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San Jose NRA tax attorney for rental incomeThe U.S. Tax Code is very complex, and taxpayers will often struggle to understand their tax obligations, their requirements for filing tax returns and other forms, and the steps they should take to avoid penalties. Nonresident aliens (NRAs), or those who are not U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals and do not maintain a substantial presence in the United States, may have certain tax obligations, including the requirement to pay taxes on income generated by rental properties. Failure to file the proper forms and pay taxes on this income may result in tax audits and penalties.

Tax Requirements for Rental Income From Real Property

When an NRA acquires real property in the United States, that person will usually not be required to file any forms with the IRS or pay taxes. However, there will be tax on any income earned through the rental of this property. The tax rate that applies to this income will depend on whether it is considered passive income (known as FDAP income) or effectively connected income (ECI) that is associated with a U.S. trade or business.

FDAP income is generally taxed at a rate of 30% of the gross amount of income earned by a rental property. These taxes will usually be withheld by a withholding agent (such as a property manager, renter, or lessee) who will send this amount to the IRS. ECI, on the other hand, is subject to graduated tax rates, and taxes apply to net income earned after deductions and expenses.

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San Jose tax deduction lawyer real estateUnder the Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts of 2017, certain owners of rental properties may be eligible for a significant tax deduction. The law allows for a 20 percent deduction against “qualified” business income for pass-through businesses. In determining whether someone qualifies for this deduction, a key consideration is whether the taxpayer engages in a “qualified trade or business” for purposes of Section 199A of the Internal Revenue Code. In some cases, it can be difficult to determine whether a business meets these qualifications, and the IRS has issued additional guidance about safe harbor for rental real estate businesses.

Qualifying for Safe Harbor

According to the IRS, the 20% qualified business income (QBI) deduction can only be taken against business income, rather than real estate investments. To achieve the required classification as a qualified trade or business, the IRS has set forth two major requirements for owners of rental real estate.

First, real estate property must be directly owned by an individual taxpayer or by an eligible pass-through entity. Second, the taxpayer must document 250 hours of rental services each year. Rental services encompass numerous activities, such as arranging advertising, collecting rent, supervising employees, and performing maintenance. Such activities that are performed directly by the owner or by an employee, agent, or independent contractor on behalf of the business will count toward the 250-hour requirement.  

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