Repairs vs. Improvements: Complicated IRS Rules (2023)

Understand the IRS rules on improvements including unit of property, betterments versus adaptions, and building systems.

Whenever you fix or replace something in a rental unit or building you need to decide whether the expense is a repair or improvement for tax purposes. Why is this important? Because you can deduct the cost of a repair in a single year, while you have to depreciate improvements over as many as 27.5 years.

For example, if you classify a $10,000 roof expense as a repair, you get to deduct $10,000 this year. If you classify it as an improvement, you have to depreciate it over 27.5 years and you'll get only a $350 deduction this year.

That's a big difference.

Unfortunately, telling the difference between a repair and an improvement can be difficult. In an attempt to clarify matters, the IRS issued lengthy regulations explaining how to tell the difference between repairs and improvements.

(Video) Repairs vs Improvements: What Every PM Needs To Know

For more details on current vs. capital expenses refer to the article Current vs. Capital Expenses.

What Is an Improvement Under IRS Rules?

Under the IRS regulations, property is improved whenever it undergoes a:

  • Betterment
  • Adaptation, or
  • Restoration.

Think of the acronym B A R = Improvement = Depreciate.

If the need for the expense was caused by a particular event—for example, a storm—you must compare the property's condition just before the event and just after the work was done to make your determination. On the other hand, if you're correcting normal wear and tear to property, you must compare its condition after the last time you corrected normal wear and tear (whether maintenance or an improvement) with its condition after the latest work was done. If you've never had any work done on the property, use its condition when placed in service as your point of comparison.


An expenditure is for a betterment if it:

(Video) Capitalization vs Repair Expense

  • ameliorates a "material condition or defect" in the property that existed before it was acquired or when it was produced—it makes no difference whether or not you were aware of the defect when you acquired the unit of property, or UOP (discussed below)
  • results in a "material addition" to the property—for example, physically enlarges, expands, or extends it, or
  • results in a "material increase" in the property's capacity, productivity, strength, or quality.


An expenditure is for a restoration if it:

  • returns a property that has fallen into disrepair to its "ordinarily efficient operating condition"
  • rebuilds the property to a like-new condition after the end of its economic useful life, or
  • replaces a major component or substantial structural part of the property
  • replaces a component of a property for which the owner has taken a loss, or
  • repairs damage to a property for which the owner has taken a basis adjustment for a casualty loss.


You must also depreciate amounts you spend to adapt property to a new or different use. A use is "new or different" if it is not consistent with your "intended ordinary use" of the property when you originally placed it into service.

What Does the IRS Consider a Unit of Property (UOP)?

To determine whether you've improved your business or rental property, you must determine what the property consists of. The IRS calls this the "unit of property" (UOP). How the UOP is defined is crucial. The larger the UOP, the more likely will work done on a component be a deductible repair rather than an improvement that must be depreciated.

For example, if the UOP for an apartment building is defined as the entire building structure as a whole, you could plausibly claim that replacing the fire escapes is a repair since it doesn't seem that significant when compared with the whole building. On the other hand, if the UOP consists of the fire protection system alone, replacing fire escapes would likely be an improvement.

The IRS regulations require that buildings be divided up into as many as nine different UOPs: the entire structure and up to eight separate building systems. An improvement to any of these UOPs must be depreciated.

(Video) Understanding the New IRS Repair Regulations Webinar

UOP #1: The Entire Building

The entire building and its structural components as a whole are a single UOP. A building's structural components include:

  • walls, partitions, floors, and ceilings, and any permanent coverings on them such as paneling or tiling
  • windows and doors
  • all central air conditioning or heating system components
  • plumbing and plumbing fixtures, such as sinks and bathtubs
  • electric wiring and lighting fixtures
  • chimneys
  • stairs, escalators, and elevators
  • sprinkler systems
  • fire escapes
  • other components relating to the operation or maintenance of the building, and
  • roofs.

For example, replacement of a building's roof is an improvement to the building UOP.

UOP #2-9: Building Systems

In addition, the following eight building systems are separate UOPs. An improvement to any one of these systems must be depreciated:

  • Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning ("HVAC") systems: This includes motors, compressors, boilers, furnace, chillers, pipes, ducts, and radiators.
  • Plumbing systems: This includes pipes, drains, valves, sinks, bathtubs, toilets, water and sanitary sewer collection equipment, and site utility equipment used to distribute water and waste.
  • Electrical systems: This includes wiring, outlets, junction boxes, lighting fixtures and connectors, and site utility equipment used to distribute electricity.
  • All escalators.
  • All elevators.
  • Fire-protection and alarm systems: These includes sensing devices, computer controls, sprinkler heads, sprinkler mains, associated piping or plumbing, pumps, visual and audible alarms, alarm control panels, heat and smoke detectors, fire escapes, fire doors, emergency exit lighting and signage, and fire fighting equipment, such as extinguishers and hoses.
  • Security systems: These include window and door locks, security cameras, recorders, monitors, motion detectors, security lighting, alarm systems, entry and access systems, related junction boxes, associated wiring and conduit.
  • Gas distribution system: This includes pipes and equipment used to distribute gas to and from the property line and between buildings.

Using Safe Harbors to Deduct Repairs and Improvements

As the above discussion shows, it can be difficult to determine whether an expense is for a repair or improvement. Fortunately, landlords may use three "safe harbor" rules to bypass the repair-improvement conundrum and currently deduct many expenses regardless of whether they should be classified as improvements or repairs under the IRS regulations. These are:

(Video) Repairs & Maintenance #1 - Deductions

  • the safe harbor for small taxpayers
  • routine maintenance safe harbor, and
  • de minimis safe harbor.

Safe Harbor for Small Taxpayers

The safe harbor for small taxpayers (SHST) allows landlords to currently deduct all annual expenses for repairs, maintenance, improvements, and other costs for a rental building. However, the SHST may only be used for rental buildings that cost $1 million or less. And the annual SHST deduction is limited to the lesser of $10,000 or 2% of the unadjusted basis of the building. This limit is determined on a building by building basis—for example, if you own three rental homes, you apply the limit to each home separately.

Routine Maintenance Safe Harbor

Expenses that qualify for the routine maintenance safe harbor are automatically deductible in a single year, even if they would otherwise qualify as improvements that ordinarily must be depreciated over several years. Routine maintenance consists of recurring work a building owner does to keep an entire building, or each system in a building, in ordinarily efficient operating condition. It includes:

  • inspection, cleaning, and testing of the building structure and/or each building system, and
  • replacement of damaged or worn parts with comparable and commercially available replacement parts.

Routine maintenance can be performed and deducted under the safe harbor any time during the property's useful life. However, building maintenance qualifies for the routine maintenance safe harbor only if, when you placed the building or building system into service, you reasonably expected to perform such maintenance more than once every ten years. Moreover, the safe harbor may not be used for expenses for betterments or restorations of buildings or other business property in a state of disrepair.

De Minimis Safe Harbor

Landlords may use the de minimis safe harbor to currently deduct any low-cost property items used in their rental business, regardless of whether or not the item would constitute a repair or an improvement under the regular repair regulations. The safe harbor can be used for personal property and for building components that come within the deduction ceiling. For example, it could be used for the cost to replace a building component like a garage door or bathroom sink. For most landlords, the maximum amount that can be deducted under this safe harbor is $2,500 per item, as shown on the invoice.

All expenses you deduct using the de minimis safe harbor must be counted toward the annual limit for using the safe harbor for small taxpayers (the lesser of 2% of the rental's cost or $10,000).

(Video) 2022_2_23_Taxing Matters

For the latest IRS rules on repairs and improvements, see the IRS online guide Tangible Property Regulations—Frequently Asked Questions.


What is a repair and what is an improvement? ›

How do you tell the difference between the two? Here's a rule of thumb: An improvement is work that prolongs the life of the property, enhances its value or adapts it to a different use. On the other hand, a repair merely keeps property in efficient operating condition.

Can you capitalize repairs and maintenance? ›

When can equipment repairs be capitalized? Equipment repairs and/or purchase of parts over $5,000 (including upgrades and improvement) which increase the usefulness and efficiency of the equipment can be capitalized.

Are repairs an allowable expense? ›

Even if an asset has been recently acquired, the cost of repairs usually remains allowable expenditure. For example, the cost of routine repairs and maintenance remains allowable expenditure.

What counts as home improvement for tax purposes? ›

Examples Of Tax Deductible Repairs

Stone Cleaning. Damp and Rot Treatment. Replacing Roof Slates, Flashing and Guttering. Mending Broken Windows, Doors, Furniture and Appliances.

Are repairs or improvements better for taxes? ›

As far as taxes go, repairs to a rental property are always better than improvements. Why? The entire cost of a repair is deductible in a single year, while the cost of an improvement to the rental property may have to be depreciated over as much as 27.5 years.

What are the 3 types of improvement? ›

Thinking about the different approaches in three distinct levels – incremental improvement, redesign, and rethink – can help formulate the right approach.

What is the difference between a repair and a capital improvement? ›

A capital improvement would include major work such as refurbishing the kitchen converting a room or attaching a conservatory. A repair on the other hand is general maintenance, for example, repairing a tap, repainting surfaces, fixing the air conditioning, or maintenance on appliances.

What qualifies as repairs and maintenance? ›

The costs incurred to bring an asset back to an earlier condition or to keep the asset operating at its present condition (as opposed to improving the asset).

Is painting a repair or improvement? ›

By itself, the cost of painting the exterior of a building is generally a currently deductible repair expense because merely painting isn't an improvement under the capitalization rules.

Is carpet a repair or improvement? ›

An expense is for an improvement if it results in a betterment to your property, restores your property, or adapts your property to a new or different use. Carpet replacement is considered an improvement, and is depreciated over a 5-year period (9 years under the alternative system).

What repairs are considered capital improvements? ›

The IRS indicates what constitutes a real property capital improvement as follows:
  • Fixing a defect or design flaw.
  • Creating an addition, physical enlargement or expansion.
  • Creating an increase in capacity, productivity or efficiency.
  • Rebuilding property after the end of its economic useful life.

What household repairs are tax deductible? ›

According to TaxSlayer, examples of improvements include adding a new driveway, a new roof, new siding, insulation in the attic, a new septic system or built-in appliances. Improvements are typically tax-deductible, but some are only deductible in the year the home is sold.

How do you prove home improvements without receipts? ›

A: You can deduct any home improvements that you can prove. You don't necessarily need receipts; photos, contracts, statements from contractors, or affidavits from neighbors, may be enough to convince the IRS that you actually did work.

Is bathroom remodeling tax-deductible? ›

Improvements that qualify as medical expenses

The cost of installing entrance or exit ramps, modifying bathrooms, lowering cabinets, widening doors and hallways and adding handrails, among others, are home improvements that can be deducted as medical expenses.

Is a kitchen remodel tax-deductible? ›

Yes, kitchen upgrades are generally considered to be capital improvements under the IRS's guidelines. In fact, new kitchens, new kitchen appliances and new flooring can all qualify.

Is replacing windows a repair or improvement? ›

Capital improvement: When you replace a window to improve the overall value of the property, either in curb appeal, tenant comfort, or functionality of the window. Capital improvements are any repairs or replacements that increase the value of the property or extend the useful life of the property.

Is new flooring considered a capital improvement? ›

As a rental property owner, you can deduct the cost of a repair on your taxes each year. However, a capital improvement should be capitalized and included in the cost basis for later.
Capital improvements vs. routine repairs.
ImprovementDoes it qualify for a deduction?
Replacing flooring you installedNo
12 more rows
11 Oct 2021

What is the difference between repairs and improvements for a rental property? ›

An improvement is something that adds value or extends the useful life of a rental property. Whereas repairs restore something that broke to its original condition, improvements add value for future years.

What are 5 areas of improvement? ›

What are areas of improvement? Areas of improvement are skills, qualities or abilities that an employee could develop or enhance. Areas of improvement could include time management, delegation, organization, communication and engagement. Many of these skills and abilities are those that employees use daily at work.

What are the 4 stages of improvement? ›

Phases of the Continuous Improvement Process (CIP)
  • Phase 1 “Plan”: Plan for change and identify improvement opportunities.
  • Phase 2 “Do”: Implement changes identified.
  • Phase 3 “Study”: Check to determine if the change had the desired outcome.
  • Phase 4 “Act”: If successful, implement it across the organization and process.

Is Replacing a faucet a capital improvement? ›

Capital Improvement Repairs

Repairing a leaky faucet or painting an apartment isn't a capital improvement because it doesn't increase the sale value of the building.

Is replacing a door a capital improvement? ›

For example, if you replaced a steel door with a wooden door because steel doors were not available, you could classify the expense as a repair rather than a capital improvement. You must capitalize and depreciate expenses related to adapting a UOP to a new or different use.

Is a new refrigerator a capital improvement? ›

The IRS distinguishes between a capital improvement and a repair or replacement due to normal wear and tear. For example, if your refrigerator breaks after several years of service, or you have leaky pipes, those repairs are not capital improvements.

What are the 4 types of maintenance? ›

4 types of maintenance strategy, which one to chose?
  • Corrective maintenance.
  • Preventive maintenance.
  • Risk-based maintenance.
  • Condition-based maintenance.

What is the difference between maintenance and improvement? ›

Maintenance costs are expenses for routine actions that keep your building's assets in their original condition; these typically fall under Repairs and Maintenance (“R&M”) in your operating budget. On the other hand, capital expenditures/improvements are investments you make to increase the value of your asset.

What are examples of repairs? ›

An example of a repair is a fixed brake system on a car. To amend; set right; remedy. To repair a mistake. The act, process, or work of repairing.

Is carpet an improvement? ›

Is new carpeting for a home office considered a repair or an improvement? According to IRS, any expense that increases the capacity, strength or quality of your property is an improvement. New wall-to-wall carpeting falls under this category.

Is a new roof tax deductible in 2022? ›

Unfortunately, you cannot deduct the cost of a new roof. Installing a new roof is considered a home improvement and home improvement costs are not deductible. However, home improvement costs can increase the basis of your property.

What is the difference between renovate and repair? ›

Renovation means “restore to a good state of repair.” Renovations can often be subtle, improving on the existing building or house. Or, they can be drastic, much like a remodel. Remember construction involvingrenovation often refers to “restoring” or “repairing” an existing structure, replacing the old with the new.

Is carpet 5 or 7 year property? ›

Today, most carpets are tacked down, and qualify as personal property with a five-year depreciation period.

What is considered a repair? ›

An asset is generally restored to its previous good condition when it's repaired. It's not improved upon. Repairs can usually be completed for a reasonable amount of money. Replacement of broken appliances is usually also considered to be a repair.

What qualifies as qualified improvement property? ›

Last Updated September 29, 2021. Qualified improvement property is an improvement made by the taxpayer to an interior portion of a nonresidential building if the improvement is placed in service after the building was first placed in service.

What does the IRS consider capital improvements? ›

The IRS defines a capital improvement as a home improvement that adds market value to the home, prolongs its useful life or adapts it to new uses. Minor repairs and maintenance jobs like changing door locks, repairing a leak or fixing a broken window do not qualify as capital improvements.

What is the difference between repair and maintenance? ›

Repairs are restoration work for when something gets broken, damaged or stops working. Maintenance are routine activities meant to prevent damage and prolong the life of appliances, fixtures, and the property itself.

Which repairs and improvements to business property must be capitalized? ›

To determine when a repair or improvement must be capitalized, a handy trick is to remember the phrase “the BAR isn't so high.” If an expenditure is a Betterment, Adaptation, or Restoration (“BAR”) of business property then it generally must be capitalized.

What home repairs are tax-deductible 2021? ›

Home improvements on a personal residence are generally not tax deductible for federal income taxes. However, installing energy efficient equipment may qualify you for a tax credit, and renovations for medical purposes may qualify as tax deductible.

What percentage of home improvements are tax-deductible? ›

Tax Credit for Energy-Efficient Improvements
If the Property Was Placed in ServicePercentage of Cost That Qualifies
After December 31, 2016, and before January 1, 202030%
After December 31, 2019, and before January 1, 202326%
After December 31, 2022, and before January 1, 202422%

How does IRS verify cost basis? ›

Preferred Records for Tax Basis

According to the IRS, taxpayers need to keep records that show the tax basis of an investment. For stocks, bonds and mutual funds, records that show the purchase price, sales price and amount of commissions help prove the tax basis.

What happens if you get audited and don't have receipts? ›

If you get audited and don't have receipts or additional proofs? Well, the Internal Revenue Service may disallow your deductions for the expenses. This often leads to gross income deductions from the IRS before calculating your tax bracket.

What happens if you dont have receipts for IRS audit? ›

If the IRS seeks proof of your business expenses and you don't have receipts, you can create a report on your expenses. As a result of the Cohan Rule, business owners can claim expenses without receipts, provided the expenses are reasonable for that business.

What is the Cohan rule? ›

Cohan rule is a that has roots in the common law. Under the Cohan rule taxpayers, when unable to produce records of actual expenditures, may rely on reasonable estimates provided there is some factual basis for it. The rule allows taxpayers to claim certain tax deductions on the basis of such estimates.

What renovation expenses are tax deductible? ›

Rental property repairs, including home office renovations, can be deductible in the year they are performed. Renovations to your rental home, such as a new kitchen, bathroom renovation, a laundry room expansion, or upgraded appliances, increase its value, but they also depreciate over time.

Can you write off new windows on your taxes? ›

You may be entitled to a tax credit of up to $500*** if you installed energy-efficient windows, skylights, doors or other qualifying items in 2022**. Current federal tax credits for certain energy-efficient improvements to existing homes have been extended through December 31, 2022.

Are showers tax deductible? ›

If you are away from home, overnight, on business your travel expenses are deductible. Meals on the road are deductible even if you generally eat cheaper at home. I would put showers in the same category - it's a necessary travel expense if you are away from home overnight, similar to lodging.

Can you claim new countertops on taxes? ›

Simply stated, the remodeling cost can be deducted from your capital gains, providing the renovation was an eligible capital improvement.

Do home improvements help with taxes? ›

When you make a home improvement, such as installing central air conditioning or replacing the roof, you can't deduct the cost in the year you spend the money. But, if you keep track of those expenses, they may help you reduce your taxes in the year you sell your house.

What is your definition of repair? ›

Definition of repair

(Entry 1 of 4) transitive verb. 1a : to restore by replacing a part or putting together what is torn or broken : fix repair a shoe. b : to restore to a sound or healthy state : renew repair his strength. 2 : to make good : compensate for : remedy repair a gap in my reading.

What is considered an improvement to property? ›

In property and real estate law, an improvement is any positive permanent change to land that augments the property's value. An improvement will cause positive change to the land, increase the value, and will allow the landowner to make productive use of the property.

What is the meaning by improvement? ›

: the act or process of making something better His cooking needs improvement. : increased value or excellence. I've noticed improvement in your work. 3. : an addition or change that makes something better or more valuable.

What is the legal definition of repair? ›

repair. v. to restore to former condition or in some contracts to operational soundness. Contracts should spell out the repairs to be made and what the final condition will be.

What are examples of repairs? ›

An example of a repair is a fixed brake system on a car. To amend; set right; remedy. To repair a mistake. The act, process, or work of repairing.

What can I say instead of repair? ›

  • fix up,
  • furbish,
  • overhaul,
  • rebuild,
  • reconstruct,
  • refurbish.

What is a major repair definition? ›

Major repair means a repair: (1) That, if improperly done, might appreciably affect weight, balance, structural strength, performance, powerplant operation, flight characteristics, or other qualities affecting airworthiness; or.

How do you prove home improvements without receipts? ›

A: You can deduct any home improvements that you can prove. You don't necessarily need receipts; photos, contracts, statements from contractors, or affidavits from neighbors, may be enough to convince the IRS that you actually did work.

What qualifies as repairs and maintenance? ›

The costs incurred to bring an asset back to an earlier condition or to keep the asset operating at its present condition (as opposed to improving the asset).

Is painting a repair or improvement? ›

By itself, the cost of painting the exterior of a building is generally a currently deductible repair expense because merely painting isn't an improvement under the capitalization rules.

What is an example of improve? ›

An example of improve is when you make a new product that is better than the old one. An example of improve is when you practice piano until you learn to play better. To make (something) better; to increase the value or productivity (of something). Painting the woodwork will improve this house.

What does Improvement Needed mean? ›

More Definitions of Needs Improvement

Needs Improvement means having more than two lower risk level violations or one or more higher risk level violations.

What's a good word for improvement? ›

Some common synonyms of improve are ameliorate, better, and help.

What is the difference between a repair and an alteration? ›

A Repair is the reconstruction or renewal of any part of an existing building for the purpose of its maintenance per current adopted building codes. An Alteration is any construction or renovation to an existing structure other than repair or addition per current adopted building codes.

What are the principles of repair? ›

These six principles will help:
  • Plan, rather than react. Focus resources on preventing downtime, not on reacting to downtime you should have prevented. ...
  • Be equipped to do the job. ...
  • Follow the plan. ...
  • Actively seek feedback and advice. ...
  • Adjust as needed. ...
  • Keep others in the loop.
29 Feb 2016

What is the difference between maintaining and repairing? ›

Repairs are restoration work for when something gets broken, damaged or stops working. Maintenance are routine activities meant to prevent damage and prolong the life of appliances, fixtures, and the property itself. Examples include regular cleaning of air-conditioning units, grease traps, repainting, and the likes.


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