Rental Property Outside of CA: LLC Options and Issues – Part II

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

July 12, 2013

Two weeks ago, I discussed that LLCs are a popular choice for holding rental property, but that it certainly comes at a cost in California when you consider a minimum $800 annual franchise tax, the cost of filing another tax return each year, having to maintain better accounting records, as well as the initial costs to set it all up.  I also advised that if you do setup an LLC, you want to utilize an attorney to set things up instead of a do-it-yourself online approach.  I have seen plenty of problems from people using the latter method.  It is pretty easy to jeopardize the liability protections of the LLC if you do not have competent legal advice.  Since liability protection is one of the main reasons you go to all this continued expense and trouble, you might want to consider the old adage: penny-wise, pound-foolish.

Two weeks ago, I also raised the question and left readers pondering about whether you could save the minimum $800 a year tax by setting up your LLC in another state, which of course would be a natural inclination anyway, if the property is located in another state.

Many Californians are already in this boat, and I would say quite a number of them are unaware that even if they have a non-California LLC holding non-California rental property, they are generally required to register in California and pay California the minimum $800 franchise tax.  The franchise tax is levied on you if you are considered doing business in California.  So how is your rental property in Arizona, for example, that is held in an Arizona LLC (that maybe even loses money every year) considered doing business in California and subject to a minimum $800 California tax?

California’s position is that the mere fact that a managing member of the LLC lives in California, is enough to constitute that the LLC is doing business in California.  More specifically, they say that if you have more than one member, LLCs are taxed under partnership law unless you elect to be treated as a corporation.  Partnership law says that the activities of the partnership flow through and are attributed to the partners, and that the partners are therefore, by statute, doing business.  If they reside in California, then they are doing business while in California, thus requiring registration of the LLC in California and payment of the $800 minimum franchise tax (and filing of a tax return).  Limited partners also have statutory rights to participate so California is not letting them off the hook either.

Single member LLCs (a husband and wife are treated as one member in California) are disregarded entities for tax purposes and are not taxed as partnerships or corporations, but are reported directly on your personal tax returns.  For single member LLCs and corporations California will look to facts and circumstances.  If you could somehow build a case that your LLC had absolutely no connections with California (such as tax preparation, bank accounts, etc.) and that every time any decision needed to be made with regard to managing your property or LLC, you were out of the state of California (and not on your living room telephone), you might have a shot at not “doing business” in California! It is an extremely difficult threshold, and taxpayers have been losing case after case in court over this issue.

California has also put into place a steep new penalty for anyone failing to register.  In addition to the minimum $800 franchise tax, they are now assessing a $2,000 penalty plus interest for every year you have failed to register.  At about, $3,000 a year, that adds up quickly. Generally, California does not go back to assess past delinquencies if you start reporting before they discover you.  The internet and increased sharing of information between state taxing authorities is making this much easier to detect.  So make haste and get compliant if you are not already.

Prior articles are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog.

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To the extent this article concerns tax matters, it is not intended to be used and cannot be used by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

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