Many Americans own rental property. Whether you inherited a home, decided to downsize or upsize your personal residence, or just came across a great investment opportunity, people get into the landlord game for many different reasons and via many different avenues. Regardless of which category you fall into, all landlords must be sure to keep detailed records of income and expenses related to the property for tax time.
If you are making money from the rental of a property that you own, then you must report the rental income on your tax return. Owning a rental property also means that certain expenses become deductible – thereby reducing the total amount of rental income that’s subject to tax.
Deductions vs. Depreciation
Deductions are very straight forward – these are the costs of operating, repairing, some improvements, and managing your rental property. These expenses should be tracked by the landlord (or his/her employee) and included, along with rental income, on Schedule E of the tax return. Depreciation, on the other hand, is not as straight forward. Generally, the basis or cost of the building (but not the land) is depreciated using straight-line depreciation which is done over 27.5 years. An equal amount of the building’s basis is deducted each year on the tax return. Any additions or improvements costing more than $2500 are also depreciated but are done so separately from the building. Additions or improvements costing less than $2500 can be deducted fully in the year of purchase.
Depreciation must be carefully tracked for tax purposes. Once the property is fully depreciated, no additional depreciation can be taken. Additionally, when a rental property is sold, the depreciation must be recaptured if the sale price of a rental property exceeds the adjusted basis (i.e. the owner’s initial investment plus the cost of certain improvements during ownership). Recaptured depreciation is reported as ordinary income for tax purposes.
Reporting Income and Expenses
At Levesque & Associates, we recommend clients track income and expenses either through bookkeeping software such as QuickBooks (appropriate if you own multiple investment properties) or through a simple excel sheet. You can also easily make use of apps such as Expensify to maintain and categorize receipts. Even though you are tracking the information, be sure to keep receipts with your personal records for at least 7 years.
Some property owners utilize a management company for collections of rent payments as well as property maintenance and other expenses. Typically, these management companies provide a 1099 in January of each year which summarizes the income earned by the owner. If you utilize a management company, we STRONGLY encourage you to keep your own records and compare the information you receive from the management company with what you have on file. Mistakes do happen and property owners should take responsibility for ensuring the accuracy of the of the information reported to the IRS.
Good record keeping will not only help you determine the profitability of your rental property, but it will help make the preparation of your tax return much easier. Maintain records of everything related to the property. This includes keeping detailed receipts for any expenses such as repairs and improvements. You should also keep detailed records of all rental income received. Should you be selected for an audit, you will need to provide these records to the auditor. If you are audited and cannot provide proof of the expenses and income reported on your return, you may be subject to additional taxes and penalties.
Do you own a rental property? Make sure you are keeping records of the following items and providing to your tax professional at tax time:
- All loan and interest payments
- Repair receipts
- Personal property costs (such as new appliances or lawn equipment)
- Driving – if you have to drive to your rental property for any reason, you can either deduct actual auto expenses (gas, upkeep, repairs, etc) or mileage (learn more about mileage write-offs here).
- Overnight travel, including airfare, hotel costs, meals, and other expenses, can be deducted if they are directly related to your rental property. Be sure to keep detailed records as the IRS is known to scrutinize these kinds of deductions.
- Home office expenses, provided the landlord meets certain minimum requirements. This includes a percentage of the cost of home expenses including utilities, insurance, and more. Your tax professional will require total square footage of your home, square footage of dedicated office space, and a total of home costs
- Do you pay an employee or independent contractor for help with your rental? Their pay is a rental business expense.
- Any insurance you carry related to rental activity should be kept and provided at tax time.
- Fees associated with legal and professional services such as an attorney, accountant, management company, etc.
Looking for more information? Get in touch with Levesque & Associates by phone or email.