Stakeholders are urging the IRS to clarify its guidance on tax reform’s new passthrough deduction. The IRS held an October 16 public hearing on proposed rules for the new Code Sec. 199Apassthrough deduction at its headquarters in Washington D.C. The IRS released the proposed regulations, REG-107892-18, on August 8.

Over 20 stakeholders and practitioners spoke at the hearing. Additionally, over 300 comments on the proposed rules have been submitted to Treasury and the IRS.

Passthrough Deduction
The new 20-percent deduction of qualified business income for passthrough entities, subject to certain limitations, was enacted as part of tax reform legislation last December. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act ( P.L. 115-97) created the new Code Sec. 199A passthrough deduction for noncorporate taxpayers, effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017. The deduction is scheduled to sunset in 2026.

Rental Real Estate
Several speakers at the hearing asked the IRS for guidance clarifying whether rental real estate activities are eligible for the deduction. Additionally, Troy Lewis, testifying on behalf of the American Institute of Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA), asked the IRS for guidance on specific circumstances in which rental real estate activities would not produce qualified trade or business income pursuant to the adopted Code Sec. 162 standard.

“Without further guidance clarifying when the rental of real estate would fail to rise to the level of a section 162 trade or business, unnecessary ambiguity exists that will likely create a divergence in practice,” the AICPA said in its written comments. “Taxpayers are thus left to pursue their own interpretation of the rules under section 199A and the IRS will likely face greater complexity of administration.”

Likewise, the Council for Electronic Revenue Communication Advancement (CERCA) submitted comments highlighting the uncertainty as to whether and when a rental property is generally considered a qualifying trade or business for purposes of the Code Sec. 199A deduction. Notably, CERCA referenced the preamble to the regulations that indicates taxpayers should look to existing case law to determine whether rental activities meet the Code Sec. 162 standard. However, existing case law does not consistently apply a set of factors that taxpayers could reliably apply as rules, according to CERCA.

Determining that all rental real estate is a trade or business for purposes of the deduction would significantly simplify the deduction, Iona Harrison said, testifying on behalf of the National Association of Realtors. Making such a determination would also simplify IRS administration, she added.

Several speakers and a number of comment letters requested that the IRS clarify its definition of a specified service trade or business (SSTB). The SSTB limitation is one of the most controversial provisions of the deduction. SSTBs are considered a “trade or business involving the performance of services in the fields of health, law, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, financial services, investing and investment management, trading, dealing in certain assets or any trade or business where the principal asset is the reputation or skill of one or more of its employees,” according to the IRS.

To that end, Major League Baseball (MLB) has pitched its assertion to the IRS that professional sports clubs are neither “personal services corporations” nor provide “services,” as defined in Code Sec. 1202(e)(3)(A). The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, which governs the 30 MLB clubs, has asserted in written comments that the business of a professional sports club is not an SSTB under Code Sec. 199A. Thus, “its owners should be allowed the full 199A deduction,” Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. wrote in submitted comments.

Questions Remain
The October 16 public hearing served more as an opportunity for stakeholders to highlight issues rather than a forum for the IRS to provide answers. Treasury and the IRS are expected to consider hearing testimony and written comments when finalizing the rules. The regulations are expected to be finalized before the 2019 tax filing season.