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I have a rental property that needs a new HVAC system. If I have this done just prior to selling, my understanding is I would add the cost of that improvement to the basis. But what about ongoing expenses like mortgage interest, HOA fees, etc.?

According to https://www.irs.gov/publications/p527#en_US_2018_publink1000219001:

Vacant while listed for sale. If you sell property you held for rental purposes, you can deduct the ordinary and necessary expenses for managing, conserving, or maintaining the property until it is sold. If the property isn’t held out and available for rent while listed for sale, the expenses aren’t deductible rental expenses.

This seems self-contradictory to me. I can't imagine people often list units for rent and sale at the same time. But if they don't this suggests that expenses which were previously deductible are no longer.

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I am not a lawyer; this is not legal advice.

But if they don't [list for rent and sale] this suggests that expenses which were previously deductible are no longer.

That seems reasonable. A few paragraphs earlier, that same page has (my emphasis):

Pre-rental expenses.

You can deduct your ordinary and necessary expenses for managing, conserving, or maintaining rental property from the time you make it available for rent.

So, if being able to deduct expenses is only possible from the time it is available for rent, it would be logical that if you stop making the property available for rent, then you stop being able to deduct expenses.

I can't imagine people often list units for rent and sale at the same time.

I have never been a landlord, but I see little reason why you shouldn't continue to list the property as available for rent while trying to sell it (assuming you're selling it as a rental property, with the expectation that the buyer will continue to rent it out):

  • You don't know how long it will take to sell: refusing to rent it during this process could be a significant loss of (potential) rental income, especially if expenses are not deductible when not on the (rental) market.

  • If one or more tenants approach you when you are close to completing a sale, their interest may make the difference if the buyer is wavering: the buyer will have (potential) tenants without having to advertise.

  • Even if some tenants may be put off by the fact that your are in the process of trying to sell the property, you will be no worse off than if it wasn't on the rental market (and – if expenses aren't deductible when off the market – you will be better off because you've at least tried to rent it, and so can deduct expenses).

  • If you are going to play the game of trying to sell and trying to get new tenants at the same time, then document everything you do. It can take months prepare to list, show it, get an offer, and then wait for closing. If you are claiming expenses for mortgage, HOA and the like without having income then if you are audited they could ask for proof you tried to rent it. Also if you get a potential renter and you reject the renter you should also have a valid reason and proof. – mhoran_psprep Jun 26 at 11:03

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