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12/01/2017 : Does my rec room qualify for a home office tax deduction?

By Benny L. Kass

December 01, 2017

Dear Benny: I have a business I run from my home, and I use part of the recreation room for keeping records and filling orders from customers. Can I claim a home office deduction?

- Terrance

Terrance: Depends on the facts. The law allows you to claim the deduction if the office space is used "regularly and exclusively" for your business. If there is other use in that room - such as watching TV - you will not qualify. You can, however, isolate a space in that room even though others may be watching the television - so long as it is "exclusive."

There is a formula the IRS has authorized to simplify how to calculate the deduction, and it is explained in IRS Publication 587, "Business Use of Your Home." It is available free online at irs.gov/publications.

Dear Benny: I believe my house is haunted. Periodically, a door will slam or windows will mysteriously open when no one else is home. I plan to sell. Do I have to disclose?

- Mary

Mary: For purposes of my response, I will accept your statement that your house is haunted. Frankly, I am a skeptic and do not believe such ghost stories.

But if that's what you believe, you have to find out whether your state has a law on this topic. To my knowledge, in most states you would not have to disclose. In Florida, for example, there is a statute that protects home sellers (and their real estate agents) from liability by not disclosing.

In New York, however, if a home has a reputation of being haunted, it must be disclosed. Apparently, that law came out of a case where the home had significant media coverage about it being haunted.

So if there has been no media coverage - or your house does not have the reputation of having ghosts - depending on your state law, you do not have to disclose.

Your buyers may be upset, but if you don't have to disclose, you are legally protected.

Dear Benny: I am the treasurer on my large (100-plus units) condo association board. Our management company has been overseeing the complex since the units were built in the late 1980s. The management contract, which took me forever to get a copy of, renews every three years automatically if no changes are made. It is next up for renewal in April 2019.

As a board, what steps do we need to take to open this up to bid to other property management companies? Is this something the board should do independently of the current management company? We're concerned that if we don't dot every "i" and cross every "t," our current firm will use that as an excuse to void any agreement we might make with a new property management company.

- Mike

Mike: Selecting a management company should not be any different from selecting a landscaper or a contractor for a large job. Typically, the managing company will solicit two or three bids and then make a recommendation for the board to decide.

However, if you pass this task on to your management firm, even if it does an honest search, there will always be the perception that it didn't want to lose the job.

So the board should create a three-member management committee - could be from board members only or other interested owners - to solicit bids. If you don't have a current list of property managers in your area, contact the Community Associations Institute ( caionline.org) for such a listing.

Prepare a letter spelling out who you are, how many units there are and what you are looking for, and ask for a bid response. You should list a contact person because most management companies will want to inspect the property first.

Give them a four-week deadline. I would also send it to your current manager and ask them to submit their response. Once you get some responses, review them carefully, talk with other associations they manage and then make your decision.

Caution: Do not decide on price alone. Remember the old saying: You get what you pay for.

realestate@washpost.com

Benny L. Kass is a Washington and Maryland lawyer. This column is not legal advice and should not be acted upon without obtaining legal counsel. Send questions to blkass@kasslegalgroup.com .

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