What Does It Mean To Materially Participate In Real Estate?

What is material participation? What are the material participation tests? And what does it mean to materially participate in real estate?

What Are Material Participation Tests?

Material Participation Tests are IRS guidelines designed to determine a taxpayer's significant, ongoing, and consistent engagement in activities that generate income, such as business ventures, trades, and rental properties. These seven tests gauge the extent of a taxpayer's involvement. Material participation is generally only confirmed if at least one of these tests is met.

If a taxpayer does not meet the criteria outlined in any of the seven material participation tests, they are subject to the passive activity rules, which restrict the deduction of passive losses. As such, taxpayers looking to qualify for material participation will need to keep detailed records and furnish written evidence to substantiate their qualification claim to the IRS.

Key Takeaways

  • The seven Material Participation Tests are IRS criteria for determining an individual’s eligibility as a regular, substantial, and continuous participant in an income-producing activity such as a business, trade, or rental activity.
  • Taxpayers who materially participate can deduct passive losses against active income.
  • A taxpayer must qualify for at least one of the material participation tests to qualify.
  • Long-term rental of real estate is a passive activity even if you participate materially. You are exempted from this if you qualify for real estate professional status.
  • The get the benefits of material participation in real estate you must qualify you for REPS, for this designation you will need to meet separate tests. Doing so will allow you to deduct passive rental real estate losses against other active income.

Material Participation Tests Explained

The primary objective of IRS material participation tests is to ensure that taxpayers are actively engaged in the management and operation of the business or investment, rather than merely acting as passive investors or providing financial backing. 

Meeting the requirements for material participation enables taxpayers to treat their involvement as non-passive, leading to potential tax benefits. Material participation tests focus on two fundamentals:

  1. The number of hours or periods during which the taxpayer consistently and substantially engages in the business, trade, or rental activity.
  2. The nature of the work performed, emphasizing regular involvement in the day-to-day operations of the business, as evidenced by records such as work calendars and appointment diaries.

The IRS performs these tests annually. If you are found to materially participate, for example in the management of your rentals, you will not be restricted by the passive activity rules.

There are some exceptions. For example, if you fail to prove your material participation claims or if your income is generated by an ‘at-risk’ activity as per the Tax Reform Act of 1976. The at-risk rules aim to prevent taxpayers from deducting losses that exceed the amount they have personally invested or are at risk of losing in the activity.

What Is Passive Activity?

Passive activities typically includes businesses or trades in which the taxpayer has a non-active role - for example, investing in a company and receiving dividends, but not being involved in the management of that company.

In these scenarios, taxpayers are unable to deduct losses from these passive activities against income from non-passive sources. Instead, passive losses can only be used to offset passive income.

Rental real estate is considered a passive activity meaning real estate losses are only deductible against passive real estate income.

If a taxpayer is unable to deduct passive losses in a given tax year due to the limitations, those losses can be carried forward to offset losses in future tax years.

Taxpayers who materially participate in a rental real estate activity may be able to avoid the passive activity loss limitations altogether by qualifying for Real Estate Professional Status (REPS)

What Are The Seven Material Participation Tests?

The IRS employs material participation tests to assess whether an individual qualifies as a material participant in various business, trade, or rental activities. Below are the seven material participation tests:

  1. 500-Hour Test: Taxpayers must engage in the activity for more than 500 hours during the tax year. Participation can take various forms, including attending meetings, handling administrative tasks, or making management decisions.
  2. Regular, Continuous, and Substantial Activity Test: This test evaluates the consistency and significance of an individual's involvement in the activity. To meet the criteria, taxpayers must demonstrate that their participation is regular, continuous, and substantial compared to others involved, such as employees.
  3. Maximum Participation Test: This test assesses whether a taxpayer's participation in the activity exceeds 100 hours during the tax period. Additionally, their involvement should surpass that of other individuals, such as non-interest owners.
  4. Significant Participation Activity (SPA) Test: Taxpayers must demonstrate their involvement in Significant Participation Activities for over 500 hours in the tax year. These activities must have each involved 100 hours or more of participation, and the taxpayer must not have qualified under previous material participation tests.
  5. Historical Participation Test: Material participation is established if a taxpayer has participated significantly in the activity for at least five years within the preceding ten tax years, regardless of whether consecutive.
  6. Personal Service Activity Test: Applicable to individuals engaged in personal service activities like law or medicine, this test requires material participation in such activities for three of the past five tax years.
  7. Facts and Circumstances Test: When none of the previous tests apply, taxpayers can still qualify as material participants by demonstrating regular, continuous, and substantial involvement in the activity for a minimum of 100 hours in the tax year. This test considers factors such as the taxpayer's expertise, time devoted to the activity, and role in decision-making, particularly when others have not contributed as much or are not compensated for managing the activity.

Source: IRS Publication 925, Passive Activity and At-Risk Rules


Long-term rental of real estate is a passive activity even if you participate materially. You are exempted from this if you’re a real estate professional.

Materially Participating: Examples

Let us look at some examples to understand the concept better:

Example #1: Business Activity

Mr. A is an investor in ACME Ltd. and appears as a partner in the company's records. However, when the IRS conducted the seven material participation tests, he failed. Consequently, he is unable to claim tax deductions for the passive losses incurred from ordinary income.

Example #2: Rental Activity

Mr. B owns a portfolio of rental real estate. She meets the Significant Participation Activity Test and keeps detailed records of her activities. However, she fails the 750 hour real estate professional criteria. As such, despite materially participating, her rental real estate income is still subject to passive activity rules and can only be deducted against her passive rental income.

Material Participation, Real Estate, and REPS

The Real Estate Professional Status (REPS) is a specific material participation designation for real estate investors. 

As mentioned above, rental real estate is deemed a passive activity by the IRS even if you meet the above material participation tests.

To qualify as an active participant in rental real estate you will need to meet the REPS requirements. 

Real Estate Professional Status (REPS) is a designation established by the IRS that allows individuals involved in real estate businesses to classify their rental real estate activities as non-passive, regardless of whether they meet the material participation tests. 

To qualify for REPS, individuals must meet two criteria:

  • More than 50% of Personal Services: The individual must spend more than 50% of their personal service hours during the tax year in real property trades or businesses in which they materially participate.
  • 750 Hours of Real Property Trades or Businesses: The individual must spend at least 750 hours during the tax year in real property trades or businesses in which they materially participate.

Meeting these criteria grants real estate professionals the ability to deduct rental real estate losses against non-passive income, without being subject to the passive activity loss limitations.

Active involvement in the management and operations of rental properties is essential to demonstrate material participation. This can include activities such as:

  • Conducting property maintenance and repairs
  • Screening and selecting tenants
  • Negotiating leases and rental agreements
  • Managing finances and accounting for rental income and expenses
  • Making significant decisions regarding property improvements or acquisitions

As with material participation, you will need to keep accurate and detailed records of your qualifying activities to prove to the IRS that you qualify for REPS. 

Special Considerations for Material Participation Tests

Taxpayers with an ownership interest in a venture receive participation credit for work done for it. They establish their participation by identifying the hours spent and the nature of the work done. Taxpayers base participation on records they maintain, such as appointment books, calendars, narrative summaries, or any other reasonable means.

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Material Participation FAQs

1. How does the IRS see active vs. passive participation in generating income?

According to the IRS, any taxpayer who engages in regular, substantial, and continuous management of an income-generating activity and clears any material participation tests, thereby becoming an active participant in the respective activity.

2. How Do You Verify Material Participation?

Taxpayers need to keep records of the number of hours of material participation in an activity, and be able to provide written evidence if need be. Tasks an investor might typically undertake, like reviewing stock charts, would not meet the participation burden, unless that taxpayer was substantially involved in the management of a particular activity.

3. How does material participation impact taxes?

If taxpayers can show their material participation in the business, trade, or rental activity, they can claim tax deductions for the total losses incurred in that tax period.

4. Can you qualify for REPS if you work a W-2 job?

Whilst it is possible, it's also unusual for people to qualify for REPS when they have a W-2 job. The reason for this is the time requirements for qualifying for REPS mean you would likely be working 50-60 hour weeks if you also held a W-2. Reporting both then, is very likely to get your claims closely scrutinized by the IRS, so make sure you have detailed an accurate records of all qualifying real estate activities.

5. Do real estate investors need to qualify for REPS to be deemed material participants?

Real estate is considered a passive investment, even if you meet the material participation test guidelines. Individuals who want to treat their real estate income and expenses as active/ non-passive, will need to meet the requirements for REPS.