Can I Deduct Rent?

May 18, 2022 by Glynis Miller, CPA, MST
For rent sign

When most people hear this question, the immediate thought is “No.” The real answer is that it can depend on what is rented, the purpose of the rental, who receives the rental payments, and the terms of the rental agreement. Rent is paid for many different things and many different purposes; thus, all relevant facts must be reviewed to determine the deductibility of rent payments. The first thing to consider is what is being rented: a house, a car, or some equipment? Once the item rented is known, then consider why that item is being rented: is it for personal use or business use? Then consider who is being paid for the use of the item, and are they being paid rent, or is the item really being sold? Because each case can be treated differently, the items are addressed separately.
 

Rent Paid on your Primary Residence

The most common type of rent people think of is likely the rent a person pays to have shelter. So, if the rent payments are related to the apartment, condo, or home you live in as a personal residence, then the answer will generally be no. A few states may offer some type of renter’s credit, but the rent itself is generally not a deductible expense. Although it is possible, a portion of your rent could be deductible if you use any portion of your home for a valid trade or business activity as a home office or to store inventory. However, the deduction is not automatic; it comes with very specific rules.

One important rule on the usage is that it must be “regular and exclusive” use of the specific space to deduct the rental expense. To qualify under the requirement to be considered as used regularly and exclusively, the room cannot also be used as the game room or your dining room. For example, if your home office consists of sitting at the dining room table using your laptop, you are not using the space exclusively. Even if you are using it regularly, both requirements must be met, not just one of them. On the other hand, it could qualify if the dining room has been converted to office space and not used for dining. In some instances, a portion of the home is used to store inventory items used for the trade or business. Where inventory is stored, the business would be entitled to deduct the associated rent as a business expense.

When a portion of your home qualifies as home office space or storage space for inventory, it does not make the entire amount paid for rent deductible. Instead, only a portion of the rent that is allocable to business use is deductible. This deductible portion is known as the business use percentage. Business use percentage can be determined in multiple ways, such as based on square footage or the number of rooms. No matter which method was used to determine the percentage, the total rent paid is multiplied by the percentage to arrive at the deductible rental amount.
 

Rent Paid on Commercial Property

In most cases, if rent is paid for a commercial property used in a trade or business, the rent will be deductible. The rent must be considered an ordinary and necessary expense of the business. For example, if you operate a small thrift store and rent a storefront space, the rent paid should be deductible as an expense of your business. If you rent the space from your spouse, while the rental expense could be deducted against income earned by the thrift store, your spouse would need to report the rental income in the joint tax return. The joint return reporting allows for offsetting the rental expense against business income, allowing for the proper tax treatment of the business activity. If you and your spouse both own the commercial property in the example noted above, only the rent payments attributable to the spouse’s interest in the property are deductible. In other words, you may not be able to deduct the rent paid to yourself for your interest in the commercial property. This type of rental is called “self-rental” and may not always qualify to be deducted.

A self-rental occurs when a business owner also owns the owned property; then rents the property to the separate business entity in which they own. A self-rental situation can result in none of the rental payments being treated as deductible or, at a minimum, it results in the recharacterization of the net rental income to the party renting the property. The issue with a self-rental relates to changing the treatment of a portion of the taxpayers’ income. When you pay rent for the business property, it will reduce the net profit subject to self-employment taxes. While this reduction is properly handled in most cases, there are occasions where a self-rental is incorrectly used to avoid taxes altogether.
 

Rent Paid on Equipment

As indicated earlier, rent can be paid on various types of property. For example, renting a car, a copier, computers, or some other equipment may be required. If the rental is personal in nature, then the payments will not be deductible on your tax return. A deduction for the ordinary and necessary equipment rental can be taken if the equipment is rented for use in a taxpayer’s trade or business. However, when renting equipment, care must be taken to review the lease agreement to ensure the property is being rented and not purchased. It is not uncommon to lease equipment for which it can be purchased at the end of the lease term. Thus, if the equipment can be purchased, it may need to be set up as an asset on the business entity’s financial statements and treated as depreciable property instead. Under a rental-purchase agreement, the rent payments are not deductible; cost recovery is made through depreciation.
 

Rent Paid for Temporary Housing

Under certain circumstances, some individuals have allowed their primary residence to be used in a movie as the home of some fictitious character or as a temporary vacation rental home in a high touristic area. While the home is being used for these other purposes, the homeowner may secure a temporary place to stay. Unfortunately, the paid temporary rent is not considered a deductible rental payment. The temporary rental payments are considered personal nondeductible living expenses.
 

Conclusion

So circling back to the original question, “Can I Deduct Rent?” The answer is yes when there is a true business purpose for the rent, and only the allowable amount as determined for the specific item rented. For rent paid that does not have any business purposes, the rent is considered a nondeductible personal living expense or just a nondeductible personal expense under these circumstances.

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Glynis Miller, CPA, MST
Tax Content Developer

 

Glynis began her career with TaxAudit in February 2006 as a Seasonal Tax Return Reviewer. In December of 2008, she joined the permanent staff as an Audit Representative. Glynis has been an instructor for both continuing education tax classes and various staff training classes since 2009. Glynis holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Accounting and a Master’s Degree in Taxation. Prior to joining TaxAudit, Glynis worked in private and public sectors of accounting. She has worked at regional accounting firms preparing tax returns, financial statements, and audit services. Her professional career has spanned over a wide variety of industries from advertising, construction, commercial real estate, farming, manufacturing and more. In 2017, Glynis joined the Learning and Development Department as a Tax Content Developer. She is providing a wealth of accounting and tax knowledge, writing skills, current job awareness, and a very cross-functional skillset to the team. 


 

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