When reading the following materials do not forget some basic points. Section 263(a) denies a deduction for “any amount paid out for new buildings or for permanent improvements or betterments made to increase the value of any property” and for “any amount expended in restoring property or in making good the exhaustion thereof for which an allowance is or has been made.” The expenditures that are the subject of this section could be ordinary and necessary trade or business expenditures and so deductible under § 162, but §§ 161 and 261 make § 162 subject to and subordinate to § 263. Reg. § 1.162-4(a) restates this prioritization; it provides in part that “[a] taxpayer may deduct amounts paid for repairs and maintenance to tangible property if the amounts paid are not otherwise required to be capitalized.” The scope of what is affirmatively covered by § 263 preempts what § 162 might allow as an immediate deduction. The line between deductibility and capitalization has been the subject of dispute between taxpayers and the government in the context of a taxpayer’s trade or business. More recently, the IRS and Treasury have undertaken through regulations to articulate workable standards and procedures to assure more taxpayers predictable treatment. We will explore the high points of the portions of these regulations most relevant to this topic.
Midland Empire Packing Co. v. Commissioner, 14 T.C. 635 (1950).
The issue in this case is whether an expenditure for a concrete lining in petitioner’s basement to oilproof it against an oil nuisance created by a neighboring refinery is deductible as an ordinary and necessary expense under § [162(a)] ... on the theory it was an expenditure for a repair ...
The respondent [Commissioner] has contended, in part, that the expenditure is for a capital improvement and should be recovered through depreciation charges and is, therefore, not deductible as an ordinary and necessary business expense or as a loss.
It is none too easy to determine on which side of the line certain expenditures fall so that they may be accorded their proper treatment for tax purposes. Treasury Regulations 111, from which we quote in the margin, 1 is helpful in distinguishing between an expenditure to be classed as a repair and one to be treated as a capital outlay. In Illinois Merchants Trust Co., Executor, 4 B.T.A. 103, 106, we discussed this subject in some detail and in our opinion said:
It will be noted that the first sentence of the [regulation] ... relates to repairs, while the second sentence deals in effect with replacements. In determining whether an expenditure is a capital one or is chargeable against operating income, it is necessary to bear in mind the purpose for which the expenditure was made. To repair is to restore to a sound state or to mend, while a replacement connotes a substitution. A repair is an expenditure for the purpose of keeping the property in an ordinarily efficient operating condition. It does not add to the value of the property nor does it appreciably prolong its life. It merely keeps the property in an operating condition over its probable useful life for the uses for which it was acquired. Expenditures for that purpose are distinguishable from those for replacements, alterations, improvements, or additions which prolong the life of the property, increase its value, or make it adaptable to a different use. The one is a maintenance charge, while the others are additions to capital investment which should not be applied against current earnings.
... For some 25 years prior to the taxable year [(1943)] petitioner [Midland Empire] had used the basement rooms of its plant [situated in Billings near the Yellowstone River] as a place for the curing of hams and bacon and for the storage of meat and hides. The basement had been entirely satisfactory for this purpose over the entire period in spite of the fact that there was some seepage of water into the rooms from time to time. In the taxable year it was found that not only water, but oil, was seeping through the concrete walls of the basement of the packing plant and, while the water would soon drain out, the oil would not, and there was left on the basement floor a thick scum of oil which gave off a strong odor that permeated the air of the entire plant, and the fumes from the oil created a fire hazard. It appears that the oil which came from a nearby refinery [of the Yale Oil Corporation] had also gotten into the water wells which served to furnish water for petitioner’s plant, and as a result of this whole condition the Federal meat inspectors advised petitioner that it must discontinue the use of the water from the wells and oilproof the basement, or else shut down its plant.
To meet this situation, petitioner during the taxable year undertook steps to oilproof the basement by adding a concrete lining to the walls from the floor to a height of about four feet and also added concrete to the floor of the basement. It is the cost of this work[, $4,868.81,] which it seeks to deduct as a repair. The basement was not enlarged by this work [and in fact petitioner’s operating space contracted], nor did the oilproofing serve to make it more desirable for the purpose for which it had been used through the years prior to the time that the oil nuisance had occurred. The evidence is that the expenditure did not add to the value or prolong the expected life of the property over what they were before the event occurred which made the repairs necessary. It is true that after the work was done the seepage of water, as well as oil, was stopped, but, as already stated, the presence of the water had never been found objectionable. The repairs merely served to keep the property in an operating condition over its probable useful life for the purpose for which it was used.
[Midland charged the $4,868.81 to repair expense on its regular books and deducted that amount on its tax returns as an ordinary and necessary business expense for the fiscal year 1943. The Commissioner, in his notice of deficiency, determined that the cost of oilproofing was not deductible ... as an ordinary and necessary expense ... in 1943.]
While it is conceded on brief that the expenditure was ‘necessary,’ respondent contends that the encroachment of the oil nuisance on petitioner’s property was not an ‘ordinary’ expense in petitioner’s particular business. But the fact that petitioner had not theretofore been called upon to make a similar expenditure to prevent damage and disaster to its property does not remove that expense from the classification of ‘ordinary’ ... Steps to protect a business building from the seepage of oil from a nearby refinery, which had been erected long subsequent to the time petitioner started to operate its plant, would seem to us to be a normal thing to do, and in certain sections of the country it must be a common experience to protect one’s property from the seepage of oil. Expenditures to accomplish this result are likewise normal.
[The petitioner thereafter filed suit against Yale, on April 22, 1944, in a cause of action sounding in tort ... This action was to recover damages for the nuisance created by the oil seepage. ... Petitioner subsequently settled its cause of action against Yale for $11,659.49 and gave Yale a complete release of all liability. This release was dated October 23, 1946.]
In our opinion, the expenditure of $4,868.81 for lining the basement walls and floor was essentially a repair and, as such, it is deductible as an ordinary and necessary business expense. ...
Notes and Questions:
- The court said: “It is none too easy to determine on which side of the line certain expenditures fall so that they may be accorded their proper treatment for tax purposes.”
- What facts convinced the court to place the expenditure on the “repair” side of the line?
- In the fifth-to-last paragraph of the case, the court stated conclusions taken almost verbatim from the regulation. Does this give you any idea of the type of evidence that taxpayer must have presented and its relation to Reg. § 1.162-4?
- The Yale Oil Corporation owned a nearby oil-refining plant and storage area and its discharges caused the problems that Midland Empire had to address. Yale Oil made a payment to Midland
Empire to settle the nuisance suit brought against it. May Yale Oil deduct the amount it paid to settle the case, or should it capitalize that amount? Cf.Mt. Morris
- What tax treatment should Midland accord the $11,659.49 payment it received from Yale?
War-time and shortly thereafter
During WW I and WW II, tax rates were considerably higher than they were in peacetime. In what ways did this make timing an especially important matter?
Mt. Morris Drive-In Theatre Co. v. Commissioner, 25 T.C. 272 (1955), aff’d, 238 F.2d 85 (CA6 1956)
FINDINGS OF FACT.
In 1947 petitioner purchased 13 acres of farm land located on the outskirts of Flint, Michigan, upon which it proceeded to construct a drive-in or outdoor theatre. Prior to its purchase by the petitioner the land on which the theatre was built was farm land and contained vegetation. The slope of the land was such that the natural drainage of water was from the southerly line to the northerly boundary of the property and thence onto the adjacent land, owned by David and Mary D. Nickola, which was used both for farming and as a trailer park. The petitioner’s land sloped sharply from south to north and also sloped from the east downward towards the west so that most of the drainage from the petitioner’s property was onto the southwest corner of the Nickolas’ land. The topography of the land purchased by petitioner was well known to petitioner at the time it was purchased and developed. The petitioner did not change the general slope of its land in constructing the drive-in theatre, but it removed the covering vegetation from the land, slightly increased the grade, and built aisles or ramps which were covered with gravel and were somewhat raised so that the passengers in the automobiles would be able to view the picture on the large outdoor screen.
As a result of petitioner’s construction on and use of this land rain water falling upon it drained with an increased flow into and upon the adjacent property of the Nickolas. This result should reasonably have been anticipated by petitioner at the time when the construction work was done.
The Nickolas complained to the petitioner at various times after petitioner began the construction of the theatre that the work resulted in an acceleration and concentration of the flow of water which drained from the petitioner’s property onto the Nickolas’ land causing damage to their crops and roadways. On or about October 11, 1948, the Nickolas filed a suit against the petitioner ... asking for an award for damages done to their property by the accelerated and concentrated drainage of the water and for a permanent injunction restraining the defendant from permitting such drainage to continue. ... The suit was settled by an agreement dated June 27, 1950. This agreement provided for the construction by the petitioner of a drainage system to carry water from its northern boundary across the Nickolas’ property and thence to a public drain. The cost of maintaining the system was to be shared by the petitioner and the Nickolas, and the latter granted the petitioner and its successors an easement across their land for the purpose of constructing and maintaining the drainage system. The construction of the drain was completed in October 1950 under the supervision of engineers employed by the petitioner and the Nickolas at a cost to the petitioner of $8,224, which amount was paid by it in November 1950. The performance by the petitioner on its part of the agreement to construct the drainage system and to maintain the portion for which it was responsible constituted a full release of the Nickolas’ claims against it. The petitioner chose to settle the dispute by constructing the drainage system because it did not wish to risk the possibility that continued litigation might result in a permanent injunction against its use of the drive-in theatre and because it wished to eliminate the cause of the friction between it and the adjacent landowners, who were in a position to seriously interfere with the petitioner’s use of its property for outdoor theatre purposes. A settlement based on a monetary payment for past damages, the petitioner believed, would not remove the threat of claims for future damages.
On its 1950 income and excess profits tax return the petitioner claimed a deduction of $822.40 for depreciation of the drainage system for the period July 1, 1950, to December 31, 1950. The Commissioner disallowed without itemization $5,514.60 of a total depreciation expense deduction of $19,326.41 claimed by the petitioner. In its petition the petitioner asserted that the entire amount spent to construct the drainage system was fully deductible in 1950 as an ordinary and necessary business expense incurred in the settlement of a lawsuit, or, in the alternative, as a loss, and claimed a refund of part of the $10,591.56 of income and excess profits tax paid by it for that year.
The drainage system was a permanent improvement to the petitioner’s property, and the cost thereof constituted a capital expenditure.
When petitioner purchased, in 1947, the land which it intended to use for a drive-in theatre, its president was thoroughly familiar with the topography of this land which was such that when the covering vegetation was removed and graveled ramps were constructed and used by its patrons, the flow of natural precipitation on the lands of abutting property owners would be materially accelerated. Some provision should have been made to solve this drainage problem in order to avoid annoyance and harassment to its neighbors. If petitioner had included in its original construction plans an expenditure for a proper drainage system no one could doubt that such an expenditure would have been capital in nature.
Within a year after petitioner had finished its inadequate construction of the drive-in theatre, the need of a proper drainage system was forcibly called to its attention by one of the neighboring property owners, and under the threat of a lawsuit filed approximately a year after the theatre was constructed, the drainage system was built by petitioner who now seeks to deduct its cost as an ordinary and necessary business expenses, or as a loss.
We agree with respondent that the cost to petitioner of acquiring and constructing a drainage system in connection with its drive-in theatre was a capital expenditure.
Here was no sudden catastrophic loss caused by a ‘physical fault’ undetected by the taxpayer in spite of due precautions taken by it at the time of its original construction work as in American Bemberg Corporation, 10 T.C. 361; no unforeseeable external factor as in Midland Empire Packing Co., 14 T.C. 635; and no change in the cultivation of farm property caused by improvements in technique and made many years after the property in question was put to productive use as in J. H. Collingwood, 20 T.C. 937. In the instant case it was obvious at the time when the drive-in theatre was constructed, that a drainage system would be required to properly dispose of the natural precipitation normally to be expected, and that until this was accomplished, petitioner’s capital investment was incomplete. In addition, it should be emphasized that here there was no mere restoration or rearrangement of the original capital asset, but there was the acquisition and construction of a capital asset which petitioner had not previously had, namely, a new drainage system.
That this drainage system was acquired and constructed and that payments therefor were made in compromise of a lawsuit is not determinative of whether such payments were ordinary and necessary business expenses or capital expenditures. ‘The decisive test is still the character of the transaction which gives rise to the payment.’ Hales-Mullaly v. Commissioner, 131 F.2d 509, 511, 512.
In our opinion the character of the transaction in the instant case indicates that the transaction was a capital expenditure.
Reviewed by the Court.
Decision will be entered for the respondent.
RAUM, J. concurring:
... [I]f provision had been made in the original plans for the construction of a drainage system there could hardly be any question that its cost would have been treated as a capital outlay. The character of the expenditure is not changed merely because it is made at a subsequent time, and I think it wholly irrelevant whether the necessity for the drainage system could have been foreseen, or whether the payment therefor was made as a result of the pressure of a law suit.
FISHER, J., agrees with this concurring opinion.
RICE, J. dissenting:
... [T]he expenditure which petitioner made was an ordinary and necessary business expense, which did not improve, better, extend, increase, or prolong the useful life of its property. The expenditure did not cure the original geological defect of the natural drainage onto the Nickolas’ land, but only dealt with the intermediate consequence thereof. ... I cannot agree with the majority that the expenditure here was capital in nature.
OPPER, JOHNSON, BRUCE, and MULRONEY, JJ., agree with this dissent.
Notes and Questions:
1. Upon reading Midland Empire and the three opinions in Mt. Morris Drive-In, do you get the feeling that repair vs. improvement – at least in close cases – comes down to who can argue facts that fit within certain considerations better? Notice and consider:
- The magnitude of what was done to the properties in the two cases was probably comparable.
- Neither taxpayer could continue in business without making the expenditure.
- Both taxpayers had operational businesses before making the necessary expenditures.
- Is “foreseeability” really the distinction between these two cases? “Foreseeability” of course is a very malleable term.
- Isn’t what Judge Raum wrote equally applicable to the facts of Midland Empire? Why the difference in result?
2. Does “quantitative” eventually becomes “qualitative?” Suppose taxpayer makes many discrete repairs; can they together add up to a renovation? Consider this excerpt from United States v. Wehrli, 400 F.2d 686 (10th Cir. 1968):
In the continuing quest for formularization, the courts have superimposed upon the criteria in the repair regulation an overriding precept that an expenditure made for an item which is part of a “general plan” of rehabilitation, modernization, and improvement of the property, must be capitalized, even though, standing along, the item may appropriately be classified as one of repair. … Whether the plan exists, and whether a particular item is part of it, are usually questions of fact to be determined by the fact finder based upon a realistic appraisal of all the surrounding facts and circumstances, including, but not limited to, the purpose, nature, extent, and value of the work done, e.g., whether the work was done to suit the needs of an incoming tenant, or to adapt the property to a different use, or, in any event, whether what was done resulted in an appreciable enhancement of the property’s value.
Id. at 689(citations and footnotes omitted). Quantity does eventually become quality. Application of the standard of Wehrli will certainly lead to disputes between taxpayers and the IRS. Generalized standards can inherently be unpredictable in application. The IRS and Treasury have worked to provide more predictability in this area through a revenue ruling and most recently rulemaking. As often happens, the difficulty that the IRS and Treasury faced in drafting regulations was to make them general enough to be applicable to a broad range of situations and a great number of taxpayers, yet specific enough to provide meaningful guidance.
3. The excerpt from Illinois Merchants Trust Co. that the court in Midland Empire quoted referenced “ replacements, alterations, improvements, or additions which prolong the life of the property, increase its value, or make it adaptable to a different use.” On the other hand, “[a] repair is an expenditure for the purpose of keeping the property in an ordinarily efficient operating condition. ” Id. Consider some routine (?) maintenance procedures for an automobile. If the taxpayer uses the automobile in a trade or business, should taxpayer treat them as repairs or as expenditures to be capitalized?
- changing the oil; this will certainly prolong the life of the automobile, for failure to do so will destroy the engine;
- replacing the tires warranted for 20,000 miles with tires warranted for 60,000 miles;
- equipping the automobile with a trailer hitch so that taxpayer can attach a flatbed trailer and transport large items;
- flushing the radiator and filling it with antifreeze;
- replacing an engine block that cracked on a cold winter night because taxpayer had not flushed the radiator and filled it with antifreeze.
4. In Rev. Rul. 2001-4, the IRS reviewed the statements of several courts. The following is an excerpt:
Any properly performed repair, no matter how routine, could be considered to prolong the useful life and increase the value of the property if it is compared with the situation existing immediately prior to the repair. Consequently, courts have articulated a number of ways to distinguish between deductible repairs and non-deductible capital improvements. For example, in Illinois Merchants Trust Co. v. Commissioner, 4 B.T.A. 103, 106 (1926), acq., V-2 C.B. 2, the court explained that repair and maintenance expenses are incurred for the purpose of keeping the property in an ordinarily efficient operating condition over its probable useful life for the uses for which the property was acquired. Capital expenditures, in contrast, are for replacements, alterations, improvements, or additions that appreciably prolong the life of the property, materially increase its value, or make it adaptable to a different use. In Estate of Walling v. Commissioner, 373 F.2d 192-93 (3rd Cir. 1966), the court explained that the relevant distinction between capital improvements and repairs is whether the expenditures were made to “put” or “keep” property in ordinary efficient operating condition. In Plainfield-Union Water Co. v. Commissioner, 39 T.C. 333, 338 (1962), nonacq. on other grounds, 1964-2 C.B. 8, the court stated that if the expenditure merely restores the property to the state it was in before the situation prompting the expenditure arose and does not make the property more valuable, more useful, or longer-lived, then such an expenditure is usually considered a deductible repair. In contrast, a capital expenditure is generally considered to be a more permanent increment in the longevity, utility, or worth of the property. …
Even if the expenditures include the replacement of numerous parts of an asset, if the replacements are a relatively minor portion of the physical structure of the asset, or of any of its major parts, such that the asset as [sic] whole has not gained materially in value or useful life, then the costs incurred may be deducted as incidental repairs or maintenance expenses. [citations omitted]. The same conclusion is true even if such minor portion of the asset is replaced with new and improved materials. [citation omitted].
If, however, a major component or a substantial structural part of the asset is replaced and, as a result, the asset as a whole has increased in value, life expectancy, or use then the costs of the replacement must be capitalized. [citations omitted].
In addition, although the high cost of work performed may be considered in determining whether an expenditure is capital in nature, cost alone is not dispositive. [citations omitted].
Similarly, the fact that a taxpayer is required by a regulatory authority to make certain repairs or to perform certain maintenance on an asset in order to continue operating the asset in its business does not mean that the work performed materially increases the value of such asset, substantially prolongs its useful life, or adapts it to a new use. [citations omitted].
The characterization of any cost as a deductible repair or capital improvement depends on the context in which the cost is incurred. Specifically, where an expenditure is made as part of a general plan of rehabilitation, modernization, and improvement of the property, the expenditure must be capitalized, even though, standing alone, the item may be classified as one of repair or maintenance. United States v. Wehrli, 400 F.2d 686, 689 (10th Cir. 1968). Whether a general plan of rehabilitation exists, and whether a particular repair or maintenance item is part of it, are questions of fact to be determined based upon all the surrounding facts and circumstances, including, but not limited to, the purpose, nature, extent, and value of the work done. Id. at 690. The existence of a written plan, by itself, is not sufficient to trigger the plan of rehabilitation doctrine. [citations omitted].
In general, the courts have applied the plan of rehabilitation doctrine to require a taxpayer to capitalize otherwise deductible repair and maintenance costs where the taxpayer has a plan to make substantial capital improvements to property and the repairs are incidental to that plan. [citations omitted].
On the other hand, the courts and the Service have not applied the plan of rehabilitation doctrine to situations where the plan did not include substantial capital improvements and repairs to the same asset, the plan primarily involved repair and maintenance items, or the work was performed merely to keep the property in an ordinarily efficient operating condition. [citations omitted].
5. Consider again our servicing of an automobile.
- changing the oil “keeps” the automobile in operating condition – it does not “put” the automobile in an ordinarily efficient operating condition over its probable useful life for the uses for which it was acquired. It does not prolong the life of the automobile, materially increase its value, or make it adaptable to a different use. Deduct as repair.
- replacing worn out tires with better tires has not appreciably prolonged the life of the automobile or made it more useful. However, it may have increased the value of the automobile to more than it was, even when the 20,000 tires were new. Capitalize.
- equipping the automobile with a trailer hitch may have adapted the automobile to a different use than transporting passengers and made the automobile more useful. Capitalize.
- flushing the radiator and filling it with antifreeze should probably be treated in the same manner as changing the oil. Deduct as repair.
- replacing the engine block is the replacement of a major component or a substantial structural part of the automobile that results in increasing the value, life expectancy, or use of an otherwise permanently and completely inoperable automobile. Capitalize.
These answers are all obvious, right?
6. This revenue ruling did not put an end to disputes between the government and taxpayers. SeeFedex Corp. v. United States, 291 F. Supp. 2d 699 (W.D. Tenn. 2003), aff’d, 412 F.3d 617 (6th Cir. 2005). In Fedex, the court determined that an entire aircraft rather than one of its engines on which work was performed was the appropriate unit of property to distinguish between a repair and an improvement. Id. at 712. The court considered four factors in making this determination:
First, … whether the taxpayer and the industry treat the component part as part of the larger unit of property for regulatory, market, management, or accounting purposes. Second, … whether the economic useful life of the component part is coextensive with the economic useful life of the larger unit of property. Third, … whether the larger unit of property and smaller unit of property can function without each other. Finally, … whether the component part can be and is maintained while affixed to the larger unit of property.
Id. at 710. The court also addressed the problem that all repairs prolong the useful life of an asset in the sense that but for certain repairs, the unit of property becomes inoperable. Rather than compare the condition of the property immediately before and immediately after the repair as the government had urged (id. at 714), the court compared the condition of the property immediately after the repair with its condition immediately after the last such repair. Id. at 716. 2 The court found that the airplane was not worth more than it was immediately after the last servicing of the engine.
7. The IRS and the Treasury Department announced an intention to propose regulations to provide guidance in this area. Notice 2004-6, 2004-3 I.R.B. 308. The IRS and the Treasury Department announced proposed rules in 2006 3 and 2008. 4 In 2011, they issued temporary and proposed regulations. 5 Finally, in September 2013, the IRS and the Treasury Department announced final rules and regulations concerning taxpayer treatment of the costs of acquisition, production, or improvement of tangible property. 6 Except for the treatment of expenditures for “materials and supplies,” the focus of the regulations is to identify those expenditures that taxpayer must capitalize. This is different than regulations that define deductible “repairs” by identifying the characteristics of repairs. Cf. Reg. § 1.162-4 (2011, superseded) ((quoted supra) language closely resembling regulation that Tax Court quoted in first footnote in Midland Empire). As exceptions to such capitalizations, the regulations create so-called safe harbors; taxpayer conformance to the rules of these safe harbors assures them of a certain tax treatment. The regulations also provide that taxpayers may treat “routine maintenance” as a deductible expenditure. In many instances, taxpayers may follow their own accounting practices.
8. New buildings or permanent improvements or betterments to increase value: Reg. § 1.263(a)-1(a) denies deductions for amounts paid for new buildings or for permanent improvements or betterments to increase the value of any property or estate. It also denies deductions for amounts paid to restore property or to make good the exhaustion of property for which an allowance has been made.
- Reg. § 1.263(a)-1(f)(1)(i) now provides an elective de minimis safe harbor under which taxpayers with “applicable financial statements” may deduct expenditures of up to $5000 per invoice
that it treats as an expense on its “applicable financial statement” and in accord with its written accounting procedures. There is no limit to the number of times taxpayer may rely on this
safe harbor during a tax year.
- An “applicable financial statement” is – in order of preference – (1) a financial statement that taxpayer must file with the SEC, (2) a certified audited financial statement that taxpayer uses for credit purposes, reports to shareholders or the like, or for any other substantial non-tax purpose, and (3) a financial statement that taxpayer must provide to a federal or state government agency other than the SEC or the IRS. Reg. § 1.263-1(f)(4).
- Taxpayers without an applicable financial statement, but who maintain throughout the year accounting procedures that treat an item as an expense for non-tax purposes, may expense up to $500 per invoice. Reg. § 1.263(a)-1(f)(1)(ii). Taxpayers with both an applicable financial statement and a non-qualifying financial statement must meet the requirements applicable to taxpayers with an applicable financial statement in order to qualify for the elective de minimis safe harbor. Reg. § 1.263(a)-1(f)(1)(iii).
- These de minimis amounts may be exceeded. “[I]f examining agents and a taxpayer agree that certain amounts in excess of the de minimis safe harbor limitations are not material or otherwise should not be subject to review, that agreement should be respected.” Guidance Regarding Deduction and Capitalization of Expenditures Related to Tangible Property, 78 Fed. Reg. 57686, 57690 (2013).
- There are exceptions to this safe harbor for amounts paid for inventory, land, and certain spare parts. Reg. § 1.263(a)-1(f)(2).
- Taxpayer makes the election annually when filing his/her/its tax return, Reg. § 1.263(a)-1(f)(5), and must make it for all of the property eligible for such treatment. Id.
The importance of this safe harbor is that it eases the accounting burdens of taxpayers – both by not requiring capitalization of de minimis amounts and by allowing taxpayer to use the same accounting information that it uses for certain parties other than the IRS.
9. Unit of property: The new regulations provide a definition of a “unit of property,” i.e., “all the components that are functionally interdependent comprise a single unit of property. Components of property are functionally interdependent if the placing in service of one component by the taxpayer is dependent on the placing in service of the other component by the taxpayer.” Reg. 1.263-3(e)(3)(i).
- There as some exceptions.
- Focus on a “unit of property” often goes far to resolve questions of deductible repair versus capitalized improvement. The larger the “unit of property,” the more substantial may be the components on which work is merely a “repair.” See e.g.,Fedex Corp. v. United States, 291 F. Supp. 2d 699, 712 (W.D. Tenn. 2003), aff’d, 412 F.3d 617 (6th Cir. 2005) (entire aircraft rather than engine was unit of property; cost of servicing engine deductible).
9a. Buildings as units of property: The regulations provide that each building and each structural component are separate single units of property. Reg. § 1.263(a)-3(e)(2)(i). The structural components of a building include HVAC systems, plumbing systems, electrical systems, all escalators, all elevators, fire-protection and alarm systems, security systems, gas distribution systems, and other components identified in published guidance in the Federal Register or the Internal Revenue Bulletin. Reg. § 1.263(a)-3(e)(2)(B).
10. Acquired or produced tangible property: Reg. § 1.263(a)-2(d) provides in part: “Acquired or produced tangible property – (1) Requirement to capitalize. Except [for maintenance and supplies and for the de minimis safe harbor,] a taxpayer must capitalize amounts paid to acquire or produce a unit of real or personal property … including leasehold improvements, land and land improvements, buildings, machinery and equipment, and furniture and fixtures. … Amounts paid to acquire or produce a unit of real or personal property include the invoice price, transaction costs …, and costs for work performed prior to the date that the unit of property is placed in service by the taxpayer (without regard to any applicable convention under section 168(d). A taxpayer also must capitalize amounts paid to acquire real or personal property for resale.”
11. Improvements. Reg. § 1.263(a)-3(d) provides in part: “Requirement to capitalize amounts paid for improvements. Except [for “small taxpayers,” reliance on taxpayer’s own accounting treatment of expenditures, and de minimis expenditures,] … a taxpayer generally must capitalize the related amounts …paid to improve a unit of property owned by the taxpayer. … For purposes of this section, a unit of property is improved if the amounts paid for activities performed after the property is placed in service by the taxpayer –
- Are for a betterment to the unit of property …;
- Restore the unit of property ...; or
- Adapt the unit of property to a new or different use …”
11a. A “betterment”
“(i) Ameliorates a material condition or defect that either existed prior to the taxpayer’s acquisition of the unit of property or arose during the production of the unit of property, whether or not the taxpayer was aware of the condition or defect at the time of acquisition or production;
(ii) Is for a material addition, including a physical enlargement, expansion, extension, or addition of a major component … to the unit of property or a material increase in the capacity, including additional cubic or linear space, of the unit of property; or
(iii) Is reasonably expected to materially increase the productivity, efficiency, strength, quality, or output of the unit of property.”
Reg. § 1.263(a)-3(j)(1). Would the improvement in Mr. Morris Drive-In be a betterment?
11b. A “restoration”
“(i) Is for the replacement of a component of a unit of property for which the taxpayer has properly deducted a loss for that component, other than a casualty loss …;
(ii) Is for the replacement of a component of a unit of property for which the taxpayer has properly taken into account the adjusted basis of the component in realizing gain or loss resulting from the sale or exchange of the component;
(iii) Is for the restoration of damage to a unit of property for which the taxpayer is required to take a basis adjustment as a result of a casualty loss … or relating to a casualty event …;
(iv) Returns the unit to its ordinarily efficient operating condition if the property has deteriorated to a state of disrepair and is no longer functional for its intended use;
(v) Results in the rebuilding of the unit of property to a like-new condition after the end of its class life …; or
(vi) Is for the replacement of a part or a combination of parts that comprise a major component or a substantial structural part of a unit of property …”
Reg. § 1.263(a)-3(k)(1). Whether “a part or a combination of parts … comprise a major component or a substantial structural part of a unit of property” depends on all of the facts and circumstances, including “the quantitative and qualitative significance of the part or combination of parts in relation to the unit of property.” Reg. § 1.263(a)-3(k)(6)(i). Application of this regulation will require distinguishing between parts that are “a major component or a substantial structural part of a unit of property” and those that are not.
11c. An adaptation adapts “a unit of property to a new or different use if the adaptation is not consistent with the taxpayer’s ordinary use of the unit of property at the time originally placed in service by the taxpayer.” Reg. § 1.263(a)-3(l)(1). In the case of a building, the adaptation adapts the building to a “new or different use.” Reg. § 1.263(a)-3(l)(2).
11d. The regulations provide some safe harbors to the regulation governing improvements.
- A “small taxpayer” – one whose average gross receipts for the three preceding taxable years does not exceed $10M – may elect not to apply the improvements provision to building property “if the total amount paid during the taxable year for repairs, maintenance, improvements, and similar activities performed on the … building property does not exceed the lesser of” 2% of the unadjusted basis [of $1M or less] of the building property or $10,000. Reg. § 1.263(a)-3(h)(1, 3, and 4).
- “Routine maintenance” does not improve property. Reg. § 1.263(a)-3(i)(1). “Routine maintenance” is recurring activities that a taxpayer expects to perform in order to keep the building or each building system in “ordinarily efficient operating condition.” In order to be “routine” in the case of a building, taxpayer must expect to perform the activities more than once during the 10-year period following placement in service. In order to be “routine” in the case of other property, taxpayer must expect at the time of placement into service to perform the activities more than once during the class life of the property. Reg. § 1.263(a)-3(i)(i, ii).
- A taxpayer may elect to capitalize all repair and maintenance costs as improvements consistent with the manner in which it keeps its own books and records. § 1.263(a)-3(n)(1). This permits taxpayers who conservatively capitalized all repair and maintenance costs to elect not to undertake the burden of changing their practices.
12. Reg. § 1.162-4(a) permits expensing of residual amounts as “repairs and maintenance.” Additionally, Reg. § 1.162-3 establishes rules for the timing and deductibility of incidental and non-incidental “materials and supplies.” “Materials and supplies” are tangible property that taxpayer uses or consumes in its operations that is not inventory that
- is a component that taxpayer acquires to maintain, repair, or improve a unit of tangible property and that is not acquired as a part of any single unit of tangible property,
- is fuel, lubricants, water, and the like – that taxpayer reasonably expects to consume in 12 months or less, beginning when taxpayer uses the items in its operations,
- is a unit of property with an “economic useful life” (i.e., the period over which taxpayer may reasonably expect the property to be useful and relying on taxpayer’s assessment in its “applicable financial statement” if it has one, Reg. § 1.162-3(c)(4)) of 12 months or less, beginning when the taxpayer uses or consumes the item in its operations,
- is a unit of property whose acquisition cost or production cost is $200 or less, or
- is identified in the Federal Register or the Internal Revenue Bulletin as “materials and supplies.”
“Incidental materials and supplies” are those that taxpayer keeps on hand and of which taxpayer keeps no record of consumption or takes no physical inventory at the beginning and end of the taxable year. Taxpayer may deduct the costs of “incidental materials and supplies” in the year in which it pays for them, provided that its income is clearly reflected. Reg. § 1.162-3(a)(2). “Non-incidental materials and supplies” are, presumably, all other materials and supplies. Taxpayer may deduct their costs when it first uses or consumes them in its operations. Reg. § 1.162-3(a)(1).
“Materials and supplies” are neither a capital asset under § 1221 nor “property used in the trade or business” under § 1231. Reg. § 1.162-3(g). There is no provision to capitalize “materials and supplies” except for rotable spare parts, temporary spare parts, and standby emergency spare parts. Taxpayer must deduct expenditures for other “materials and supplies” at the appropriate time.
The regulation provides special rules for “rotable spare parts,” “temporary spare parts,” and “standby emergency spare parts.” Such parts are all deemed to be “materials and supplies.” Reg. § 1.162-3(c)(2, 3).
- “Rotable spare parts” are parts that taxpayer acquires for installation on a unit of property. They are removable and subject to repair and improvement. Taxpayer may either reinstall the parts or store them for later installation. Reg. § 1.162-3(c)(2).
- “Temporary spare parts” are parts that taxpayer acquires for temporary use until a new or repaired part can be installed. The temporary spare part is removed and stored for later installation. Reg. § 1.162-3(c)(2).
- “Standby emergency spare parts” are parts that taxpayer acquires for particular machinery or equipment that it sets aside to avoid substantial time lost due to emergencies. Taxpayer keeps such parts near the site of the machinery or equipment to which they directly relate so that they are readily available. The parts are normally expensive and available only on special order. The parts are not subject to normal periodic replacement. The parts are not interchangeable with the parts in other machines and equipment. Taxpayer does not acquire them in quantity and does not repair or reuse them. Reg. § 1.162-3(c)(3).
In the case of rotable and temporary spare parts, taxpayer’s first use or consumption is deemed to be the taxable year of disposal of the parts. Reg. § 1.162-3(a)(3). Disposal of rotable and temporary spare parts is an event that may be far into the future for a taxpayer, and taxpayers should hope that they never have to use or consume emergency spare parts. The regulations give taxpayer the option of electing to capitalize and depreciate such assets. The election applies to the taxable year in which taxpayer acquired or produced such parts. Reg. § 1.162-3(d).
- Such an election is not available to the taxpayer if the part’s reasonably expected useful life is 12 months or less beginning with the taxpayer’s use or consumption of the item, if the part’s production or acquisition cost is $200 or less, or if guidance in the Federal Register or in the Internal Revenue Bulletin provides that the item is materials and supplies. Reg. § 1.162-3(d). An election also is not available if the part is a component acquired to maintain, repair, or improve a unit of tangible property that taxpayer owns, leases, or services and not as part of any single unit of tangible property. Id.
- Taxpayer makes the election when filing a tax return for the taxable year in which the asset was placed in service.
With respect to rotable and temporary spare parts, taxpayer may use an optional method of accounting. Under the optional method, taxpayer deducts the amount paid to acquire or produce the part in the taxable year that the part is first installed on a unit of property for use in taxpayer’s operations. Reg. § 1.162-3(e)(2)(i). Upon removal of the part, taxpayer must recapture as gross income the deduction, and the recaptured income subject to tax becomes the basis of the part. Reg. § 1.162-3(e)(2)(ii). Taxpayer must add repair and maintenance expenses of the part to the part’s basis. Reg. § 1.162-3(e)(2)(iii). Upon reinstallation, taxpayer deducts both the costs of reinstallation and the basis of the part. Reg. § 1.162-3(e)(2)(iv). Upon disposal of the part, taxpayer deducts any remaining basis in the part. Reg. § 1.162-3(e)(2)(v). A taxpayer who uses the optional method must use it for all of its pools of rotable and temporary spare parts in the same trade or business and consistently with taxpayer’s accounting method for its own books and records. Reg. § 1.162-3(e)(1).
13. Examples and hypotheticals:
13a. In Year 1, A purchases 10 printers at $250 each for a total cost of $2500 as indicated by the invoice. Assume that each printer is a unit of property. A does not have an AFS. A has accounting procedures in place at the beginning of Year 1 to expense amounts paid for property that costs less than $500, and A treats the amounts paid for the printers as an expense on its books and records. May A deduct the cost of the printers? See Reg. § 1.263(a)-1(i)(7), Example 1.
- Same facts, except that the printers cost $600 each. A has accounting procedures in place at the beginning of Year 1 to expense amounts paid for property costing less than $1000, and A treats the amounts paid for the printers as an expense on its books and records. May A deduct the cost of the printers? See Reg. § 1.263(a)-1(i)(7), Example 2.
13b. A purchases new cash registers for use in its retail store located in leased space in a shopping mall that cost $6000 each. Assume each cash register is a unit of property and is not a material or supply. May A deduct the cost of the cash registers? See Reg. § 1.263(a)-2(d)(2), Example 1.
13c. H owns locomotives that it uses in its railroad business. Each locomotive consists of various components, such as an engine, generators, batteries, and trucks. H acquired a locomotive with all its components. Is the locomotive a single unit of property? See Reg. § 1.263(a)-3(e)(6), Example 8.
13d. J provides legal services to its clients. J purchases a laptop computer and a printer for its employees to use in providing legal services. Are the computer and printer a single unit of property or separate units of property? See Reg. § 1.263(a)-3(e)(6), Example 9.
13e. E is a towboat operator that owns and leases a fleet of towboats. Each towboat is equipped with two diesel-powered engines. Assume that each towboat, including its engines, is the unit of property and that a towboat has a class life of 18 years. At the time that E places its towboats into service, E is aware that approximately every three to four years E will need to perform scheduled maintenance on the two towboat engines to keep the engines in their ordinarily efficient operating condition. This maintenance is completed while the engines are attached to the towboat and involves the cleaning and inspecting of the engines to determine which parts are within acceptable operating tolerances and can continue to be used, which parts must be reconditioned to be brought back to acceptable tolerances, and which parts must be replaced. Engine parts replaced during these procedures are replaced with comparable and commercially available replacement parts. Assume the towboat engines are not rotable spare parts. In Year 1, E acquired a new towboat, including its two engines, and placed the towboat into service. In Year 5, E pays amounts to perform scheduled maintenance on both engines in the towboat. Should E be permitted to deduct these expenses as routine maintenance? See Reg. § 1.263(a)-3(i)(6), Example 9.
13f. Consider the following: In Year 1, X purchased a store located on a parcel of land that contained underground gasoline storage tanks left by prior occupants. Assume that the parcel of land is the unit of property. The tanks had leaked, causing soil contamination. X was not aware of the contamination at the time of purchase. In Year 2, X discovered the contamination and incurred costs to remediate the soil. May X deduct the expenses of soil remediation, or must X capitalize the expenditure? See Reg. 1.263(a)-3(j)(3), Example 1.
13g. X owns an office building that was constructed with insulation that contained asbestos. The health dangers of asbestos were not widely known when the building was constructed. Several years after X places the building into service, B determines that certain areas of asbestos-containing insulation had begun to deteriorate and could eventually pose a health risk to employees. Therefore, X decided to remove the asbestos-containing insulation from the building and replace it with new insulation that was safer to employees, but no more efficient or effective than the asbestos insulation. May X deduct the expenses of removal of the asbestos and replacement with safer insulation, or must X capitalize the expenditure? See Reg. 1.263(a)-3(j)(3), Example 2.
13h. X acquires a building for use in its business of providing assisted living services. Before and after the purchase, the building functioned as an assisted living facility. However, at the time of the purchase, X was aware that the building was in a condition below the standards that it requires for facilities used in its business. Immediately after the acquisition and during the following two years, while X continued to use the building as an assisted living facility, X incurred costs for extensive repairs and maintenance, and the acquisition of new property to bring the facility into the high-quality condition for which X’s facilities are known. The work included repairing damaged drywall; repainting and re-wallpapering ; replacing flooring materials, windows, and tiling and fixtures in bathrooms; replacing window treatments, furniture, and cabinets; and repairing or replacing roofing materials, heating and cooling systems. May X deduct the expenses of bringing the facility into high-quality condition, or must X capitalize the expenditure? See Reg. 1.263(a)-3(j)(3), Example 5 (i and ii).
13i. G is a common carrier that owns a fleet of petroleum hauling trucks. G pays amounts to replace the existing engine, cab, and petroleum tank with a new engine, cab, and tank. Assume the tractor of the truck (which includes the cab and the engine) is a single unit of property and that the trailer (which contains the petroleum tank) is a separate unit of property. May G deduct the expenses of replacing the existing engine, cab, and petroleum tank with a new engine, cab, and tank? See § 1.263(a)-3(k)(7), Example 10.
13j. D owns a parcel of land on which it previously operated a manufacturing facility. Assume that the land is the unit of property. During the course of D’s operation of the manufacturing facility, the land became contaminated with wastes from its manufacturing processes. D discontinues manufacturing operations at the site and decides to develop the property for residential housing. In anticipation of building residential property, D pays an amount to remediate the contamination caused by D’s manufacturing process. In addition, D pays an amount to regrade the land so that it can be used for residential purposes. May D deduct the amounts it paid to clean up the waste? What about the amounts it paid to regrade the land? See Reg. § 1.263(a)-3(l)(3), Example 4.