When are receipts related to a rental property taxable?

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What every landlord should know about reporting of rental income and expenses

Accounting for rental income might at first seem like a simple concept, but in practice it may not be so simple. What is the difference between “rental income” and “advance rent”? How does one account for a security deposit, or property or services received in lieu of rent? How is personal use of a vacation home or other rental property treated? This article addresses those questions.

Rental income is any payment received or accrued for occupancy of real estate or the use of personal property. Rental income is generally included in gross income when actually or constructively received. Cash basis taxpayers report income in the year received, regardless of when it was earned. 

Advance rent is any amount received before the period that it covers. Landlords are required to include advance rent in rental income in the year received, regardless of the period covered or the accounting method used by the taxpayer. An amount received by a landlord from a tenant for cancelling a lease constitutes income in the year in which it is received since it is essentially a substitute for rental payments.

Do not include a security deposit in income when received if it is to be returned to the tenant at the end of the lease. If part or all of the security deposit is retained during any year because the tenant does not live up to the terms of the lease, include the amount retained in income for that year. If an amount called a security deposit is to be used as a final payment of rent, it is advance rent. Include it in income when received.

Expenses of renting property can be deducted from gross rental income. Rental expenses are generally deducted by cash basis taxpayers in the year paid.  

If the tenant pays any expenses that are the landlord’s obligations, the payments are rental income for the landlord and must be included in income. These expenses may be deducted if they are otherwise deductible rental expenses. Property or services received in lieu of rent are reportable income as well. Landlords should include the fair market value of the property or services provided by the tenant in rental income. Services at an agreed upon or specified price are assumed to be at fair market value unless there is evidence to the contrary. There are specific rules related to leasehold improvements so please contact your tax advisor prior to entering into these transactions.

Personal use of a vacation home or other rental property requires that the expenses be allocated between the personal and rental use. If the rental expenses exceed rental income, the rental expenses will be limited.

If you have questions about how to treat expenses and income related to your rental property, our tax advisors would be happy to assist you. 

SKR+CO Expert
Jordan Empey, CPA, Tax Partner
Jordan has been in public accounting since 2005. He specializes in serving real estate, construction clients and privately held companies.