The IRS has released a second set of proposed regulations on the new tax incentives for investments in Qualified Opportunity Zones (QOZs). The incentives, created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, permit taxpayers to defer, reduce and even permanently exclude capital gains on their investments. The proposed regulations — most of which you can rely on until final regulations are published — include several provisions that are favorable for real estate investors.
Incentives in a nutshell
Investors can form private Qualified Opportunity Funds (QOFs) for development and redevelopment projects in QOZs. The funds must keep at least 90% of their assets in QOZ property, including investments in qualified businesses and new or substantially improved commercial buildings, equipment and multifamily complexes.
Investors can defer their short- or long-term capital gains on a sale or disposition of their investments as long as they reinvest the gains in a QOF within 180 days. The tax will be deferred until the fund investment is 1) sold or exchanged, or 2) December 31, 2026, whichever is earlier.
After five years, a QOF investor receives a step-up in tax basis for the investment equal to 10% of the original gain, meaning the investor will pay tax on only 90% of that gain. Two years later, the step-up jumps to 15%, further reducing the taxable portion of the original gain. If an investment is held in the QOF for at least 10 years, postacquisition gains are fully tax-exempt.
Real estate provisions
Real estate investors will find plenty to like in the proposed QOZ regulations. Here are some important issues to consider:
Multiple assets. The proposed regulations make clear that QOFs can invest in more than one asset, reducing the risk of pursuing a single failed project. This also allows funds to execute a rolling investment strategy through December 31, 2026, without holding a specific property for 10 years. If an asset is held for that long, the QOF can sell it, and investors will receive the step-up in basis tax-free (assuming certain requirements are satisfied), without selling their interests in the QOF.
Active conduct of a trade or business. At least 50% of a QOF’s income must come from the active conduct of a trade or business in a QOZ. The proposed regulations clarify that residential rental activities can qualify as a QOZ business and/or property if the QOF meets certain active management rules. On the other hand, entering a single triple-net lease for a property generally won’t qualify as an active trade or business, nor will holding property for investment.
Unimproved land. The proposed regulations provide that unimproved land in a QOZ that’s acquired by purchase generally doesn’t require substantial improvement, with two exceptions. First, a QOF can’t rely on this rule if it purchases unimproved land with the intent not to improve the land by more than an insubstantial amount within 30 months after acquisition. Second, if a QOF doesn’t invest new capital into the land — or boost the land’s economic activity or output — the purchase could be treated as an acquisition of nonqualifying property under a general antiabuse rule.
Original use. Among other requirements for QOZ business property, either its original use in the opportunity zone must commence with the QOF, or the QOF must substantially improve it. According to the regulations, the original use of tangible property starts on the date it’s first placed in service in the QOZ for purposes of depreciation or amortization. But, if property has been unused or vacant for at least five years before purchase, original use commences on the date after that period when the property is first used or placed in service in the QOZ.
Beware: You could lose QOZ tax deferral
The proposed regulations identify several transactions that might trigger inclusion of deferred gains from Qualified Opportunity Zone (QOZ) investments. An “inclusion event” generally results from the transfer of a qualifying investment in a Qualified Opportunity Fund (QOF) if:
- The transfer reduces the taxpayer’s equity interest in the QOF for federal income tax purposes, or
- The taxpayer receives property (including cash) from a QOF in a transfer that’s treated as a distribution for federal income tax purposes.
The resulting gain is includable in gross income in the tax year of the inclusion event or the tax year that includes December 31, 2026.
The regulations include a nonexclusive list of 11 inclusion events, including certain distributions, taxable dispositions and nonrecognition transfers, as well as transfers by gift and dissolution of the QOF. Each would reduce or terminate the QOF investor’s qualifying investment or, in the case of distributions, constitute a “cashing out” of the qualifying investment. A transfer “by reason of death,” however, isn’t an inclusion event.
The proposed regulations are complex. They address many other critical issues for investors interested in taking advantage of the new tax incentives. Your Elliott Davis advisor can help you make the most of the opportunity.