Everyone likes a little extra income, and the “sharing” economy has made that easier than ever. For those with a second property, options like Airbnb and VRBO have become very popular as means of procuring rental revenues. However, renting a home through one of these services can include tax implications of which many are unaware. If you are operating as a landlord for short-term rentals, here are some things you should know.

What qualifies as rental property?

lodge rentalThe IRS has a great deal of information on classifying rental properties in Topic Number 415. https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc415

To be considered a rental property, the home in question cannot qualify as a residence. A residence is one in which personal use equals the greater of either 14 days or “10% of the total days you rent it to others at a fair rental price”. So what does “personal use” mean, in this case? Personal use can be one of four scenarios.

1. When you or another individual who has an interest in the property (i.e., a business partner or co-owner) uses the property (unless that individual pays you a fair market price for rental). So, if your business partner’s family uses the property for a vacation, that’s personal use.

2. When a family member uses it without paying a fair price. If you let your niece rent it at half the usual rate while she’s in town for the weekend, that’s personal use.

3. “Anyone under an agreement that lets you use some other dwelling unit” Consider the rom-com “The Holiday”, where Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz swap houses with each other for a vacation. If you were to do something similar, those days spent at your house would county as personal use, since you were trading them for your own lodgings during that time.

4. Anyone at less than a fair rental price. This is self-explanatory, but also somewhat nebulous. Your best option is to have documentation supporting your pricing strategy, and apply it consistently.

Likewise, any expenses deducted must be deducted proportionally to the amount of time the home served as a rental. (So, if 5% of the year was personal use, only 95% of the appropriate expenses may be deducted.) If the property, in fact, does not meet the criteria to be considered a rental, you cannot deduct expenses on it. However, you also do not have to report rental income, in that case.

What can be deducted?

hardware toolsExpenses that are necessary for “managing, conserving and maintaining your rental property” can be deducted. These could include plumbing repairs, or cleaning services. You can also deduct expenses related to the business of renting out the property, such as any host fees from Airbnb, or advertising and legal fees related to the property.

You can also deduct any expenses which the tenant paid and which you then had to reimburse the tenant for. (For example, if the air conditioner breaks on the weekend, the tenant pays to fix it quickly, and you then reimburse the tenant, you can deduct that repair expense.)

You cannot deduct costs of improvements, those costs incurred in the act of restoring the property, or adapting it for a different use. You can, however, recover some of those costs on Form 4562 where you would report depreciation expenses.

Occupancy Tax

hotel2Many states and municipalities require landlords to collect and remit occupancy tax on short-term rentals. (It’s a bit like a sales tax, but for hotels.) You will need to closely examine your local laws, as they can vary greatly on tax rates, what constitutes short-term rental, how frequently it must be remitted, etc. To further complicate the matter, occupancy tax may be collected by states, counties, AND cities.

Additional Taxes

moneyIf you were to sell your property, after it has been designated as a rental, you will need to report the income from the sale as capital gains, and pay capital gains tax on that accordingly. If you are a high-income earner, you may also be responsible for net investment income tax. (See IRS Topic Number 559.) https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc559


signing documentAs always, be sure that you are collecting W-9s from service vendors and following all applicable requirements for filing 1099s at year-end.

We work with a number of property owners, on these very issues every day.