New regulations provide rental real estate safe harbor for 20 percent pass-through deduction

Authored by Paul Dillon and Mike Schiavo

Last week, the IRS released final section 199A regulations for the 20 percent pass-through deduction enacted under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). For taxable years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2026, noncorporate taxpayers (individuals, trusts and estates) may take a deduction of up to 20 percent of qualified business income (QBI) from partnerships, S corporations and sole proprietorships, plus 20 percent of qualified REIT dividends and publicly traded partnership (PTP) income. There are a number of important changes and clarifications compared to the proposed regulations, which we will address in future alerts. As part of the regulations package, the IRS also provided a safe harbor in Notice 2019-07 for rental real estate to be treated as a trade or business solely for purposes of section 199A.

Key takeaways

  • Under the safe harbor, a rental real estate enterprise will be treated as a trade or business for section 199A purposes if 250 hours per year of rental services are performed with respect to the rental enterprise.
  • Triple net leases are specifically prohibited from using the safe harbor. Triple net leases will need to be analyzed outside of the safe harbor to determine if they are eligible for the section 199A deduction.
  • Taxpayers can rely on the safe harbor until a final revenue procedure is issued.
  • The safe harbor is strictly limited to the application of section 199A.
  • Taxpayers can treat each rental real estate property as a stand-alone enterprise or group together similar properties and treat each group as an enterprise.
  • Although the safe harbor applies solely for purposes of section 199A, clients should be reminded that treating rental properties as a trade or business may require filing Form 1099 to report rental expenses and treating mortgage interest as business interest expense subject to the new limitations on the business interest expense deduction.

Safe harbor for rental real estate                                            

Under the safe harbor, a “rental real estate enterprise” (defined below) will be treated as a trade or business for section 199A purposes if it meets the following requirements:

  1. separate books and records are maintained to reflect income and expenses for each rental real estate enterprise;
  2. 250 or more hours of rental services (examples below) are performed per year for tax years beginning before Jan. 1, 2023, and
  3. the taxpayer maintains contemporaneous records, including time reports, logs or similar documents regarding hours of all services performed, a description of all services performed, dates on which the services were performed and who performed the services.

A rental real estate enterprise is defined as an interest in real property held to produce rents and may consist of an interest in multiple properties. The individual or relevant pass-through entity must hold the interest directly or through a disregarded entity.

Taxpayers can treat each rental real estate property as a stand-alone enterprise or group together similar properties and treat each group as an enterprise. Commercial and residential real estate may not be a part of the same rental real estate enterprise. Taxpayers must be consistent with this treatment unless there is a significant change in facts and circumstances.

Rental services may be performed by owners, employees, agents or independent contractors. Rental services include:

  • advertising to rent or lease the real estate;
  • negotiating and executing leases;
  • verifying information contained in prospective tenant applications;
  • collecting rent;
  • daily operation, maintenance and repair of the property;
  • managing the real estate;
  • purchasing materials; and
  • supervising employees and independent contractors.

Qualifying rental services do not include financial or investment management activities such as arranging financing, procuring property, reviewing financial statements or operations reports, planning, managing or constructing long-term capital improvements or travel to and from the real estate properties.

Real estate rented or leased under a triple net lease is not eligible for the safe harbor. Further, real estate used by the taxpayer as a residence for any part of the year is not eligible for the safe harbor.

Disclosure requirement. In order to apply the safe harbor, a taxpayer attaches a signed statement, invoking perjury penalties, to the tax return reporting the section 199A deduction.

As part of the regulations package, the IRS also provided a safe harbor in Notice 2019-07 for rental real estate to be treated as a trade or business solely for purposes of section 199A. This safe harbor requires rental real estate professionals to contemporaneously track the time spent by rental real estate professionals on rental real estate activities. Baker Tilly’s sample log can be used to identify activities that qualify for the TCJA section 199A safe harbor for rental real estate activities.

Please consult your Baker Tilly tax advisor to determine how best to take advantage of this new guidance.

For related insights and in-depth analysis, see our Tax Reform Resource Center.

For more information on these topics, or to learn how Baker Tilly tax specialists can help, contact our team.