When tax time rolls around, landlords make out much better than tenants. A landlord can write off mortgage interest, repairs and maintenance, among other expenses, on her federal taxes. The tenant can't claim any of those. There are some specialized deductions tenants may claim, and some tax breaks for rent at the state level. None of the write-offs requires you itemize deductions on your federal return.
Business Use of Home
Using your rental as your primary place of business can qualify you for a tax break. It's not enough to make out reports sitting in a recliner or propped up in bed. The deduction is available only if you use part of your home as your principal place of business. A home office, a jewelry workshop or a place to meet clients would all qualify for a tax break, as long as the space was used entirely for business. You claim this on Schedule C, the form for reporting self-employment income and expenses.
Taking the Business Deduction
The simplest way to figure the write-off is to multiply the square footage of your business area by $5, up to a maximum of 300 square feet. If, say, you use 150 feet, your deduction is $750. The more complicated method deducts a percentage of rent, utilities and other costs based on the percentage of your rental used for business. If, for example, it's 10 percent, you can write off 10 percent of your rent and utilities. This takes more number-crunching, but it may produce a larger deduction.
State Tax Breaks
Some state tax laws offer tax breaks specifically for renters. Maryland, for example, offers a tax credit for rent based on factors including age, family size and income. Indiana allows you to deduct up to $3,000 of your rent. Both tax breaks require the place you're renting be your primary residence -- your home -- rather than, say, a vacation home you rent for a couple of weeks. Your state's department of revenue can tell you whether you have a shot at a similar tax deduction where you live. State deductions don't give you any breaks on your federal return.
If you moved into your rental last year, it's possible the cost of transporting yourself and your belongings is deductible. This is an option if the move was within a year of starting a new job. You must work at least 39 weeks full time in your new location the year after the move. Your rental must be at least 50 miles further from your old home than the distance from your old home to work. There are multiple conditions and exceptions, detailed in IRS Publication 521. You claim the write-off on Form 1040.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.