Sunday, June 3, 2018

Self-Renting a Big Green Egg

Sometimes tax law requires you to witness the torture of the language. Other times it herds you through a sequence of “except for” clauses, almost assuring that some future Court will address which except is taking exception.

And then you have the laughers.

I came across an article titled: Corporation’s self-leasing rental expense deduction denied.”

I was curious. We tax nerds have an exceptionally low threshold for curiosity.

Before reading the article, I anticipated that:

(1)  Something was being deducted
(2)  That something was rent expense
(3)  Something was being self-leased, whatever that means, and
(4)  Whatever it means, the deduction was denied.

Let us spend a little time on (3).

Self-lease (or self-rental) means that you are renting something to yourself or, more likely, to an entity that you own. It took on greater tax significance in 1986 when Congress, frustrated for years with tax shelters, created the passive activity (PAL) rules. The idea was to separate business activities between actually working (active/material participation) and living the Kennedy (passive activity).

It is not a big deal if all the activities are profitable.

It can be a big deal if some of the activities are unprofitable.

Let’s go back to the classic tax shelter. A high-incomer wants to shelter high income with a deductible tax loss.

Our high-incomer buys a partnership interest in a horse farm or oil pipeline or Starbucks. The high-incomer does not work at the farm/pipeline/Starbucks, of course. He or she is an investor.

In the lingo, he/she is passive in the activity.

Contrast that with whatever activity generates the high income. Odds are that he/she works there. We would refer to that as active or material participation.

The 1986 tax act greatly restricted the ability of the high-incomer to use passive losses to offset active/material participation income.

Every now and then, however, standard tax planning is flipped on its head. There are cases where the high-incomer wants more passive income.

In the name of all that is holy, why?

Has to do with passive losses. Let’s say that you had $10,000 in passive losses in 2015. You could not use them to offset other income, so the $10,000 carried over to 2016. Then to 2017. They are gathering dust.

If we could create passive income, we could use those passive losses.

How to create passive income?

Well, let’s say that you own a company.

You rent something to the company.

Let’s rent your car, your office-in-home or your Big Green EGG XXL.

Rent is passive income, right? The tax on our passive income will be zero, as the losses will mop up every dollar of income.

That is the “self-rental” the tax Code is after.

But it also triggers one of those “except for” rules: if the self-rental results in income, the income will not qualify as passive income.

All your effort was for naught. Thank you for playing.

Back to the article I was reading.

There is a doctor. He is the only owner of a medical practice. He used the second story of his house solely for the medical practice. Fair be fair, he had the practice pay him rent for that second floor.

I have no problem with that.

The Tax Court disallowed the corporation a rent deduction.

Whaaat? That makes no sense.

The purpose of the passive/active/material participation rules is not to deny a deduction altogether. The purpose is to delay the use of losses until the right type of income comes around.

What was the Tax Court thinking?

Easy. The doctor never reported the rental income on his personal return.

This case has nothing to do with self-rental rules. The Court simply was not permitting the corporation a deduction for rent that its shareholder failed to report as income.

The case for the home gamers is Christopher C.L. Ng M.D. Inc.

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