The IRS has issued a revenue procedure with a safe harbor that allows certain interests in rental real estate to be treated as a trade or business for purposes of the Code Sec. 199A qualified business income (QBI) deduction. The safe harbor is intended to lessen taxpayer uncertainty on whether a rental real estate interest qualifies as a trade or business for the QBI deduction, including the application of the aggregation rules in Reg. §1.199A-4.

QBI Deduction and Rental Real Estate
Under Code Sec. 199A, certain noncorporate taxpayers can deduct up to 20 percent of the taxpayer’s QBI from each of the taxpayer’s qualified trades or businesses, including those operated through a partnership, S corporation, or sole proprietorship. Certain relevant passthrough entities (RPEs) (partnerships, S corporations, trust funds) calculate the deduction and pass it along to their owners or beneficiaries. A qualified trade or business is generally any trade or business under Code Sec. 162, but not a specified service trade or business (SSTB) or a trade or business of performing services as an employee.

Rental or licensing of tangible or intangible property (i.e., rental activity) that is not a Code Sec. 162 trade or business is still treated as a trade or business for the QBI deduction if the property is rented or licensed to a trade or business conducted by the individual or a RPE which is commonly controlled under Reg. §1.199A-4 ( Reg. §1.199A-1(b)(14)).

Earlier this year, the IRS released a proposed revenue procedure with a safe harbor for treating a rental real estate enterprise as a trade or business under Code Sec. 199A ( Notice 2019-7, I.R.B. 2019-9, 740). The IRS has issued the new revenue procedure after considering public comments on Notice 2019-7.

Rental Real Estate Enterprise
The new safe harbor applies to a “rental real estate enterprise.” This is an interest in real property held for the production of rents, and may consist of an interest in a single property or interests in multiple properties. The taxpayer or RPE must hold each interest directly or through a disregarded entity, and may either:

  • treat each interest in similar property held for the production of rents as a separate rental real estate enterprise; or
  • treat interests in all similar properties held for the production of rents as a single rental real estate enterprise.

Properties are similar if they are part of the same rental real estate category: either residential or commercial. Commercial real estate held for the production of rents can only be part of the same enterprise with other commercial real estate. Residential properties can only be part of the same enterprise with other residential properties.

A taxpayer or RPE that treats interests in similar properties as a single rental real estate enterprise must continue to treat interests in all similar properties, including newly acquired properties, as a single rental real estate enterprise if it continues to rely on the safe harbor. However, a taxpayer or RPE that chooses to treat its interest in each residential or commercial property as a separate rental real estate enterprise can choose to treat its interests in all similar commercial or all similar residential properties as a single rental real estate enterprise in a future year.

An interest in mixed-use property—a single building that combines residential and commercial units—can be treated as a single rental real estate enterprise, or bifurcated into separate residential and commercial interests. A mixed-use property interest that is treated as a single rental real estate enterprise cannot be treated as part of the same enterprise as other residential, commercial, or mixed-use property.

Safe Harbor Requirements
The safe harbor determination must be made annually. For a rental real estate enterprise to qualify for the safe harbor, all of the following requirements must be met during the tax year:

  • Separate books and records are maintained to reflect income and expenses for each rental real estate enterprise. If an enterprise has more than one property, the requirement can be met if income and expense information statements for each property are maintained and then consolidated.
  • For rental real estate enterprises in existence for less than four years, 250 or more hours of rental services are performed per year. For rental real estate enterprises in existence for at least four years, 250 or more hours of rental services are performed per year in any three of the five consecutive tax years that end with the tax year.
  • The taxpayer maintains contemporaneous records (including time reports, logs, or similar documents) on the hours of all services performed, a description of all services performed, the dates when the services were performed, and who performed the services. For services performed by employees or independent contractors, the taxpayer may provide a description of the rental services, the amount of time generally spent performing the services, and the time, wage, or payment records for the employee or independent contractor. Records must be made available for inspection at the IRS’s request. (The contemporaneous records requirement does not apply to tax years that begin before January 1, 2020.)
  • For each tax year for which it relies on the safe harbor, the taxpayer or RPE must attach a statement to a timely filed original return (or an amended return for the 2018 tax year only) that includes: (i) a description (including the address and rental category) of all rental real estate properties in each rental real estate enterprise; (ii) a description (including the address and rental category) of rental real estate properties acquired and disposed of during the tax year; and (iii) a representation that the requirements of Rev. Proc. 2019-38 have been satisfied.

“Rental services” include, but are not limited to:

  • advertising to rent or lease the real estate;
  • negotiating and executing leases;
  • verifying information contained in prospective tenant applications;
  • collecting rent;
  • daily operation, maintenance, and repair of the property, including purchasing materials and
  • supplies;
  • managing the real estate; and
  • supervising employees and independent contractors.

Rental services does not include:

  • financial or investment management activities, such as arranging financing;
  • procuring property;
  • studying and reviewing financial statements or reports on operations;
  • improving property under Reg. §1.263(a)-3(d); or
  • time spent traveling to and from the real estate.

If an enterprise fails to satisfy the safe harbor requirements, it can still be treated as a trade or business for the QBI deduction if it otherwise meets the trade or business definition in Reg. §1.199A-1(b)(14).

Property Excluded From Safe Harbor
The safe harbor does not apply to:

  • real estate used by the taxpayer (including an owner or beneficiary of an RPE) as a residence under Code Sec. 280A(d);
  • real estate rented or leased under a triple net lease, which includes a lease agreement that requires the tenant or lessee to pay taxes, fees, and insurance, and to pay for maintenance activities for a property in addition to rent and utilities;
  • real estate rented to a trade or business conducted by a taxpayer or an RPE that is commonly controlled under Reg. §1.199A-4(b)(1)(i); or
  • the entire rental real estate interest, if any portion of it is treated as an SSTB under Reg. §1.199A-5(c)(2).

Effective Date
The safe harbor applies to tax years ending after December 31, 2017. However, taxpayers and RPEs can rely on the prior safe harbor in Notice 2019-7 for the 2018 tax year.