Are you interested in becoming a commercial or residential landlord?

If so, you’ll likely have to shell out plenty of money before ever collecting a dime in rent. The tax code treats some of those monies as start-up expenses.

Start-up expenses are some of the costs you incur before you offer a property for rent.

There are two broad categories:

  1. Investigatory
  2. Pre-opening costs, such as advertising, office expenses, salaries, insurance, and maintenance costs

Your cost of purchasing a rental property is not a start-up expense. Rental property and other long-term assets, such as furniture, must be depreciated once the rental business begins.

On the day you start your rental business, you can elect to deduct your start-up expenses.

The deduction is equal to

  • the lesser of your start-up expenditures or $5,000, reduced (but not below zero) by the amount by which such start-up expenditures exceed $50,000, plus
  • amortization of the remaining start-up expenses over the 180-month period beginning with the month in which the rental property business begins.

When you file your tax return, you automatically elect to deduct your start-up expenses when you label and deduct them on your Schedule E (or other appropriate return).

Costs you pay to form a partnership, limited liability company, or corporation are not part of your start-up expenses. But under a different tax rule, you can deduct up to $5,000 of these costs the first year you’re in business and amortize any remaining costs over the first 180 months you are in business.

Note that the cost of expanding an existing business is a business operating expense, not a start-up expense. As long as business expansion costs are ordinary, necessary, and within the compass of your existing rental business, they are deductible.

The IRS and tax court take the position that your rental business exists only in your property’s geographic area. So, a landlord who buys (or seeks to buy) property in a different area is starting a new rental business, which means the expenses for expanding in the new location are start-up expenses.

You can’t deduct start-up expenses if you’re a mere investor in a rental business. You must be an active rental business owner to deduct them.