Your rental properties provide tax shelter when you can deduct your losses against your other income. One step to deducting the losses is to pass the tax code’s 750-hour test. And one step to finding the hours you need to pass the time test may be your drive times.
Mariam Trzeciak owned, managed, and rented 14 single-family homes in and near Columbus, Ohio. She and her husband, Marc, on their joint tax returns claimed rental property losses of $126,376 and $151,884 in the two years that were subject to this IRS audit.
The IRS revenue agent assigned to examine the Trzeciaks’ returns disallowed the losses as passive losses, claiming that Mariam did not qualify as a real estate professional because she could not count her drive time from her home near Dayton to Columbus, where the properties were.
It took Mariam’s CPA, who prepared her returns and assisted with the audit, and then her lawyers almost three years to surface the home-office deduction as the savior. Once it surfaced, the IRS allowed the drive time, and that allowed Mariam to deduct her rental property losses of $126,376 for year 1 and $151,884 for year 2.
In Leland, Clarence McDonald Leland traveled 13 to 16 hours from Mississippi to Texas and back several times each year to perform necessary work on his 1,276-acre farm in Turkey, Texas.
The court noted that the IRS did not object to the inclusion of the travel time in determining Clarence’s participation in the farm. And the court went on to say: “The facts of this case establish that petitioner’s [Clarence’s] travel time was integral to the operation of the farming activity rather than incidental.”
The Leyh case involved Richard Leyh and Ellen O’Neill. Ellen owned 12 rental properties in Austin, Texas, about 26 to 30 miles from her home at a ranch in Dipping Springs, Texas.
Ellen and Richard deducted a $69,531 loss from their rental operations. The IRS said no because Ellen failed the 750-hour test to establish her as a real estate professional.
The sole question that the court had to address was whether Ellen could include her drive time from her home to the rentals as rental property time. Interestingly, she failed to include her travel time in her well-kept log of time and had to reconstruct that travel time for the court.
The court ruled that her reconstruction of the travel time to and from the properties was adequate and ruled that she and Richard could deduct her $69,531 in rental losses on their joint tax return.
What You Should Do
Take the steps necessary to make your rental property drive time count as material participation time. The first step is to keep an accurate log of the time that you spend on your rentals (yes, we know this is a pain—but suffer a little and just do it).