Using “Real Estate Professional Status” to Deduct Rental Losses

Ultimate Real Estate Investor Tax Guide »

Most rental property owners won’t qualify for real estate professional status (REPS), but if you do, it’s one of the ways you can qualify to deduct your real estate losses against your other income. If you qualify for REPS, it will also exclude your rental income from the NIIT tax—a 3.8% tax on passive income that applies to high-income earners.

If you find that you can’t qualify using REPS, you can also see our article about the ways to deduct your real estate losses.

How to Qualify for Real Estate Professional Status

To qualify, the tax code says that your primary profession must be a “real property trade or business.” And that is defined by IRC section 469(c)(7)(C) as “any real property development, redevelopment, construction, reconstruction, acquisition, conversion, rental, operation, management, leasing, or brokerage trade or business.” Note that work that is only tangentially related to real estate, such as mortgage brokers, property inspectors, etc., does not qualify (refer to IRS Memorandum 201504010). Managing a self-storage facility can generally be considered to be a qualifying real estate activity.

The hours must be for a business that you own, or work you do as an independent contractor (which applies to most real estate agents). It can’t be work done as a W-2 employee, unless you own at least 5% of the business.

And there are specific hour requirements for how much time you must spend in a real property trade or business. You must meet all of these requirements:

  • More than half of the work you do during the year must be in real property trades or businesses (this is the “50% test”). In other words, real estate work must be your primary job.
  • Your total hours for the year spend in those real property trades or businesses must be at least 750 hours during the year (this is the “750 hours test”).
  • You must also “materially participate” in each rental property that you want to deduct from your income (more on that in the next section below).

Be aware that if you are a married couple, at least one of the spouses has to meet the 50% test and 750 hours test requirements on their own. You can’t combine spouses’ hours to meet these tests.

The hours requirement is still the same if you started part way through the year in your first year. There is no prorating of hours for the first partial year.

You should keep a log or other documentation of the hours you spend in your real property trade or business in order to be able to show evidence of the hours you spent if it is questioned by the IRS. This was upheld by tax court case Sezonov v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2022-40, where the taxpayer’s REPS status was denied because they didn’t have sufficient records to substantiate their time spent.

Do hours you spend managing your own rental properties count towards your REPS hours?

The hours you spend managing your own long or medium-term rental properties do count towards your REPS hours.

But if you have a short-term rental, it is currently unclear if you can count hours spent on it towards your REPS hours. So that is if it is a rental with an average stay of 7 days or less. Or if the average stay is less than 30 days and you provide “substantial services” (substantial services means providing things like meals, entertainment, or cleaning services during guests’ stays). It seems logical that those hours working on your STR would count, but under current Tax Court interpretations of the tax law, an STR is considered to be a hotel/inn business and not a real estate activity. This was upheld by two different tax court cases (Bailey v. Commissioner in 2001, and Todd and Pamela Bailey v. Commissioner in 2011). But the story doesn’t end there. In January 2021, the “Additional Guidance Regarding Limitation on Deduction for Business Interest Expense” Treasury regulation changes made several changes, including amending the definition of real property trade or business in code section 1.469–9 to expand the definition to include short-term rental type properties (including hotels and motels). That seems to indicate that STR hours would then count towards REPS hours as of 2021. But until that is tested by the courts, it is still be a somewhat risky position to take to use STR hours towards REPS hours.

Material Participation

If you qualify for REPS status, you do still also need to materially participate in the rental property in order to deduct losses from it against your other income.

There are three primary ways most often used to meet the qualification for material participation. You need to qualify for any one of these tests:

  • You or your spouse must do substantially all the work to manage the rental. That means you do all the management, cleaning, etc. yourself.
  • Or if other people also help with the rental, you have to spend at least 100 hours per year on it, and that must be more time than anyone else. So if you use a cleaner that is going to spend more hours working on the property than you, one solution to that is to use multiple cleaners to keep them under your number of hours. You need to keep a log of the hours you spend on it and the time that other people spend on it also.
  • Or if anyone else spends more time on it, then you have to spend at least 500 hours per year. (There is a way to optionally group multiple rental properties together to meet this test.) You need to keep a log of the hours you spend on it and the time that other people spend on it also.

You must meet this material participation requirement for each property that has losses that you want to deduct from your other income. There is an exception if you elect to group your properties together (and in that case you can even include passive syndicated real estate investments). For more detailed information, see our article on material participation.

If you meet the REPS hours qualification, and you also materially participate in the rental property, all of your losses for the rental property can be deducted against your other income.

Tax Code Reference

Real estate professional status is defined in IRC code section 469(c)(7) and is explained in IRS Publication 925.


Can qualifying for REPS unlock suspended losses from past years? No. REPS status only lets you deduct losses for the year(s) that you qualify for REPS. Past losses remain suspended until you have other passive income that it can offset. One exception to that, if the same property becomes more profitable and it now produces a taxable income, you can still use the past suspended losses to offset any current taxable profit for that same property (or grouped properties under a grouping election). This is based on tax code section 479(f).

If you have questions about this or other tax topics, or if you’re looking for a real estate CPA or EA with the expertise and knowledge to do your taxes correctly, please contact us.

This article is part of The Ultimate Real Estate Investor Tax Guide.

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David Orr

I am a credentialed tax professional with a primary focus on tax preparation and advising for real estate investors. Have tax questions or want me to do your taxes? Contact us.

This article was written or updated in 2023 or 2024 and is current for the 2023 and 2024 tax years.

The information presented here is meant for guidance purposes only, and not as personal legal or tax advice.