Property Management Tax Reporting for Foreign Investors. Before agreeing to manage U.S. real property for a foreign taxpayer, a real estate professional or rental agent should discuss with the foreign client whether the rental income will be taxed as investment income (subject to withholding) or net income received as effectively connected with a U.S. trade or business (not subject to withholding). Realtors can be held personally liable for the failure to properly withhold and remit taxes on rental properties owned by foreign persons.

The method by which rental income will be taxed depends on whether or not the foreign person who owns the property is considered “engaged in a U.S. trade or business.” Ownership of real property is not considered a U.S. trade or business if it consists of merely passive activity such as a net lease in which the lessee pays rent, as well as all taxes, operating expenses, repairs, and interest in principal on existing mortgages and insurance in connection with the property. Such passive rental income is subject to a flat 30 percent withholding tax (unless reduced by an applicable income tax treaty) applied to the gross income rather than the “net rent” received.

Alternatively, if the foreign investor is engaged in a U.S. trade or business such as the developing, managing and operating a major shopping center, the rental income will not be subject to withholding and will be taxed at ordinary progressive rates. The nonresident must make estimated tax payments for the tax due on the net rental income, if any. The only way these expenses can be deducted, however, is if an income tax return Form 1040NR for nonresident alien individuals and Form 1120-F for foreign corporations is timely filed by the foreign investor.

Foreign individuals and foreign corporations may elect to have their passive rental income taxed as if it were effectively connected with the U.S. trade or business. Once such an election is made by attaching a declaration to a timely filed income tax return, there is no obligation to withhold even in a net-lease situation. Once made, the election may not be revoked without the consent of the IRS. Unless the foreign investor has properly informed the property manager that the rental income is to be treated as “effectively connected income”, the property manager should withhold thirty percent (30 percent) of the gross rental receipts so as to avoid personal liability.

To enforce the system of withholding, the Internal Revenue Code defines a “withholding agent” to be any person in whatever capacity (including lessees and managers of U.S. real property) having the control, receipt, custody, disposal or payment of income that is subject to withholding. Thus, a real property manager who collects rent on behalf of a foreign owner of real property is clearly considered a withholding agent. A withholding agent is personally and primarily liable for any tax that must be withheld. The liability of the withholding agent includes amounts that should have been paid plus interest, penalties and, where applicable, criminal sanctions.

A nonresident who fails to submit a timely filed income tax return loses the ability to claim deductions against the rental income, causing the gross rents to be subject to the 30 percent tax. Generally, the nonresident will need to retroactively file at least six years of delinquent income tax returns, or all prior year tax returns, if they have held the rental property for less than six years. However, the ability to elect to treat the rental income as effectively connected with a U.S. trade or business will be lost after 16 months from the original due date of the return, and the remaining back years may be subject to tax under the gross income method.

For more information on your liability regarding these taxes and how to correct withholding tax errors, please contact us (, (305) 567-3152).