The following is an excerpt from an article written by Daniel Bornstein, Esq. , founding partner of Bornstein Law based in San Francisco. The full article can be found here
Impacts on rental housing providers
The National Apartment Association, in partnership with the National Multifamily Housing Council, has applauded the tax overhaul, touting it as a smart tax policy.
One of the most adorning centerpieces of the TCJA is the protection of flow-through entities. Not surprising, because three-quarters of apartment properties operate as flow-through entities, including residential landlords who own their rental property as sole proprietors, real estate investment trusts, LLCs, S corporations, or partnerships.
Under these tax provisions, businesses avoid the double taxation of paying corporate and individual taxes. Instead, taxes are applied solely at the individual level. Unlike owner-occupants, rental property owners can write off expenses like mortgages, repair, and management costs. Since these costs of doing business are deducted from the income the property produces, investors are only taxed on that income, so by reducing it, the investment acts as a tax shelter.
The TCJA, however, creates a new tax deduction for individuals who realize income through pass-through entities under Section 199A, also known as the Qualified Business Income Deduction, which arose from the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2017. If rental activity qualifies as a business for tax purposes, as most do, owners may be eligible to deduct an amount equal to 20% of their net rental income. This is in addition to all other rental-related deductions. If landlords qualify, they are effectively taxed on only 80% of rental income.
There are many rules and limitations, of course, and as with any major revisions to the tax code, there will be modifications and interpretations which will change how this creature can be used.
The rich get richer?
Although wealthy real estate investors will be beneficiaries of the new tax rules, anyone who invests in rental real estate is likely to benefit. While critics note that Washington political figures emerge richer, perhaps they overlook the many small, mom-and-pop landlords. As we noted in this earlier post, these responsible landlords are stewards of the community, treat their tenants well, and are the driving force of affordable housing. They did not cause the housing crisis and indeed, have been adversely impacted by it with rising costs.
Pass-throughs are shrouded in mystery for many observers, with an accompanying undercurrent that they are an unseemly and arcane vehicle for corporations to avoid taxes or otherwise create some sort of mischief. In fact, roughly 95% of all businesses are categorized as pass-throughs, and they are very common for small business owners. In a pass-through, profits are merely passed through to the owners of the business, who then report that income on their individual tax returns and pay tax on it, with the rest of their normal income, and thus, there is nothing evasive.
Like most other matters we encounter at Bornstein Law, the law is cleaner on the page than it is in the real world, and many ambiguities need to be wrinkled out. Our job is not to legislate, but to counsel property owners and protect their real estate investments given their unique circumstances. While there is no shortage of viewpoints on tax reform circulating around the web, it is strongly recommended that you muffle the noise and sit down with an attorney to discuss your unique circumstances and real estate goals.