Marking time pays. If you ever think owning income property is easy money, a Tax Court case last week might make you think twice. But the case also shows how keeping track of the time you spend can make a big difference if the IRS questions your rental losses.
The taxpayer couple owned “a four-floor mulifamily house” in Brooklyn. The couple lived on the first two floors, and rented out the two remaining floors as two apartments. He had a day job involving construction, but he also had his hands full with the apartment.
The couple claimed just under $70,000 of rental losses between 2010 and 2011. The IRS challenged the losses. The IRS has a good track record in rental loss cases because the tax law sets a high bar for deducting them. Such losses are automatically “passive,” and deductible only to the extent of “passive income,” unless you are a “real estate professional.” To be a real estate professional, you have to
- work more than 750 hours in a real estate trade or business during the year, and
- Your real estate work has to take more time than anything else you do.
It’s that second test that usually trips up people with day jobs. The taxpayer here, though, had an advantage, as Special Trial Judge Panuthos explains:
For purposes of the requirement in section 469(c)(7)(B)(i) [the real estate professional test], a real property trade or business includes construction and reconstruction. Sec. 469(c)(7)(C).
So that meant the rental activity didn’t have to take more time than the day job. But the real estate professional rule doesn’t automatically make a rental loss deductible. The taxpayer still had to show that he “materially participated” to avoid the passive loss rule. Material participation is generally based on time spent working on the activity during the year, with 500 hours annually being the most common threshold used. Fortunately, the taxpayer kept track of his time:
We used petitioner’s contemporaneous activity log to calculate the amount of time that he spent on the rental property. We included the amount of time petitioner recorded in his contemporaneous activity log for the work related to the tenants’ apartments and two-thirds of the amount of time petitioner recorded in his contemporaneous activity log for the work related to the common areas. On the basis of these calculations, we conclude that petitioner spent 1,008 hours performing services with respect to the rental activity for 2010. Because the 1,008 hours meets the more-than-500-hour requirement of section 1.469-5T(a)(1), Temporary Income Tax Regs., supra, petitioner meets this requirement for the 2010 taxable year. Accordingly, petitioner materially participated in the rental real estate activity for 2010, and petitioner’s 2010 rental real estate activity was not a passive activity.
That’s a lot of time. So much for the idea that rental income is easy money. The taxpayer’s records also carried the day for 2011. In total, the recordkeeping saved the taxpayer $25,174.60 in taxes and penalties that the Tax Court overturned.
The Moral? Keeping a daily calendar of your time is the best antidote to an IRS passive loss examination. It may seem like a hassle, but as this case shows, it can turn out to be the best investment of time you can make if the IRS comes for a visit.
Tax Protester Schiff dies in prison. Irwin Schiff, a prominent figure among those denying the general application of the income tax, died in prison last week, reports Peter Reilly. Mr. Schiff, 87, had been diagnosed with lung cancer while serving a 13-year sentence for practicing what he unwisely preached. Peter’s humane and thoughtful coverage includes this:
When I first encountered Schiff’s arguments in the nineties I was so impressed by how well put together they were, that I found it difficult to believe that they were constructed by someone who believed them, as citations always checked out, but were wildly out of context. Irwin, however, has proved his sincerity. That doesn’t make his arguments right, but it does merit some grudging admiration.
Mr. Schiff’s story shows that however sincerely you believe that the income tax doesn’t apply to you, your sincerity does little good when the IRS, the U.S. Marshals, the federal judges, and the Bureau of Prisons think it does. And they do.
Russ Fox, That Was the Year that Was. Russ reflects on the filing season ended last week:
Calling the IRS was almost a joke. The “Practitioner Priority Service” hold times were so bad that I’d hate to think of what they were for regular numbers. Unfortunately, I see no improvement possible with the IRS budget until the IRS scandal is resolved. That’s not going to happen until we have a new President, so we have probably two more years of misery in dealing with the IRS.
Robert D. Flach, NO COST OF LIVING INCREASE FOR SOCIAL SECURITY RECIPIENTS FOR 2016
William Perez, Where to Find and How to Read Tax Tables
Annette Nellen, Responsible Governance – Tax break bills vetoed! “What happened – On 10/10/15, Governor Brown vetoed nine bills that either created or expanded a tax credit or exclusion or exemption.”
Alan Cole, How Do Property Taxes Vary Across The Country? (Tax Policy Blog). The post feature a handy interactive map showing the average property tax deduction taken in each U.S. county in 2013.
TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 891, Day 892, ay 893. Day 892 covers the connection between Lois Lerner and a bureaucrat behind the outrageous Wisconsin “John Doe” investigations of conservative organizations.
Howard Gleckman, The Debt Limit: Here We Go Again (TaxVox).
Robert Wood, Execs Get 10 Years Prison Over Company Taxes? Yes, Here’s How. Robert covers the Arrow Trucking saga.
TaxGrrrl, As TIGTA Continues To Warn On IRS Scams, New Treasury Scams Surface. “In one version, scammers advise that an individual has been awarded a grant or a similar sum of money and in order to collect, the individual needs to provide personal information or a sum of money to ‘release’ the funds. It sounds a little bit like those lottery scams making the rounds but the use of the name of the Office of the Treasury seems to make individuals believe that it’s more legitimate”
News from the Profession. A Noncomprehensive List of Morale Boosters for Accounting Firms (Leona May, Going Concern). “Accounting firms, who generally eat their young, are all competing for ‘who has the best perks’ in race to scoop up all of the competent new hires.”