For Rent Sign in Front of Vacation Home
Posted April 03, 2024

Do You Need an LLC for Your Rental Properties?

Most builders and real estate investors understand the importance of protecting personal assets and optimizing their tax situation. One way to address both concerns is by choosing the right business structure for holding rental properties. Many property developers and investors choose a Limited Liability Company (LLC) for their rental properties because the LLC provides asset protection and tax flexibility.

LLCs are separate legal entities from their owners (called “members”). They can have one member (single-member) or more than one member (multi-member). By setting up individual properties as their own LLCs, investors protect the assets of each property from the debts and liabilities of the other properties. A real estate LLC is also considered a pass-through tax entity, whereby all profit and loss passes through to its owners’ personal tax returns. The LLC does not pay corporate taxes, although some states require an annual franchise tax to maintain the business entity.

Profit and loss allocations per LLC member typically follow each member’s ownership percentage of the business. However, members may state a different distribution in the company’s LLC Operating Agreement to establish a different split of the profits. This can be very helpful for making member compensation fair for all involved. For example, let’s say a rental company has two members — one with a 30% financial investment and the other with a 70% investment. By default, the profits and losses allocation would be 30% and 70%. But if stated in the operating agreement, the members could instead choose a different allocation, such as 50-50, if the member with less financial investment is putting in significantly more hours working in the business than the other LLC member.

Advantages of Registering an LLC

Credibility – Professionalism can go a long way toward establishing trust and confidence in creditors, vendors, lenders, and tenants. Forming an LLC for rental properties demonstrates a sense of responsibility and accountability.

Personal Asset Protection for Property Owners – By holding a rental property under an LLC, investors can protect their personal assets in the event of a lawsuit or other debt directly associated with the property. For example, suppose an apartment building tenant slips and falls on the stairway outside the building and decides to sue the landlord. If the property is set up as an LLC, only the LLC’s assets (those related to that specific property) would likely be at risk in the lawsuit. The property owner’s personal assets would be protected because the rental property was established as a separate legal entity.

Asset Protection for Multiple Properties – Real estate investors who own multiple rental properties often create an LLC for each one. With each property its own business entity, all are protected against the claims against any other properties in the investment portfolio. Some states allow an LLC variation called a Series LLC (SLLC). Series LLCs have become popular in the real estate industry because of their layered protection. In an SLLC, there is a parent (umbrella) LLC with other LLCs (“series”) set up beneath it. Each series has its own income, debts, obligations, and rights. The owner’s personal assets, the parent LLC’s assets, and each individual series’ assets are protected from the debts and liabilities of any individual series within the SLLC. Depending on the state’s rules, a Series LLC might save an investor money on initial startup and ongoing filing costs. Typically, just one Articles of Organization form will need to be filed for the series LLC parent company. Likewise, only one annual report filing (if required) is due for the parent company and all series beneath it.

Pass-Through Tax Simplicity – Treated as a pass-through entity, an LLC avoids corporate tax rates and the complication of filing a corporate business income tax return. Profits or losses flow through to the personal tax returns of each member.

Flexible Profit and Loss Allocation Structure – Typically, profits and losses get distributed to members of a multi-member LLC based on their percentage of ownership. However, they can instead establish different allocation percentages in the operating agreement. This flexibility opens the opportunity for some potential tax benefits. Namely, individual members may take on more or less of the LLC’s profits or losses to improve their tax situation. For example, an LLC with a loss after factoring its mortgage into the equation might decide to give members that fall into high individual income tax brackets a higher allocation to reduce their personal tax obligations. Rental owners should discuss their options with an attorney and accountant or tax advisor to ensure all legal and financial considerations get addressed before determining the ideal allocations for members.

Ownership Flexibility – In most states, foreign individuals or companies may be owners of an LLC. With non-U.S. citizens allowed to be LLC members, investors may find raising funds to finance their purchases and property development easier. Moreover, LLCs may have an unlimited number of owners, which also can expand funding opportunities.

Management Flexibility – An LLC may be member-managed or manager-managed. Most choose to be member-managed, with the owners actively involved in day-to-day business decisions. However, members may choose to delegate the company’s everyday affairs to a manager instead. An LLC manager may be an individual outside the company or select members may serve as managers. In a manager-managed LLC, members typically retain control over major decisions, such as selling the property, securing loans, or refinancing the mortgage.

Uncomplicated and Cost-Effective to Form and Maintain – In most states, forming a Limited Liability Company requires minimal paperwork and reasonable filing fees. The costs and requirements vary by state. The registration fees, on average, are approximately $150. Kentucky has the lowest filing fee ($40), and Tennessee has the most potentially expensive filing fee ($50 per member with a minimum charge of $300 and a maximum of $3,000). The company must designate a registered agent and retain its services every year to maintain business compliance. Some states have other compliance requirements as well, such as filing annual reports or paying an annual LLC franchise tax. As with any type of LLC, an LLC for rental properties must also follow other state and local laws, such as obtaining required licenses and permits to operate legally.

Opportunity to Borrow from LLC Members – Generally, an LLC may borrow money from individuals, including any of its members. This can be helpful for companies that need money to cover their startup costs. An LLC that borrows money as a loan must repay those funds to the individual who provided them. Depending on the state’s laws and tax code, there may be some restrictions on LLCs when borrowing money from members because an LLC’s members have an equity interest in the LLC.

Simplicity in Transferring Ownership Interests – When an operating agreement has provisions for it, the LLC may sell or transfer ownership interests to new members. In other words, ownership of the rental property can be changed without dissolving the LLC under which it’s held.

Register Your LLC With CorpNet

Whether you’re forming a new LLC or converting an existing business to an LLC, we can handle all the paperwork for you.

Disadvantages of Registering an LLC

Personal Liability Not Guaranteed – While LLC members are generally protected from personal liability for the company’s legal and financial issues, there are exceptions. For example, if a member commits fraudulent activity or is determined negligent in a lawsuit, they could be held responsible, therefore putting their personal assets at risk. Likewise, if members failed to follow through with the LLC’s business compliance requirements, a court may determine they pierced the “corporate veil” that separates their personal legal responsibility for the LLC.

Potential “Adding Up” of Formation and Compliance Costs – Real estate investors with rental properties in multiple states might see their formation and compliance costs add up as they must file and pay for state filings in each state where they hold property. For example, they will have multiple Articles of Organization to file to register the companies and multiple annual report filings. Also, they must retain a registered agent in each state where they have an LLC.

Additional Tax Forms – Although an LLC doesn’t have to pay corporate tax (remember, all profit and loss flows through to the members), multi-member LLCs must file IRS Form 1065, US Return of Partnership Income) to report the income and loss passed through to each LLC member. It must also give each LLC member a Form K-1 (Partner’s Share of Income, Deductions, Credits, etc.) to show that member’s share of the LLC’s profits or losses during the tax year.

Potential Self-Employment Tax Burden – Typically, income from a rental property is considered passive income and not subject to self-employment tax (i.e., Social Security and Medicare taxes). However, if an LLC member meets the criteria for being considered a real estate professional or actively participates in services to occupants at the rental property, they may be subject to self-employment tax.

Possible Transfer Tax – Some municipalities, counties, and states charge a transfer tax (called a “deed” or “stamp” tax) when property ownership changes hands. This fee is usually calculated according to a percentage of the sale price or a percentage of the property’s fair market value.

Unassumable Mortgage Issues – Mortgages with a due-on-sale provision (known as “unassumable” mortgages) do not allow a new owner to assume the existing mortgage on a property. If the mortgage on a rental property has a “due on sale” clause, transferring ownership of the LLC may require that the mortgage be paid in full before the business (and the property held in it) changes hands. Needless to say, this could create some significant financial headaches, so it’s wise for investors to discuss their options with lenders before signing real estate contracts.

Personal Liability Risks of Personally Guaranteeing Loans – Lenders may require each member of a rental LLC to personally guarantee loans taken to fund the purchase or maintenance of a rental property. If the business can’t pay its mortgage or other loan debts, the lenders can hold the members responsible. This puts the business owners’ personal assets — bank accounts, retirement savings, homes, and more — at risk of being taken to repay what the LLC owes.

Is an LLC Right for You?

Choosing the right business structure is an important step for startups. While an LLC offers flexibility in profit and loss allocation, pass-through taxation to avoid corporate taxes, and personal asset protection against lawsuits related to the property it also comes with additional tax forms, self-employment tax burdens, and financial risks associated with personally guaranteeing loans.

Before deciding on your entity type, we encourage you to discuss the options with your attorney, CPA, or tax advisor.

<a href="" target="_self">Nellie Akalp</a>

Nellie Akalp

Nellie Akalp is an entrepreneur, small business expert, speaker, and mother of four amazing kids. As CEO of, she has helped more than half a million entrepreneurs launch their businesses. Akalp is nationally recognized as one of the most prominent experts on small business legal matters, contributing frequently to outlets like Entrepreneur, Forbes, Huffington Post, Mashable, and Fox Small Business. A passionate entrepreneur herself, Akalp is committed to helping others take the reigns and dive into small business ownership. Through her public speaking, media appearances, and frequent blogging, she has developed a strong following within the small business community and has been honored as a Small Business Influencer Champion three years in a row.

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