Sunday, August 11, 2019

Foreign Investment In U.S. Rental Real Estate

We have spoken about Congress’ and the IRS’ increasing reliance on penalties.

Here is one from the new Taxpayer First Act of 2019:

The minimum penalty for filing a return more than 60 days later will now be no less than the lesser of:

·        $330 or
·        100% of the amount required to be shown on the tax return.

The previous marker was $205, adjusted for inflation.

Thanks for saving the republic from near-certain extinction there, Congress.

There is another one that has caught my attention, as it impacts my practice.

By happenstance I represent a fair number of foreign nationals who own rental real estate in the U.S.

Why would a foreign national want to own rental real estate in Georgetown, KY, Lebanon, OH or Arlington, TN?

I don’t get it, truthfully, but then I am not a landlord by disposition. I certainly am not a long-distance landlord.

There is a common structure to these arrangements. The foreign national sets up an U.S.-based LLC, and the LLC buys and operates the rentals. Practitioners do not often use corporations for this purpose.

There is a very nasty tax trap here.

There is special reporting for a foreign corporation doing business in the United States. As a flip to that coin, there is also special reporting for a U.S. corporation that is 25%-or-more owned by nonresidents. We are referring to Form 5472, and it is used to highlight “reportable transactions,” with no dollar minimum.

“Reportable transactions” sounds scary. I suppose we are looking for laundering of illicit money or something similar, right?

Here is an example of a “reportable transaction”:

·        borrowing money

Here is another:

·        paying interest on borrowed money

Yep, we are going full CSI on that bad boy.

Let’s play with definitions and drag down a few unattentive tax practitioners, why don’t we?

An LLC with one owner can be considered to be the same as its owner for tax purposes.

Say that Emilio from Argentina sets up an Ohio LLC.  He is the only owner. The LLC goes on to buy rental properties in Cincinnati and Columbus.

For federal income tax purposes, the LLC is disregarded and Emilio is deemed to own the properties individually.

For purposes of information reporting, however, the IRS wants you to treat Emilio’s single-member LLC as a corporation.

A “corporation” that is more-than-25% owned by a nonresident.

Meaning that you have a Form 5472 filing requirement.

What happens if the tax practitioner doesn’t catch this wordplay?

An automatic penalty of $10,000 for not filing that 5472.

Granted, the practitioner will fight the penalty. What choice is there?

Let’s up the ante.

Buried in the new tax law for 2018 (that is, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act), Congress increased the minimum penalty from $10,000 to $25,000.

So a foreign national buys a rental house or two in name-a-city, and somehow he/she is on par with an Alibaba or Banco Santander?

The IRS automatically charges the penalty if the form is filed late. The practitioner would have to provide reasonable cause to have the penalty abated.  

Remember next that the IRS does not consider an accountant’s error to be necessarily provide reasonable cause, and you can anticipate how this story may not turn out well.

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