25 Items You May Be Able to Write Off for Rental Properties

by | BiggerPockets.com

Note: I am not a licensed accountant. You should consult a professional licensed accountant for all of your tax and investment matters. This article should be used for nothing more than an idea of the kinds of things you can write off on your rental property investments. It is not in any way meant to be an instructional manual for your taxes.

It’s tax season! Nothing is more exciting for rental property owners. Why? Because we are reminded how amazing rental properties are for tax benefits! They’re way better than just about any other taxable investment assets. Okay, well maybe it’s just us nerdy ones that actually get excited about it.

Why are rental properties so amazing when it comes to tax benefits? Two reasons:

  1. Rental property income is considered “passive income” by the IRS. Passive income is treated much more favorably than active income (“active income” includes things like W2 income and income from flipping properties).
  2. Residential rental property is the only investment asset that both appreciates and depreciates at the same time. Both put money in your pocket! Everyone is familiar with appreciation—the value goes up on your property, and that increase in value is money you can keep. Depreciation is a little trickier, but in short, the IRS assumes there will be continued wear and tear on your rental property throughout its life, and they offer you a level of compensation for that wear and tear in the form of pretty substantial write-offs. This isn’t literal wear and tear—if you keep the property pristine, that doesn’t count against you. The details on the write-off are tricky, but just know that you end up writing off that amount for depreciation on your taxes, which in turn increases your return!

For more information on why depreciation is amazing and a little bit more about how it works and how ultimately your rental property income usually ends up becoming tax-free income, check out “One of the Biggest Financial Advantages of Owning Residential Rental Properties.”

Now it’s time for a list of things related to a rental property that can typically be written off on your taxes. The reason write-offs are important is because they decrease your taxable income on the properties. Meaning, the more the write-offs, the less you have to pay in taxes!

Related: Infographic: 2017 Tax Deadlines Investors Can’t Miss From Now Until April 15th

The purpose of this list is not only to help ensure you include everything you can in your write-offs, but also to alert you to how many write-offs there really are for residential rental properties in case you are shopping for investments and not completely convinced yet of how great the tax benefits on rental properties are yet!

I’m going to make this note several times throughout this article, in one way or another: This list should not be considered all-inclusive or official. Again, I am not a licensed accountant, and this list should be used only as a guiding/starting point. Consult a licensed tax expert before concluding a final list of write-offs.

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25 Items You May Be Able to Write Off for Rental Properties

Here are 25 things that you may be able to write-off on your rental property investment!

  1. Management fees (e.g. property management)
  2. Homeowner’s association (HOA) or condo fees
  3. Utilities
  4. Insurance
  5. Property taxes
  6. Pest control
  7. Landscaping
  8. Mortgage interest
  9. Other interest
  10. Bank fees
  11. Supplies
  12. Education/professional development
  13. Licenses/permits
  14. Leasing fees
  15. Legal & professional fees
  16. Office/telephone
  17. Postage/shipping
  18. Travel
  19. Meals & entertainment
  20. Automobile/car expenses
  21. Repairs*
  22. Appliances/fixtures/equipment*
  23. Minor improvements*
  24. Major improvements/new assets*
  25. Depreciation

*There are strict requirements regarding the definition of each of these. Things in these categories are grouped based on how much they cost and other requirements that make them fit into one category or the other, and each is treated differently in terms of writing them off. A licensed tax expert needs to guide you on how to file each of these appropriately.

Did you know about all 25 of those?!

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Consult With a Tax Professional

Now for more boring talk about how I insist you work with a tax expert on these: You saw the note about how categorizing repairs matters for how they are filed. In addition to these strict rules, there are more general rules about how to file write-offs for things like travel, meals and entertainment, and automobile expenses. Consult your licensed tax expert for specific instructions on how to do these! I could tell you, but I’m not licensed.

For example, if you travel to one of your out-of-state rental properties to work on it, what involved with that travel can you write-off? There are some things you may not know you can write off about travel, and a lot of it depends on what percentage of the trip is dedicated to the property.

Another one that you will need help on is depreciation. If I told you that to calculate the depreciation, you can take you first need to determine the basis of the property, then separate the land and building costs, then determine the basis in the house, then determine the adjusted basis. See what I mean?

Related: 6 Reasons You Should File an Extension for Your Taxes This Year

Are you completely annoyed that you just read this entire article and you still don’t know exactly how much, what, and how to write off everything that you can for your rental property? Good—now go call your (very investor-friendly) accountant and get on it!

My goal is to give you a heads up on things to consider, but not in so much detail that I make it dangerous for you. I also want you to get excited about how many things you are going to be able to write off this year on your rental property.

Remember—the less taxable income you have on your property, the less you have to pay in taxes. These write-offs are what decreases that taxable income. And when it comes to rental properties, the write-offs can total such a high amount that either a) you end up paying no taxes on the income you received from the properties, or b) you might actually get a return from them! Yes, it’s true. I’ve never had better tax returns than I have since I bought rental properties.

On a serious note though about working with an accountant on your taxes: If you own rental properties, I guarantee you are missing out if you aren’t working with an REI-friendly accountant who works with real estate investors on a regular basis. One of the biggest financial perks of rental properties is the tax benefits, and unless you are an accountant yourself, you are absolutely missing out on some of the write-offs you could be taking. The laws also change very often regarding what you can and can’t do, so you need someone who follows those exactly in order to maximize on your taxes.  And while I love TurboTax, I have tried to use it for my rental properties, and it didn’t even come close to what my accountant was able to do. Trust me!

Can any rental property investors out there speak to how your tax returns have been different since having invested in rental properties? Have you run into any complications on your taxes?

Let me know your thoughts below!

About Author

Ali Boone

Ali Boone(G+) left her corporate job as an Aeronautical Engineer to work full-time in Real Estate Investing. She began as an investor in 2011 and managed to buy 5 properties in her first 18 months using only creative financing methods. Her focus is on rental properties, specifically turnkey rental properties, and has also invested out of the country in Nicaragua.

8 Comments

  1. Domenick T.

    Great article Ali! Your point about finding an REI-experienced accountant is very true. Not all accountants are the same. Take the time to find the right one who understands your situation and will maximize your tax benefits. Check with your local REI clubs or get a referral. It will be well worth it!

    Domenick | AccidentalRental.com

  2. Liked the article –but I have a question about investing in Central/South America? I saw you’ve invested in Nicaragua and would like to hear about it–if you’d like to share

  3. There are benefits tax wise to owning rental property, unless you make too much “earned income” to begin with. Both my wife and myself earn more than $150,000.00 per year(non-real estate income) and have not been able to take full advantage of the tax benefits of real estate. The more you make over $150,000.00 the less valuable real estate tax benefits are to property owners.
    Second, I have been looking for a real estate savvy accountant for years. I may have found one finally, but it has taken ten years. In the past good accountants have either been too far away to maintain a consistent relationship, or the retire and move on. There are fewer accountants and lawyers that specialize in real estate because it probably has less financial benefit to them then other areas of their practice.

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