Section 179 Deductions for Rentals

Ultimate Real Estate Investor Tax Guide »

When you have expenses associated with your rental property, such as new appliances, rugs, or curtains, you may have to depreciate those expenses over a number of years. That means you may not be able to list them as an expense that reduces your income for the year. Instead, that expense may have to be spread out over a number of years based on the useful life of the item.

Section 179 gives you a way to instead deduct the entire expense of an item from your business or rental income in the year you buy an item (or put it in service).

There are several other ways you might be able to take the full value of expenses in one year. The ways to do that include bonus depreciation, the De Minimis Safe Harbor Election, or the Small Taxpayer Safe Harbor for Real Property. Each of these have various advantages and disadvantages and specific items that they can be used for.

One important disadvantage to be aware of with section 179 is that it can’t be used to create a loss. It can only reduce your net rental profit to zero. If your net income from your rental property is already negative after subtracting regular depreciation, you can’t use section 179 with that property to create more loss. Bonus depreciation is a better option if your rental is generating a net taxable loss.

Tax Law Changes and Confusion

There is a lot of confusion about whether you can use section 179 for rental property expenses, even among tax professionals. Many CPAs/EAs will tell you that it can’t. There are a couple of reasons why there is so much confusion regarding this topic.

Before the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act changes that happened in 2018, it used to be that section 179 could only be used for commercial property rentals. But after that change in 2018, you can now use it for residential rental properties as well. Some tax preparers aren’t aware of that change. But more often, confusion arises because the tax law on this subject uses unusual terminology, and interpreting it isn’t as clear as it should be. But the predominant conclusion among tax law experts on this subject is that you can use section 179 for residential rentals.

Items that Qualify

For residential real estate (residential rentals with an average stay of more than 7 days), Section 179 can’t be used for the land, building, or anything “permanently” attached to the land or buildings. So that means it can’t be used for things like fences, walkways, and pools, or components of the house like plumbing or electrical wiring. But it can be used for items like furniture, appliances, and curtains. You can also use it for items that aren’t located in your rental property, but are expenses related to running your rental property business. That includes things like office equipment and software.

Non-residential real estate (which includes residential rentals with an average stay of 7 days or less) can additionally use section 179 for “qualified improvement property” (QIP), which is any improvements to the interior of the building, or roofs, HVAC systems, or fire protection / alarm / security systems. Interior improvements that don’t qualify are any improvements related to an enlargement of the building, any elevator, escalator, or structural components of the building.

Other Qualifications

There are a number of rules and qualification that you must meet to use 179:

  • The deduction cannot create a loss. This is a big catch! If your rental property generates a net loss (as many rental properties do), then 179 can’t be used to further add to your loss. But in that case the deduction can carry forward to offset future profit (but it might make more sense to just depreciate it instead).
  • Section 179 says the property must be “for use in the active conduct of a trade or business” as defined by section 162 of the tax code, as described under regulations sections 1.179-4(a) and 1.179-2(c)(6). That means you must be actively involved in the management of the rental. This is a very low threshold, and most real estate owners do qualify. Even if you use a property manager, you can still qualify as long as you are involved in making decisions in the operation of the rental property as a business.
  • The rental property must be located in the US.
  • You must have purchased the items (not gifted items).
  • There is a limit on the amount you can deduct with 179, but it’s a high limit (over $1 million), so that is generally not an issue for the kinds of expenses we’re talking about here.


When you take any type of depreciation, including section 179, you will be subject to “recapture” if you later sell the property. That means it saves you taxes when you make use of the depreciation, but it adds to the amount of tax you pay when you sell the property. Most investors consider that to be an acceptable trade-off because they would rather have the tax savings sooner to make use of those funds now rather than later (the “time value of money”). You can also further delay the recapture if you 1031 exchange the property. Or you would avoid the recapture entirely if you hold the property until your death and it is inherited by your heirs.

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

Photo of author

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.