Category Archives: Legal

Top 10 Tax Deductions for Landlords

Every year, millions of landlords pay more taxes on their rental income than they have to. Why? Because they fail to take advantage of all the tax deductions available for owners of rental property. Rental real estate provides more tax benefits than almost any other investment.

Often, these benefits make the difference between losing money and earning a profit on a rental property. Here are the top ten tax deductions for owners of small residential rental property.

1. Interest

Interest is often a landlord’s single biggest deductible expense. Common examples of interest that landlords can deduct include mortgage interest payments on loans used to acquire or improve rental property and interest on credit cards for goods or services used in a rental activity.

2. Depreciation

The actual cost of a house, apartment building, or other rental property is not fully deductible in the year in which you pay for it. Instead, landlords get back the cost of real estate through depreciation. This involves deducting a portion of the cost of the property over several years.

3. Repairs

The cost of repairs to rental property (provided the repairs are ordinary, necessary, and reasonable in amount) are fully deductible in the year in which they are incurred. Good examples of deductible repairs include repainting, fixing gutters or floors, fixing leaks, plastering, and replacing broken windows.

4. Local Travel

Landlords are entitled to a tax deduction whenever they drive anywhere for their rental activity. For example, when you drive to your rental building to deal with a tenant complaint or go to the hardware store to purchase a part for a repair, you can deduct your travel expenses.

If you drive a car, SUV, van, pickup, or panel truck for your rental activity (as most landlords do), you have two options for deducting your vehicle expenses. You can:

  • deduct your actual expenses (gasoline, upkeep, repairs), or
  • use the standard mileage rate (55 cents per mile for 2009; 58.5 cents per mile for July 1, 2008 through December 31, 2008 and 50.5 cents per mile from January 1, 2008 through June 30, 2008). To qualify for the standard mileage rate, you must use the standard mileage method the first year you use a car for your business activity. Moreover, you can’t use the standard mileage rate if you have claimed accelerated depreciation deductions in prior years, or have taken a Section 179 deduction for the vehicle.

5. Long Distance Travel

If you travel overnight for your rental activity, you can deduct your airfare, hotel bills, meals, and other expenses. If you plan your trip carefully, you can even mix landlord business with pleasure and still take a deduction.

However, IRS auditors closely scrutinize deductions for overnight travel — and many taxpayers get caught claiming these deductions without proper records to back them up. To stay within the law (and avoid unwanted attention from the IRS), you need to properly document your long distance travel expenses.

6. Home Office

Provided they meet certain minimal requirements, landlords may deduct their home office expenses from their taxable income. This deduction applies not only to space devoted to office work, but also to a workshop or any other home workspace you use for your rental business. This is true whether you own your home or apartment or are a renter.

For the ins and outs on taking the home office deduction, see Home Business Tax Deductions: Keep What You Earnor Every Landlord’s Tax Deduction Guide, both by Stephen Fishman (Nolo).

7. Employees and Independent Contractors

Whenever you hire anyone to perform services for your rental activity, you can deduct their wages as a rental business expense. This is so whether the worker is an employee (for example, a resident manager) or an independent contractor (for example, a repair person).

8. Casualty and Theft Losses

If your rental property is damaged or destroyed from a sudden event like a fire or flood, you may be able to obtain a tax deduction for all or part of your loss. These types of losses are called casualty losses. You usually won’t be able to deduct the entire cost of property damaged or destroyed by a casualty. How much you may deduct depends on how much of your property was destroyed and whether the loss was covered by insurance.

9. Insurance

You can deduct the premiums you pay for almost any insurance for your rental activity. This includes fire, theft, and flood insurance for rental property, as well as landlord liability insurance. And if you have employees, you can deduct the cost of their health and workers’ compensation insurance.

10. Legal and Professional Services

Finally, you can deduct fees that you pay to attorneys, accountants, property management companies, real estate investment advisors, and other professionals. You can deduct these fees as operating expenses as long as the fees are paid for work related to your rental activity.

Did You Know?

Did you know that:

  • Landlords can greatly increase the depreciation deductions they receive the first few years they own rental property by using segmented depreciation.
  • Careful planning can permit you to deduct, in a single year, the cost of improvements to rental property that you would otherwise have to deduct over 27.5 years.
  • You can rent out a vacation home tax-free, in some cases.
  • Most small landlords can deduct up to $25,000 in rental property losses each year.
  • A special tax rule permits some landlords to deduct 100% of their rental property losses every year, no matter how much.
  • People who rent property to their family or friends can lose virtually all of their tax deductions.

If you didn’t know one or more of these facts, you could be paying far more tax than you need to.

by: Stephen Fishman , J.D.

10 Steps Toward Low-Risk Landlording

Learn how to protect your rental property from common mishaps and risky situations.

Most rental property owners worry about protecting their investment. From physical damage to the property to insurance claims to lawsuits brought by tenants, there are myriad ways that you can lose money. Fortunately, minimizing risks in a rental business doesn’t require a ton of money or a staff of experts. All you need to do is learn where you’re vulnerable and then take commonsense steps to minimize that vulnerability.

Here are ten steps you can take to protect yourself against liability as a landlord. By acting now, you’ll enjoy a big payoff: reduced likelihood of lawsuits, harm to tenants and guests, damage to your property, and financial distress to your business.

Step #1: Get the Right Insurance for Your Property and Business

Don’t wait until a loss occurs before you determine whether you have the right insurance for your business and property. Review your current policy with your agent or broker, then discuss coverage options that fit your needs.

Step #2: Make Your Property Physically Sound

Keep your property safe so that people don’t get hurt. To do this, learn the basic legal requirements for repairing and maintaining your property, and then follow them.

Implied warranty of habitability. Virtually every landlord must comply with a legal rule known as the “implied warranty of habitability.” This means you must make sure your rentals are in a “fit” and “habitable” condition when tenants move in, and you must maintain this condition throughout the tenancy. Get familiar with your state and local health, building, and safety codes, and strive to keep your property compliant.

Take steps to prevent injuries and losses. In addition, take other reasonable steps to prevent injuries and other losses. For example, take all tenants’ repair requests seriously and fix problems promptly. Inspect your property yourself for hazards. If you can’t address a hazardous situation immediately, warn tenants and visitors about the danger. (For example, put traffic cones around a pothole, or post signs and safety tape near a spill on the floor.)

Step #3: Make Your Rental Property Accessible to Disabled Tenants

Make your property accessible to tenants with mobility impairments and other disabilities. Check whether structures on your property must follow the Fair Housing Act’s “design and construction” requirements. (Generally, multifamily buildings that were designed and constructed for first occupancy after March 13, 1991 must comply.)

Regardless of when your buildings were constructed, seriously consider all requests from a disabled prospect or tenant to modify your building in order to meet that person’s needs. Review each request on a case-by-case basis and grant it if it’s reasonable. For example, a prospect’s request to install grab bars in the bathroom or lower kitchen cabinets is probably a reasonable modification request.

Step #4: Remove Environmental Hazards from Your Property

Removing environmental hazards is often trickier than removing other physical hazards. Environmental hazards often can’t be seen, and they may not become apparent until they cause injury or property damage. For example, a landlord might not learn of lead paint dust on her property until a family gets their child’s blood test results showing elevated levels of lead. What’s more, in some cases environmental hazards remain invisible even once they’ve caused damage, as in the case of carbon monoxide or radon.

Do your best to address environmental hazards before they cause serious damage. Here are some ways to do so:

  • Require tenants to report all leaks and flooding to you promptly so that you can take quick action to prevent mold.
  • Maintain your heating systems and appliances, and install carbon monoxide detectors in order to prevent carbon monoxide build-up.
  • Comply with federal testing requirements when employees or contractors work on asbestos-containing building materials, such as sprayed-on ceilings. These tests will reveal to workers what’s in your building, and you can use this knowledge to protect your tenants, too.

Step #5: Prepare for and Handle Disasters and Emergencies

Take steps to safeguard your business and protect your property, tenants, and employees in an emergency. For example:

  • Back up your computer files and keep important documents (such as a mortgage, note, and management contract) in a secure and fire-proof off-site storage facility.
  • Report suspicious objects, activities, and mail to the police, and take bomb threats seriously.
  • Document the location of utility shut-off valves, a step that can save lives and minimize damage if a fire or other disaster occurs.
  • Create an emergency procedures manual with an evacuation plan that’s tailored to your property.

Step #6: Lower the Risk of Crime at Your Property

In recent years, courts have increasingly found landlords partially responsible for crimes on their properties because they didn’t provide adequate security.

To prevent problems and keep your property and tenants safe, comply with state and local laws concerning security measures on rental properties. Screen your applicants and employees carefully — don’t just look for experience and know-how when it comes to filling a position on your staff. Adopt a smart key policy so that keys don’t fall into the wrong hands, and make sure your intercom system doesn’t link tenants to their apartment numbers. Answer prospects’ questions about security candidly, and deliver on any promise you make to increase security.

Step #7: Avoid Fair Housing Complaints When Choosing Tenants

If a prospective tenant believes you violated her civil rights, she may take legal action against you. Even if you win, defending yourself takes time, money, and energy.

To avoid problems, learn the basics of fair housing laws. The key to compliance is treating everyone the same. Some ways to do this include:

  • putting your screening criteria into a written tenant selection plan and giving a copy to applicants
  • rejecting applicants for legitimate business reasons, such as poor credit or negative references from prior landlords, and letting applicants know your reasons for rejecting them, and
  • keeping an updated log of apartment availability, and granting prospects’ requests for reasonable accommodations. For example, if you have a “no pets” policy and a prospect needs a guide dog to accommodate his disability, let him keep the dog as an accommodation.

Step #8: Adopt Careful and Consistent Business Practices

Many landlords create risks just by the way they go about their business. Be a careful and consistent landlord by using a written lease or rental agreement with tenants and by enforcing lease clauses consistently. Create house rules for tenants to follow (for example, regarding pets or children’s health and safety) and enforce them. Don’t let a friendship with a tenant interfere with your professional relationship. Also, to prevent identity theft, don’t use tenants’ Social Security numbers any more than needed.

Step #9: Avoid Problems When Hiring Help

Hiring help brings the promise of efficiency, savings, peace of mind, and profitability to your business — but it also brings risk. To lower your risk, determine whether you must classify a helper as an employee or an independent contractor.

For employees, be sure to withhold the appropriate payroll taxes and create a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment.

When using contractors, make sure they have insurance and sign a written contract with you.

If you’re considering hiring a management company or need to hire a lawyer, ask questions until you’re satisfied you’re choosing the right one.

Step #10: Taxes: Stay on Good Terms with Uncle Sam

Take steps to avoid a tax audit and to maximize your deductions. For example,

  • Establish a recordkeeping system for your business so that you keep track of every document that will substantiate your claimed income and expenses.
  • Understand how your choice of business structure and tax year affect your taxes.
  • Find out what deductions you’re entitled to claim, and then claim them.
  • Finally, hire the right type of tax pro for your business, and review your past returns for evidence of trends or problems.
Information obtained from nolo.com

For more help regarding these issues please visit:

https://helpforlandlords.com/landlord-state-guide-assistance/

Should you have to write a letter to get your security deposit back?

There’s a very important piece of legislation coming before the Chicago city council, one that would do a lot for ordinary people waylaid by the foreclosure crisis. But there’s a problem with that bill, or at least a version of it floating around the council chambers. One that could hurt vulnerable tenants around the city. The main bill is basically this: If you rent an apartment and your building went into foreclosure and is now owned by a bank, that bank still has to give you back the security deposit you paid when you signed your lease. That’s the part of the bill everyone agrees upon. But there’s another version with an amendment tacked on that would do something entirely different. That version is sponsored by the Chicagoland Apartment Association, a group that represents landlords, that would require tenants to write their landlord a letter, giving them 14 days to return their security deposit, or they risk not getting it back at all. This letter flies in the face of the Landlord Tenant Ordinance, which gives a landlord 45 days to return that deposit or face legal action. Tenants from around the city gathered today before the meeting to support the main bill, but oppose this 14 day notice amendment. Why? Well, they say the people who would be affected by this are the people who are already vulnerable to unscrupulous landlords. People with little knowledge of the law, those who don’t speak English and those who don’t have the money for legal representation. Alderman Helen Shiller doesn’t like this amendment. She said the amendment would give landlords a financial incentive not to give the deposit back. “It’s in my economic interest not to do so,” said Shiller. “I would just wait until that tenant contacted me to return their money – most of them they won’t know they have the right, they won’t do it or they might be intimidated.” Schiller proposed an amendment of her own – one that makes tenants write a 14 day notice before taking legal action because the landlord didn’t calculate the interest on their security deposit correctly. So, for example, when my landlord sent me a check for $12 last year, if I determined that she owed me $15, I should give her 14 days notice before I sue her over $3. That sounds pretty reasonable, right? I mean, lets cut down on the extraneous lawsuits. On the other hand, just as there are a lot of unscrupulous landlords out there, there are just as many unscrupulous tenants – people that are lawsuit trigger happy and just like to sue for the fun of it or to see how much money they can shake loose from honest business owners. Those people often mess it up for the rest of us, raising our rents and costs because they were looking out for themselves. One man giving testimony (I didn’t catch his name) relayed story just like this. His parents and sister bought a building, and the tenants, who lived their only two days while they owned it, alleged that they didn’t get the properly formatted letter, letting them know they would be getting their deposit back. Not that they didn’t get a deposit – they just didn’t get a letter in the proper format. They sued for around $3500, plus legal fees. This poor elderly couple and their daughter paid that out of pocket. Judith Roettig, president of the Chicagoland Apartment Association, says that the ordinance they favor – the one with the 14 day period for everything – says it doesn’t go against the laws already on the books – the Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance. Tenants right now can sue for twice their security deposit, plus legal fees, if they don’t get their security deposit and interest within 45 days of moving out. “This amendment does not absolutely does not change the owners obligation to comply with all aspects of the RLTO,” said Roettig. “It simply provides a way for the landlord and the tenant to work out out before going to court.” But volunteers who work with tenants at the Metropolitian Tenant Organization hotline say that tenants already have a hard enough time getting their security deposit back. Charlotte Starkes, who volunteers on the hotline, says she talked to one man who paid a $3,800 security deposit – several months rent – and only got $900 back with no notice as to why or what damages he was paying for. Other tenants are told their security deposit is being used to paint or clean the apartment for the next tenant. “It’s done city wide. This problem doesn’t have a color, a neighborhood, an age or a class. It’s going on everywhere,” says Starkes. At the moment, there’s a battle going on in the city council chambers. Fifty plus people are waiting to testify on this legislation, before the building committee even votes on it. So, since we’ve got some time on our hands, what do you think? UPDATE (2:46 p.m.) : As of about one o’clock, Loreen Targos from Metropolitan Tenants Organization told me that after a couple hours of testimony from both sides, the Buildings committee ended up passing the main bill – without either amendment – unanimously. So now it moves to the full council for a vote. The two amendments will be taken up by a subcommittee chaired by Alderman Shiller. Apparently, at the end, Alderman Bernie Stone asked, “Is anyone opposed to ending this useless meeting?” No one was. The democratic process at work…

By Megan Cottrell

The Tenant Blacklist ends

From GothamGazette.com

Council, Courts End the ‘Tenant Blacklist’

The term “blacklisting,” usually associated with 1950’s McCarthyism, has taken on a new meaning. The blacklisted in 21st century New York have been people applying for apartments whom property owners deem undesirable as tenants. In an effort to limit this practice, the New York City Council in March, building on previous court cases, enacted the Tenant Fair Chance Act.

While credit checks are well known, most New Yorkers do not realize that some companies buy landlord-tenant filings, harvest court histories and sell them to landlords. The endgame is for landlords to learn whether the apartment-seeker had an in-court dispute with a prior landlord.

Tenant screening agencies, as the companies are known, may supply information about credit, character, reputation and personal characteristics, but the new law’s emphasis is on “history of contact with any court… [and reports] used for the purpose of serving as a factor in establishing a consumer’s suitability for housing.”

The Legal Background

In the case of White v. First American Registry a class-action was brought in federal court in Manhattan against the nation’s largest tenant screening agency. In his ruling, Judge Lewis Kaplan of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York noted that landlords are all too willing to use such “consumer reports” as a blacklist, “refusing to rent to anyone whose name appears on it regardless of whether the existence of a litigation history in fact evidences characteristics that would make one an undesirable tenant.”

The judge went on to say the practice of seizing upon the availability of Housing Court filings helps “to create and market a product that can be, and probably is, used to victimize blameless individuals. Tenants and lawyers in that case won more than $2.9 million.

While everyone agrees landlords have a right to know who will be living in their buildings, and that they should do some checking, Kaplan agreed with tenants that the records obtained and sold by screening agencies are unreliable. As Supreme Court Judge Barbara Kapnick wrote in the later case of Dawn Weisent v. Subaqua, “regardless of whether or not a tenant prevails in the Housing Court, his or her name may appear on the ‘blacklist.'”

Limited Information

The Housing Court records that are bought and sold show merely that a proceeding was commenced, not what ultimately happened in the case, making the information incomplete or even inaccurate. The records the screening agencies receive from the court show a proceeding was brought — for example, Landlord v. Tenant — but give no other information. Because of the limited facts, the case might not even involve the tenant in question, but someone else with the same name, giving a false impression of a potential tenant’s history with a landlord.

The records also do not reveal, for example, that a tenant might have previously withheld rent due to dangerous housing conditions. Instead, they simply show that the tenant was a defendant in a lawsuit. The records also will not reflect that a Housing Court judge might have dismissed the landlord-tenant proceeding, finding that it was baseless, or deciding after trial in favor of the tenant. In other words, the mere fact that there was a proceeding in an apartment related dispute brought to court could be used against a person trying to rent an apartment — even if it is the wrong person.

The Council’s ‘Fair Chance’

The Tenant Fair Chance Act, which was introduced by Manhattan City Councilmember Daniel Garodnick and co-sponsored by 17 other members, goes into effect this summer. It intends to let potential tenants know if screening agencies are being used and what they have reported about them, especially if adverse information has led to denial of an apartment.

In introducing the bill, Garodnick said, “Tenant screening reports are one of the most powerful tools working against renters today, and yet they are almost completely unregulated.”

Under the new law, the tenant who is spurned is entitled to a copy of the report and the opportunity to make any corrections. The law states, “Every tenant or prospective tenant may dispute inaccurate or incorrect information contained in a tenant screening report directly with the consumer reporting agency.”

A violation of the Tenant Fair Chance Act law “shall be subject to a civil penalty of not less than $250 nor more than $700 for each violation.” Other penalties, including criminal prosecution, also are available.

Emily Jane Goodman is a New York State Supreme Court Justice
This is the full article, but you can view it again here.