Tax Considerations for Short-Term Rentals

Renting out property on short-term rental platforms like Airbnb and VRBO has become increasingly popular. It provides property owners with the opportunity to earn additional income and potentially cover property expenses. However, engaging in short-term rentals brings about specific tax implications and considerations that property owners must understand to comply with tax laws and optimize their financial outcomes.

This comprehensive guide explores the various tax considerations for short-term rentals, ensuring that property owners are well-informed and equipped to handle their tax responsibilities effectively.

Definition of Short-Term Rentals

Short-term rentals typically refer to the practice of renting out a property for a period of fewer than 30 days at a time. This category of rental can encompass a variety of accommodations, including vacation rentals, corporate housing, and other temporary lodging arrangements. These rentals cater to individuals or groups who require housing for a short duration, often for travel, work, or leisure purposes.

Platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO have revolutionized the short-term rental market by providing a digital space where property owners, known as hosts, can list their available properties. These platforms facilitate the rental process by connecting hosts with potential guests seeking short-term lodging options. Through these services, guests can find unique and flexible accommodation solutions that suit their specific needs, while hosts can generate additional income from their properties. The convenience and accessibility offered by these platforms have made short-term rentals an increasingly popular choice for both travelers and property owners alike.

Types of Short-Term Rental Properties

Primary Residence: Renting out a part of or the entire primary residence for short durations can provide homeowners with additional income while allowing them to share their space with travelers. This type of rental is often preferred by guests looking for a more personal and homely experience.

Secondary Residence: A second home, often used for personal vacations, can also serve as a short-term rental when not in use by the owner. This allows the owner to offset the costs of maintaining the property while providing guests with a comfortable and well-equipped vacation spot.

Investment Property: Property purchased specifically for generating rental income is often managed as a business venture. These properties are rented out on a short-term basis to maximize income potential, providing a steady stream of revenue for the owner. Investment properties are typically well-maintained and marketed to attract a high volume of guests.

Rental Income

Definition of Rental Income

Rental income includes all payments received from guests for the use of the property. This encompasses not only the nightly rate charged but also additional fees such as cleaning fees, extra guest charges, and any other amounts received from the rental. Additionally, rental income can include charges for amenities such as access to a pool, use of recreational equipment, or parking fees. It might also cover fees for services like early check-in, late check-out, or pet accommodations. Essentially, any monetary compensation provided by guests in exchange for the use of the property and its associated services or features contributes to the total rental income.

Reporting Rental Income

All rental income must be reported on the property owner’s tax return to ensure compliance with tax laws. For U.S. taxpayers, this is typically done on Schedule E (Form 1040), which is used to report income or loss from rental real estate, royalties, partnerships, S corporations, estates, trusts, and residual interests in Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduits (REMICs). Schedule E helps the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) track and assess the correct amount of tax owed on rental income. Property owners must include all forms of rental income, such as the nightly rate, cleaning fees, extra guest charges, and any additional amounts received.

Furthermore, they can also deduct allowable expenses related to the rental property, such as mortgage interest, property taxes, operating expenses, depreciation, and repairs. Accurately reporting rental income and expenses is crucial for property owners to avoid penalties and ensure they are taking full advantage of available deductions. This meticulous record-keeping supports transparent financial management and adherence to tax obligations.

Deductible Expenses

Property owners can deduct certain expenses related to the rental activity. These deductions can help reduce taxable rental income.

Common Deductible Expenses

Mortgage Interest: Interest paid on the mortgage for the rental property.

Operating Expenses: Costs directly associated with renting out the property, including utilities, insurance, repairs, maintenance, and property management fees.

Supplies and Furnishings: Expenses for items provided to guests, such as toiletries, linens, and kitchen supplies.

Travel Expenses: Costs incurred for traveling to the rental property for maintenance or management purposes.

Property Taxes: Real estate taxes paid on the rental property.

Depreciation: A deduction for the wear and tear on the property over time. The IRS allows property owners to depreciate the value of the building (not the land) over a specified period.

Advertising and Listing Fees: Costs for advertising the rental property and fees paid to listing platforms like Airbnb and VRBO.

The 14-Day Rule

One key consideration is the 14-day rule, which can affect whether rental income needs to be reported and how expenses can be deducted.

Personal Use and Rental Use
  • Personal Use: If the property is used personally by the owner or their family for more than 14 days in a year or more than 10% of the total days it is rented out, it is considered a personal residence.
  • Rental Use: If the property is rented out for more than 14 days in a year and personal use does not exceed the thresholds mentioned, it is considered a rental property.
Implications of the 14-Day Rule
  • Income Reporting: If the property is rented out for 14 days or fewer during the year, the rental income is generally not required to be reported.
  • Expense Deductions: If the property qualifies as a rental property under the 14-day rule, the owner can deduct rental expenses. If it is considered a personal residence, deductions are limited to mortgage interest and property taxes.

Allocation of Expenses

When a property is used for both personal and rental purposes, expenses must be allocated between the two uses. The IRS requires a reasonable method of allocation, typically based on the number of days the property is used for each purpose.

Example of Expense Allocation

If a property is rented for 180 days and used personally for 20 days, 90% (180/200) of the expenses can be allocated to rental use and deducted accordingly.

Sales and Occupancy Taxes

Local Tax Requirements

Many jurisdictions require property owners to collect and remit various types of taxes on short-term rental income, reflecting the regulatory framework designed to ensure fairness and support local economies. These taxes vary by location and can include several specific categories:

Hotel Taxes: Often referred to as transient occupancy taxes or lodging taxes, these are similar to the taxes imposed on hotels and other lodging establishments. These taxes are calculated as a percentage of the rental rate and are collected from guests as part of the overall rental fee. The revenue generated from hotel taxes typically supports local infrastructure and services.Sales Taxes: These are taxes levied on the rental charges collected from guests. Sales taxes apply to the total amount charged for the rental, including any additional fees such as cleaning or extra guest charges. The rate and applicability of sales taxes can vary widely depending on the jurisdiction.Tourism Taxes: Also known as tourist or occupancy taxes, these are additional taxes imposed to support local tourism initiatives. Tourism taxes are often used to fund the marketing and promotion of the destination, maintain tourist attractions, and enhance the overall visitor experience. The revenue from these taxes helps to sustain the tourism industry and contribute to the economic development of the area.
Compliance and Remittance

Property owners must comply with local tax regulations, which may involve:

  1. Registering: Obtaining necessary permits and licenses.
  2. Collecting: Charging guests the appropriate taxes.
  3. Remitting: Paying the collected taxes to the appropriate tax authorities.

Depreciation of Rental Property

Definition of Depreciation

Depreciation is a tax deduction that allows property owners to recover the cost of the property over time. It reflects the property’s wear and tear, deterioration, or obsolescence.

Depreciable Basis

The depreciable basis of a rental property is typically the property’s purchase price plus improvements, minus the value of the land.

Depreciation Methods

The most common method for depreciating rental property is the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS). Residential rental property is depreciated over 27.5 years using the straight-line method.

Implications of Depreciation

Depreciation can significantly reduce taxable rental income. However, property owners must recapture the depreciation when selling the property, which can result in a higher tax liability upon sale.

Passive Activity Loss Rules

Definition of Passive Activity

Rental real estate is generally considered a passive activity unless the property owner materially participates in the rental activity.

Material Participation

To qualify as materially participating, the owner must meet one of the following criteria:

  1. Participate in the activity for more than 500 hours during the year.
  2. Participate in the activity for more than 100 hours during the year, and no other individual participates more.
  3. Participate in the activity for any other reasonable number of hours that constitutes a significant part of their total participation in all activities.
Implications of Passive Activity Loss Rules

If the rental activity is considered passive, losses can only offset passive income. Unused passive losses can be carried forward to future years or used to offset passive income from other sources.

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Maximizing Deductions

Property owners should keep detailed records of all expenses related to the rental property to ensure they can maximize their deductions. This includes maintaining receipts, invoices, and documentation for all deductible expenses.

Timing of Income and Expenses

Timing the receipt of income and payment of expenses can impact the tax liability for a given year. For example, deferring income to the next tax year or accelerating expenses into the current tax year can help manage taxable income.

Use of Tax Software or Professionals

Given the complexity of tax considerations for short-term rentals, many property owners benefit from using tax software or consulting with tax professionals. This can help ensure compliance with tax laws and optimize the tax outcomes.

In some cases, property owners may benefit from holding their rental property in a legal entity, such as an LLC, for liability protection and potential tax advantages. Consulting with a legal or tax professional can help determine the best structure.


Engaging in short-term rentals on platforms like Airbnb and VRBO offers significant income potential, but it also comes with various tax implications that property owners must navigate. Understanding and addressing these tax considerations is crucial for compliance and financial optimization. Moreover, many jurisdictions require the collection and remittance of specific taxes on short-term rental income, such as hotel taxes, sales taxes, and tourism taxes. These taxes vary by location and support local services and tourism initiatives. Property owners must stay informed about these requirements to avoid penalties. By keeping accurate records, adhering to tax regulations, and utilizing strategic tax planning, property owners can effectively manage their tax responsibilities and maximize the benefits of their short-term rental activities.