Monday, April 19, 2010

Why Don't Renters Receive A Tax Deduction In Kind?

Following the wildly successfully Open House Weekend in Southern California and Orange County, I was taking inventory of all the cash being thrown around by our federal government ($8000 federal tax credit) and the now de facto bankrupt state of California ($10,000 tax credit over 3 years) and I asked myself a silly question:

Why are any American taxpayers supporting or subsidizing this approach?

I think the answer is that as human beings, beliefs inform our actions. If you believe that the national and/or state economy will only turnaround by re-invigorating and re-inflating a collapsed asset bubble like real estate instead of subsidizing local jobs and new industries, then you will no doubt support such real estate tax subsidies. If you only get paid when a home is sold (due to the lure of such tax subsidies), then you'll also no doubt lobby support for such subsidies to continue.

My question is why can't renters receive similar tax benefits and subsidies?

Is it because Realtors don't get paid a commission when a renter extends his lease contract?

I can't think of any reasons why renters should receive fewer benefits on the national and state tax front. Or conversely, I can't think of why renters should suffer more under the current federal and California state tax codes.

Renters also have tight household budgets. They have work obligations. They pay federal and state incomes taxes. Many also have families, as well as short- and long-term financial goals that they strive to meet. Renters also volunteer and serve local communities. It might also surprise people to know that renters also happen to vote. The President of the United States, members of the US Congress, the Governor of California and the entire state legislature in Sacramento would be wise to remember this last point.

The suggestion I keep hearing is that renters don't pay property taxes, and therefore are equivalent in some way to a second-class citizen on par with extortionists and tax evaders. It is argued that renters sidestep responsibilities to the greater good and the community at large. By not paying property taxes directly, renters don't help to fund local schools and keep cities and towns "nice" and "safe". Because they do pay property taxes directly, homeowners (most of them actually homedebtors) meanwhile are to be commended and rewarded by both state and federal government (and thus by taxpayers everywhere) in the form of tax breaks and loopholes.

Is this fair taxation?

I consider it unfair and I would continue to believe so even as a homeowner (homedebtor) myself someday.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I prefer to pay my own way. I don't like freeloaders. And I dislike the idea of anyone portraying me as such just because I didn't buy a $700K single family home when I first moved here five years ago.

The property tax argument is also ridiculous. Any landlord who is a landowner (or landdebtor) who pays property taxes himself, but fails to apply or distribute such costs to his tenants via the monthly rent charge might be a nice person, but he'd also be considered a financial imbecile, or both. Renters do pay property taxes. It's embedded in the rent they pay.

So I just don't get it. As a renter, I'm already accustomed to paying my fair share of income taxes both state and federal. But why are home debtors afforded greater protections under the United States federal and state tax codes?

Can someone explain to me why this is? How is this arrangement fair and equitable, and more importantly, what convinces people that these $8000 and $10,000 tax break arrangements are money well spent, benefiting the greater good to such an extent that no other options or subsidies be considered?

Seriously, I'd really like to know an answer or two.

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