Rent-to-Own Tax Reporting: Everything Sellers Need to Know

Are you thinking about selling your home? Find out how a rent-to-own agreement can provide unexpected tax benefits, help you maximize your profits, and improve your tax management.

Nichole Stohler
Last Updated
April 16, 2024
Rent-to-Own Tax Reporting: Everything Sellers Need to Know

Selling a home is rarely a simple transaction, especially when market conditions shift. As the housing market changes, so do the ways homeowners look to sell their homes. One option is the rent-to-own agreement.

With rent-to-own, a person rents your home with the option to purchase it later. This arrangement provides you with regular rental income and gets you closer to selling your house. As an added bonus, these agreements offer sellers tax advantages over a traditional sale. By understanding the details of rent-to-own agreements, homeowners can use them to save on taxes and make more profit from the sale.

In this article, we'll uncover the tax benefits that sellers might not know about but can use to their advantage. Understanding your options can help you make smarter choices and get the most out of selling your house.

Understanding rent-to-own

Rent-to-own, also called a lease-to-own agreement, is a way of buying a house where the person renting it can eventually buy it at the property's fair market value. In this setup, the renter pays a bit more each month, and some of that money goes toward a future down payment on the house.

It can be a good choice for people who can't afford a big down payment right away or want to improve their credit before getting a mortgage.

How does rent-to-own work?

Rent-to-own agreements can vary, but the general process works like this: the landlord and tenant agree on a price for the property and how long the rental arrangement will last. During this time, the tenant pays monthly rent, including an option fee or option money as part of the lease agreement. This fee goes toward the future purchase price. At the end of the rental period, the tenant can choose to buy the property at the agreed-upon price.

Types of rent-to-own agreements and tax consequences

There are two main types of rent-to-own agreements:

Lease option

This type of agreement provides the tenant flexibility. It gives the tenant the right, but not the obligation, to purchase the property at the end of the rental term at a predetermined fair market price.

Such flexibility is ideal for tenants who may want to buy but are still unsure about their long-term financial situation or the property's desirability.

Lease purchase

A lease purchase obligates the tenant to buy the property when the lease ends. This contract is stricter than a lease option and guarantees the property's sale.

The seller benefits from a contractually obligated sale at a predefined option price which stabilizes and predicts their financial and investment planning.

Tax treatment for property owners

For tax purposes, using rent-to-own deals to sell your real property has different treatment than a traditional sale.

Deferred tax on option payments

When a tenant pays an upfront lease and option payments in a rent-to-own deal, the seller doesn't have to pay taxes on that money right away. Instead, it's considered a deposit. The seller only pays taxes on it when the tenant decides to buy the property.

For example, if a tenant pays a $5,000 option fee, the seller doesn't need to report it as income until the tenant actually buys the rent-to-own home. This delay can help sellers manage their taxes better and plan their finances.

Potential capital gains exclusion

If the seller sells their primary residence, they might qualify for a capital gains exclusion on the sale. This means they can exclude up to $250,000 (or $500,000 for married couples) of the profit from the sale from their taxes.

This can be a big advantage, especially if the property's value has increased since the seller bought it. Consider a seller who bought a property for $200,000, which now has a fair market value of $350,000. If the seller has lived in the home for at least two of the past five years, they can exclude the entire $150,000 gain from their taxable income.

Rental income taxation

In rent-to-own arrangements, the seller receives monthly rent payments from the tenant. This rent is treated as regular income and taxed according to the seller's standard income tax rate. However, the seller can deduct expenses related to the property, such as property taxes, insurance, and maintenance, which may reduce the taxes they owe.

The impact on taxes can vary based on the seller's income, the amount of rent, and the deductible expenses.

Potential for installment sale treatment

Depending on the specific terms of the rent-to-own agreement, the IRS may classify it as an "installment sale." That means the seller can spread out the taxable profit from the sale over several years instead of paying it all at once. This can be helpful if the seller expects to earn less in the years after selling.

With an installment sale, the seller reports a portion of the profit each year as the tenant makes lease payments instead of paying taxes on the whole profit when the sale happens. This helps the seller handle their taxes better and could lower their overall tax burden.

Depreciation expense

For rent-to-own agreements treated as lease options, the seller can typically deduct depreciation on rental properties. This non-cash expense recovers the property's cost over its useful life, providing a tax benefit each year it remains in the rent-to-own agreement pre-sale.

However, if the agreement is considered an installment sale for tax purposes, different rules apply. The seller cannot deduct depreciation or other operating expenses related to the property. Instead, they must recognize a portion of the overall capital gain each year from the installment payments received.

Any depreciation deductions taken during the rental period will impact the final capital gains calculation upon sale. Any previously deducted depreciation is recaptured and taxed as ordinary income at a rate of up to 25%.

So, while depreciation offers potential yearly tax savings in lease options, it impacts the ultimate sale proceeds by reducing the cost basis and triggering depreciation recapture taxed at higher rates. The specific tax treatment depends on whether the sale is a lease option or an installment sale.

Risks of selling property with rent-to-own

While rent-to-own deals offer tax benefits, sellers should also know about the possible downsides and risks.

Failure to exercise the option

One big risk for sellers is if the tenant doesn't end up buying the property. This could be because the tenant's financial situation changes or they can't get a loan. If the tenant doesn't buy, the seller might have an empty property and lose the option fee and rental revenue.

Landlord responsibilities and risks

When you're renting out the property in a rent-to-own deal, you're basically playing the role of a landlord. This includes potentially dealing with issues like non-payment of rent, which would require going through the notoriously lengthy and uncomfortable eviction process.

Difficulty exiting the agreement

Sellers need to know that they might not be able to cancel a rent-to-own contract easily once it's in place. Usually, the seller has to sell to the tenant as long as the tenant does what they're supposed to by the specified deadline.

Rent-to-own tax implications

While rent-to-own agreements carry risks, they offer tax advantages sellers shouldn't overlook. These deals allow you to strategically manage your tax burden by deferring taxes on option fees. This creates an upfront planning opportunity to maximize profits when you sell.

Understanding rent-to-own nuances can uncover chances to improve your finances and potentially save on taxes. This knowledge makes a significant difference over time, helping you get the most from your investment and reach long-term goals.

For sellers in today's market conditions, rent-to-own demands a closer look. Leveraging this strategy can secure top dollar for your home while holding onto more gains. An often misunderstood arrangement could end up being a breakthrough opportunity to build wealth.

Rent-to-own tax advantages for seller FAQs

Is lease purchase a good idea for sellers?

Lease purchase can be a good choice for sellers, because they can sell their property without needing a buyer with immediate financing. The seller keeps owning the property until the buyer decides to buy, giving the seller steady rent.

Can you avoid capital gains tax with seller financing?

With seller financing, you cannot completely avoid capital gains tax, but you may defer it, recognizing gains gradually as you receive payments over time.

How does owner financing affect taxes?

Owner financing affects taxes by requiring the seller to report interest income received as part of the loan payments. The seller may also spread out the recognition of capital gains over the term of the loan, potentially leading to tax deferral benefits.

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

Other related articles

Rental rundown background image
Rental rundown hero image

Whether you’re a property owner, renter, property manager, or real estate agent, gain valuable insights, advice, and updates by joining our newsletter.

Subscriber Identity

I am a

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.