How the New Tax Law Affects Vacation Home Rentals

by Steve CookJuly 19, 2018

The new tax law that took effect in January includes several changes that have a significant impact on owners of second homes, including vacation homes. It’s a good idea for current owners and those who are thinking of buying a second home to familiarize themselves with the new law now. It’s not too soon to plan for your 2018 tax returns.

The news isn’t so good for families that don’t rent out their vacation homes because they probably won’t be able to deduct as much as they have in the past. However, those who use their second homes only or mostly for the rental income may do better than they did under the old law.
A luxury home sitting on a lake shore.

Deducting state taxes

The new law limits the total amount of state and local taxes you can deduct to $10,000 on a joint return for single and joint returns. The new limit covers sales, occupancy, income and property taxes, including taxes paid at closing on a new property. If you own a primary and secondary home, you will almost certainly exceed this limit. You will be able to deduct less-perhaps a lot less in property taxes than you did last year. The new limit on state tax deductibility will affect homeowners in high tax states more than others.

Mortgage interest deduction

Despite attempts to eliminate or seriously reduce its value to homeowners, the deduction for mortgage interest survived largely intact in the new law. The most significant change was the lowering of the limit on total amount of the cost of mortgage debt for all homes owned by a taxpayer.

The new law “grandfathers in” or exempts mortgage interest on homes purchased before December 15, 2017. Homes purchased after that date will come under the new lower limit for the mortgage interest deduction. Thus, homeowners who already owe $750,000 or more in mortgage debt and buy a second home this year, they can’t deduct any of the mortgage interest incurred in the new purchase.

The new law increased the standard deduction to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for joint returns. Because of the changes in the deductibility of state property taxes and mortgage interest, homeowners who have little or no mortgage interest and buy a moderately priced second home this year on which they pay less than 12 months of mortgage interest may find that they are better off taking the standard deduction on their 2018 taxes.

Incentives to become a landlord

For owners who want to use their second homes only for the use of their family and friends and not to rent out, the new tax law will create a disincentive to buy a home. For those who plan to rent out their property, if only for a few weeks during the year, the new law may be a boon.

Most landlords “pass-through” rental income so that it’s taxed as personal income. According to the Nolo website, if the rental activity qualifies as a business for tax purposes, as most do, you may be eligible to deduct an amount equal to 20 percent of the net rental income. If you qualify for this deduction, you’ll effectively be taxed on only 80 percent of your rental income.

Second, rental properties (even a vacation home used by the owner for several weeks a year), may not fall under the limits on deducting state taxes and the cap on mortgage interest.

Friendly realtor or landlord talking showing modern luxury house for sale to young couple customers, real estate agent discussing rental home with renters tenants, planning property purchase concept.
“On a rental property, you could have a mortgage of $10 million and deduct the full amount of the interest. If the property is part rental and part residence, you can deduct the mortgage interest without limitation for the period of time that it’s a rental property — provided it rented for 15 or more days,” said Robert Gilman, a partner at New York-based accounting firm Anchin, Block, & Anchin LLP recently featured in the Wall Street Journal.

If so, an owner of a vacation home that’s rented out for two weeks or more can write off on a pro-rated basis all mortgage interest and state taxes along with all other operating expenses incurred by owning and renting the property, including maintenance, advertising, and repairs.

According to Stephen Fishman on the Nolo site, “Thus, the portion of a rental host’s mortgage interest and property tax allocated to the short-term rental activity don’t come within the limits. These are rental deductions, not personal itemized deductions.”

Finally, the new tax law includes a new tax deduction for individuals who earn income from businesses owned individually or by pass-through entities like limited-liability companies or partnerships.

Family of four on wooden jetty by the ocean.

“During 2018 through 2022, hosts will be able to use 100% bonus depreciation to write off in a single year the full cost of long-term personal property they use for their rental business. Bonus depreciation may now be used for both new and used personal property. It may not be used for real property,” writes Fishman.

Some economists forecast a drop in demand for vacation properties as a result of changes in the tax treatment of vacation homes. However, demand has remained strong in most of the nation’s vacation destinations.

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About The Author
Steve Cook
Steve Cook is editor and co-publisher of Real Estate Economy Watch. He is a member of the board of the National Association of Real Estate Editors and writes for several leading Web sites, including Inman News. From 1999 to 2007 he was vice president for public affairs at the National Association of Realtors.