IRS Offers QBI Deduction Safe-Harbor Rule for Rental Real Estate

The IRS recently issued guidance on the new deduction for up to 20% of qualified business income (QBI) from pass-through entities under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). It aims to clarify when the QBI deduction is available for income from rental real estate enterprises.

Building for lease sign

The QBI deduction is allowed only for income from a business. But the term "business" isn't defined in the statutory language. When the TCJA became law, it was unclear whether a rental real estate activity could count as a business for QBI deduction purposes. Here's how the new guidance helps clarify the issue.

Basics of the QBI Deduction

The QBI deduction is potentially available to eligible noncorporate owners of pass-through business entities for tax years beginning in 2018 and extending through 2025. The deduction is scheduled to disappear after 2025, unless Congress extends it.

For QBI deduction purposes, pass-through entities are defined as:

The QBI deduction is complex and involves a number of rules. For example, the deduction:

Income from the trade or business of being an employee doesn't count as QBI. Also excluded from QBI are reasonable salaries collected by S corporation shareholder-employees and guaranteed payments received by partners (or LLC members treated as partners for tax purposes) for services rendered to partnerships (or LLCs) or for the use of capital by partnerships (or LLCs).

Important: The QBI deduction can also be claimed for up to 20% of an individual's income from qualified real estate investment trust (REIT) dividends and up to 20% of qualified income from publicly traded partnerships (PTPs).

Potential Limitations

Above specified income levels, the QBI deduction for income from an eligible business can't exceed the greater of:

In addition, the QBI deduction is phased out for income from specified service businesses. Examples include doctors, lawyers, accountants, actuaries, actors, singers, consultants, athletes, investment managers, stock traders and any other trade or business where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of one or more of its employees.

For 2018, these limitations are phased in when the business owner has taxable income (calculated before any QBI deduction) above certain levels. These income limits are indexed annually for inflation. Here are the income-based phase-in thresholds for 2018 and 2019:

2018 & 2019 Phase-In Range
Phase-In Thresholds for 2018 & 2019

These limitations are phased in over a taxable income range of $50,000, or $100,000 for married couples who file joint returns.

Under another limitation, an individual's allowable QBI deduction can't exceed the lesser of:

New Guidance for Rental Real Estate Enterprises

The IRS recently issued Notice 2019-7 to clarify when the QBI deduction can be claimed for income from rental real estate enterprises. The notice includes a safe-harbor rule for determining whether a rental real estate enterprise can be treated as an eligible business for QBI deduction purposes.

If a rental real estate enterprise fails to qualify for the safe-harbor rule, it can still be treated as a business for QBI deduction purposes if it meets the general definition of a business set forth in the QBI regulations. Unfortunately, that definition isn't very clear. (See "Defining a Business under the QBI Regulations" above.)

For purposes of eligibility for the safe-harbor rule, a rental real estate enterprise is defined as an ownership interest in real property held for the production of rents and may consist of an ownership interest in multiple properties.

To rely on the safe-harbor rule, the individual or pass-through entity must own the interest directly or through an entity that's disregarded for federal income tax purposes. Such entities include single-member LLCs that aren't treated for tax purposes as separate entities apart from their owners.

Taxpayers must either treat:

Commercial and residential real estate can't be treated as part of the same enterprise. Taxpayers also aren't allowed to vary their treatment of properties from year to year, unless there's a significant change in facts and circumstances.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for the safe harbor, the taxpayer must pass an hours-of-service test. For tax years beginning before January 1, 2023, at least 250 hours of rental services must be performed each year in the enterprise.

For tax years beginning after December 31, 2022, the 250-hour test can be met in any three of the five consecutive tax years that end with the current tax year. But if the enterprise has been held for less than five years, the 250-hour test must be met for each post-2022 tax year.

For tax years beginning after December 31, 2018, eligible taxpayers must maintain separate books and records for each rental real estate enterprise to keep track of each enterprise's income and expenses. Taxpayers must also maintain contemporaneous records (including time reports, logs, or similar documents) to establish:

For purposes of meeting the hours-of-service test, rental services include:

Rental services can be performed by owners, employees, agents and independent contractors. Rental services do not include financial or investment management activities, such as:

Real estate used as a residence by the taxpayer (including an owner or beneficiary of a pass-through entity) for any part of a tax year isn't eligible for the safe-harbor rule. Real estate rented or leased under a triple net lease also isn't eligible. With a triple net lease, the tenant or lessee, in addition to paying rent and utilities, agrees to pay taxes, fees and insurance, and to be responsible for property maintenance.

Ready, Set, Go

The Notice 2019-7 guidance on the eligibility of rental real estate enterprises for the QBI deduction isn't final. But it can be relied upon until final rules are issued by the IRS. Meanwhile, taxpayers should be aware that complying with the recordkeeping requirements in Notice 2019-7 may be a challenge. Your tax advisor can help you set up procedures to meet the challenge.

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