FAQ: What is the self-rental rule?

Under Code Sec. 469, passive losses can only be used to offset passive income. Taxpayers who have losses from a passive activity cannot use losses from a passive activity to offset nonpassive income, such as wages. A passive activity generally is an activity in which a taxpayer does not "materially participate." Passive losses that cannot be deducted must be carried over to a future year, where they can offset newly generated passive income.

Taxpayers with excess passive losses may seek to generate additional passive income by converting nonpassive income into passive income. The regulations under Code Sec. 469 (Reg. §1.469-2(f)(6)) include a "self-rental rule" to prevent taxpayers from creating artificial passive activity income that they could use to offset their passive losses.

Ordinarily, rental income is treated as passive income. However, the self-rental rule provides that income from a taxpayer's rental activity from an item of property, is treated as not being from a passive activity if the property is rented for use in a trade or business activity in which the taxpayer materially participates. Income that is recharacterized as nonpassive income cannot offset passive losses.

For example

An example of the self-rental rule was addressed in Williams, CA-5, 2016-1 USTC ¶50,173. In Williams, the taxpayer owned a C corporation and materially participated in the corporation's trade or business. The taxpayer also owned an S corporation that rented real estate to the C corporation. The taxpayer did not materially participate in the rental activity. The rental activity generated income, which the taxpayer treated as passive income and used to offset passive losses from other entities.

The court concluded that the self-rental rule applied to the S corporation's rental of the real property. The taxpayer, the owner of the S corporation, materially participated in the business of the C corporation that rented the property. As a result, the income generated by the rental activity had to be recharacterized as nonpassive income under the self-rental rule, and could not be used to offset the taxpayer's passive losses from other activities.

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