the passive loss limitations. Generally, passive losses are limited to passive activity income. Any passive losses that have been disallowed are carried forward to the next taxable year.

Special Allowance for Rental Activities

There is a special $25,000 rental loss allowance but the real estate investor must meet two conditions to qualify, based on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) and active participation in the activity:

1 – Taxpayers with MAGI of less than $100,000 may claim up to $25,000 in rental losses. For every dollar over $100,000 the allowance is reduced by 50%, and it is completely phased out/reduced to zero when the MAGI reaches $150,000.

2 – You must also actively participate in the running of your real estate. This is a simple level to attain.  You do not have to work any set number of hours to actively participate, you simply have to be the final decision maker about approving tenants, arranging for repairs, setting rents, and other management tasks.  If you manage your rentals yourself, you will likely satisfy this requirement.

Disposition of Interest

Time to sell? Generally, you may deduct the entire amount of previously disallowed passive activity losses in the year you dispose of your entire interest in the activity. If you dispose of your interest in a passive activity during a divorce or by gift, the suspended losses are not deductible and adjust the basis in the property.

If you are thinking of investing in rental property as a tax shelter, it is best to discuss this somewhat complex arrangement with a qualified tax or real estate professional, or certified public accountant with expertise in real estate transactions and accounting.

If you’d like some additional insights into passive loss limitations as they relate to real estate investments, contact me at [email protected] or (201) 655-7411.