Tax Credit for Solar Panels on a Rental Property

Ultimate Real Estate Investor Tax Guide ยป

If you install solar panels on your rental property, you can potentially qualify for a tax credit of 30% of the cost of the solar installation. That’s a tax credit, which means it’s not merely reducing your taxable income, instead it can actually reduce the amount of tax you pay by 30% of the cost of the solar installation.

Does a rental property qualify for a solar energy tax credit?

Yes. But, if you do a Google search to try to find out if you can get a tax credit for installing solar panels on a rental property, most of the results will say you can’t qualify for the residential solar tax credit with a rental property. And in a way, they’re correct. The tax code section 25D residential solar energy credit is only available to people who are installing solar on their residence (their home, or a secondary home). But what they aren’t aware of is that there is a completely separate business credit that is available to rental property owners under section 48 of the tax code. That credit is also currently 30%, just like the 25D residential solar credit. The Inflation Reduction Act signed in 2022 extended the availability of the credit at 30% through at least 2033.

A Technical Analysis of the Tax Code

Section 25D is only available for a residence that isn’t just a rental. But the section 48 tax code offers business credits that include a solar energy credit. Section 48(a)(5)(D) specifies that the credit is available for tangible property that can be depreciated, which would include rental property. This is an added wrinkle in that code section 50(b)(2) specifies that the credit is not available for property that is “used predominantly to furnish lodging.” But just below that, it adds clause 50(b)(2)(D) which provides an exception for “energy property,” which is what makes the solar credit available for rentals even though most of the other business credits are not.

How to Claim the Credit

First, there are some requirements to be aware of, including:

  • The system can’t be leased or secured with financing that is a non-recourse loan (for example, it can’t be a loan just secured by the panels themselves without any personal guarantee). You must own the system.
  • You must retain ownership of the property/panels for at least 5 years (otherwise you would have to pay back a portion of the credit if you sell the property within 5 years).
  • There are specific labor requirements regarding the workers that install the panels. Verify with the installation company that they use a process that will qualify for the section 48 business credit.

The credit for installing solar panels can be claimed using tax form 3468.

When depreciating the cost of the system, you must reduce the basis that you can depreciate by half of the value of the credit that you received. That means that with the 30% credit, 15% of the value of the system can’t be depreciated. That leaves 85% of the cost of the system that can be depreciated. The depreciation is eligible to qualify as bonus depreciation, allowing you to get a bigger tax deduction that first year.

Offsetting Non-passive Taxes

This is an important nuance to be aware of. If your rental income is considered passive income, then the solar tax credit can’t be used to offset your taxes from your non-passive (job / business) income. Unless you qualify for an exception (detailed below), the solar tax credit can only offset taxes you pay on your rental income. If your rental income isn’t creating tax due (because of depreciation, for example), then the solar tax credit is carried forward as a “passive activity credit.” In that case, the credit will get carried forward indefinitely until you eventually have taxes generated by the rental property. Unlike suspended passive losses, the passive activity credit doesn’t get unlocked when you sell the property. If you sell the property with the passive activity credit associated with it, you only get to use the credit to increase your basis in the property, which isn’t as much of a tax advantage as a tax credit.

Rental income is passive by default, unless you qualify for either real estate professional status or the short-term rental strategy. In that case, your solar tax credit from the rental can reduce your overall tax bill, including offsetting your taxes from your W-2 or business income.

Does it make sense to install solar on a rental property?

It’s worth addressing whether it makes sense to install solar panels on a rental property in the first place. If you have a short-term or mid-term rental, most likely you’re already paying the utilities rather than the tenants, so in that case the benefits of ongoing savings from solar panels is more immediately apparent.

If it’s a long-term rental where the tenants are paying the utilities, the value of solar is less apparent. In that case, the appeal may just be the potential to charge higher rent, but with the incentive that the tenants will get to enjoy lower monthly utility bills. It may even make sense to consider moving to an “all utilities included” arrangement, which can be appealing to tenants. You may also want to consider an arrangement where you bill tenants each month based on the value of the solar power the panels provide each month (using monitoring software that can report the amount of energy generated).

Help Claiming the Solar Credit for a Rental Property

If your tax preparer doesn’t have the expertise to claim the solar tax credit for your rental property, or if you’re doing your taxes yourself and you need assistance, you can contact me for assistance with it.

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.