How to Start an LLC for Rental Property (Step-by-Step)

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by LLC.org Team
Last updated: June 10th, 2024

Real estate investing is often touted as a great way to make money and invest in your future, and it is. But once you have a new property, it can be hard to know how to protect yourself and your investment. One way to handle rental properties is to start a Limited Liability Company (LLC), which offers a combination of flexibility and tax benefits to entrepreneurs.

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The exact process for forming an LLC can vary by state, but there are some general steps that will be common across each state. Always look for the specific state requirements where you will be forming your LLC to ensure compliance and good standing.

1
Choose a business name

All LLCs will need a unique business name to register with during formation. You may want to think about things like brand identity, privacy, and your potential future market when choosing your LLC’s name. Then you can check your state’s business entity registry to ensure your chosen name is available.

Each state has their own rules for allowable names, but common restrictions may include:

  • The name must include “LLC,” “L.L.C.,” or “Limited Liability Company.”
  • It should not include words that could confuse your LLC with a government agency (e.g., FBI, Treasury).
  • Restricted words such as “Bank,” “Attorney,” “University” may require additional paperwork and a licensed professional to be part of your LLC.

If you want to hold a name until you form your LLC, many states also offer name reservations for a small fee.

2
Appoint a registered agent

A registered agent is an individual or business entity responsible for receiving legal documents, service of process, and official government communications on behalf of your LLC. This ensures that your rental property business does not miss important information regarding legal actions or compliance deadlines.

You can appoint an individual, such as yourself or another member of the LLC, or you can choose a professional registered agent service. Requirements for a registered agent vary by state, but generally, the agent must:

  • Be available during normal business hours
  • Have a physical address (not a P.O. Box) in the state where the LLC is registered

3
File Articles of Organization

To officially form your own LLC, you need to register it with the state where your rental properties are located. This involves filing the Articles of Organization (also known as Certificate of Formation or Certificate of Organization in some states) with the appropriate state agency, typically the Secretary of State’s office.

The filing fee for this document varies by state but is a necessary expense for legally establishing your LLC. Once filed and approved, your LLC is legally recognized as a business entity.

4
Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN)

LLCs should obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). An EIN, also referred to as a Federal Tax Identification Number, is essentially a Social Security number for your rental business. It’s crucial for several reasons:

  • Tax reporting: An EIN is necessary for reporting taxes to the IRS.
  • Banking: You’ll need an EIN to open a business bank account.
  • Hiring: It’s required if you plan to hire employees.

Obtaining an EIN is free and can be done quickly online through the IRS website.

5
Draft an operating agreement

Although not legally required in all states, drafting an LLC operating agreement is a highly recommended step for any LLC, especially when there are multiple members involved. This internal document outlines the ownership structure, member roles, and operating procedures of the LLC. It covers critical areas like:

  • Profit sharing
  • Conflict resolution
  • Amendments to the agreement
  • Procedures for adding or removing members

You can draft your own operating agreement using a template or hire legal advice to assist.

6
Obtain business permits and licenses

All businesses need to comply with licensing and permitting regulations to ensure they can continue operations legally. These requirements will vary widely based on specifics of your business and location. For a rental property LLC, you should confirm which of these licensing types you need:

  • Statewide general licenses: Some states require a general business license for any type of business operation, including rental properties. This license serves as your official registration with the state to conduct business.
  • Tax permits: If your state imposes sales tax on rental leases or if you sell any services or goods at your property, you might need a state tax permit. This is also crucial for managing state income tax withholding if you hire employees.
  • Local permits: Local governments often require additional licensing, which can include property rental licenses, building permits for renovations, and occupancy certificates. These ensure that your properties meet local standards for safety and are compliant with zoning laws.
  • Occupational licenses: If you provide any specific services at your properties that are regulated (such as food service or spa facilities), you may need specific occupational.

Things to consider for rental property LLCs

LLCs can be used to manage many types of businesses, including rental properties. Outside of the original formation, there are additional steps you may want to consider specific to this line of work. 

Business bank accounts

The personal liability protection offered by LLCs is based on the assumption that the business is operating separately from its owners. To demonstrate this, it is critical to have a separate business bank account for all business-related transactions – this is called maintaining the corporate veil and prevents you from losing liability protection. 

In addition to the legal implications, having a business bank account can simplify your accounting and tax preparation by keeping personal expenses separate.

Legal and insurance requirements

Real estate as an industry has its own complex legal considerations, whether you have an LLC or not. It’s essential to comply with local, state, and federal laws, including fair housing regulations, eviction procedures, and safety codes.

Additionally, proper documentation of all transactions, tenant interactions, and compliance efforts is vital for legal protection and can be invaluable in case of legal challenges.

Insurance is crucial for anyone who owns rental properties in order to mitigate the risks.

  • At a minimum, property insurance should cover potential damage to your buildings from natural disasters, theft, and vandalism.
  • Liability insurance protects against lawsuits for injuries that might occur on your property.
  • For broader coverage, an umbrella insurance policy can provide additional protection beyond the limits of standard policies.

Reviewing these policies annually, or whenever you acquire new properties, ensures that your coverage meets your current needs and offers the best protection as your investment portfolio grows.

LLCs for non-residents

If you own property in a state where you don’t live and want to create your LLC there, you will likely need to follow the foreign LLC process in the state of formation. This can include specific requirements, reporting rules, and potentially annual fees.                                  

For non-U.S. citizens who own property rentals in the country, most states allow you to create an LLC there without a residency requirement. However, non-U.S. residents must ensure compliance with additional regulations such as appointing a registered agent within the state of formation, understanding U.S. federal and state tax obligations, and navigating the complexities of international tax treaties which may affect liabilities.

Annual compliance

Each state has its own rules and requirements around LLCs, but this often includes some kind of recurring compliance. The most common is an annual report, which updates the state of your business each year so information is not outdated. Look into the specific requirements in your state to be sure your business remains in good standing.

Hiring employees

If your LLC grows and you decide to hire employees for property management, you will have to comply with employment laws such as providing workers’ compensation, adhering to employment tax requirements, and following fair hiring practices.

What is the best business structure for a rental property?

Business owners have the ability to choose the structure their business entity will take. Each option has its own benefits and drawbacks, including LLCs.

  • LLCs, or Limited Liability Companies, are a business structure that offer benefits of both sole proprietorships and corporations. For rental property owners, LLCs can offer the right balance between protection, simplicity, and tax advantages.

Some non-LLC options for business structure include:

  • Sole Proprietorships are the simplest form of a business structure, in which the owner and the business are legally considered the same entity. Sole proprietorships are popular because they require minimal paperwork and startup costs. However, sole proprietors have no personal liability protection, meaning personal assets could be at risk if there are business debts or lawsuits.
  • Partnerships are similar to sole proprietorships but have multiple owners instead of just one. They allow for shared investments and responsibilities but still lack the personal asset protection of other business structures.
  • C-Corporations and S-Corporations are two business structures that offer the strongest possible protection when it comes to personal liability, as the business is a completely separate legal entity from any owners. However, corporations are costly to establish and operate, with strict legal and tax requirements. C-corporations are taxed through corporate tax laws, while s-corporations offer pass-through taxation.

Pros of an LLC

  • Liability protection: LLC owners’ personal assets, including bank accounts, homes, and cars, are protected from business debts and legal obligations.
  • LLC tax benefits: LLCs can opt for pass-through taxation, in which profits and losses are reported on personal income tax returns, avoiding the double taxation and higher tax rates that corporations are subject to paying.
  • Simple startup: Compared to corporations, LLCs are less expensive and faster to setup, typically costing less than a few hundred dollars total.
  • Flexibility: There are less requirements for operating an LLC than structures like a corporation, allowing more flexibility in management and business operations.
  • Credibility: LLCs are widely recognized as a legitimate business entity, demonstrating to tenants and lenders that you are a trustworthy partner.

Cons of an LLC

  • Setup and maintenance: Compared to a sole proprietorship or partnership, LLCs have more registration fees and ongoing costs like annual reports.
  • Tax complexity: Even with pass-through taxation, LLCs must record all of their business income and expenses meticulously to avoid improper filing.
  • Limited liability protection: While LLCs offer some protection for personal assets, that has some limits. If an owner is found to be negligent or otherwise responsible for harm, their assets can be at risk.
  • Financing issues: Some mortgage lenders are less inclined to offer loans to LLCs, because they are viewed as a higher risk. You may be asked to make personal financial guarantees as a part of the underwriting process.

FAQs

Does owning rental property in an LLC offer liability protection?

Yes. Like all LLCs, the personal assets of a business owner would be separated from the business’s liabilities and debts. This means personal property, like your home and savings, are not at risk if there is a legal or financial obligation.

Can I transfer rental properties I already own into an LLC?

Yes, you can transfer personally owned properties to an LLC. However, this may involve steps such as executing a property title or deed transfer and possibly paying associated fees or taxes. You should always consult a legal advisor to understand any implications, like changes in tax assessments or mortgage terms.

Does having an LLC affect mortgage financing for rental properties?

In some cases, lenders may view loans to an LLC as higher risk, leading to higher interest rates or stricter terms. LLC owners may be asked to make personal guarantees in order to secure loans.

How many properties can I have in one LLC?

There is no legal limit to how many properties a single LLC can own. However, remember that holding multiple properties in an LLC means that liabilities related to one property could impact all the others.

How do I pay taxes on a rental property LLC?

LLCs often have pass-through taxation, so income from the LLC is passed to your personal tax returns. In addition, you may consider state franchise taxes imposed on LLCs, property tax payments, and the cost of transfer taxes if you buy or sell.

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