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Rental Property Repairs vs. Improvements

What's the difference between a repair and an improvement for a rental property? The distinction can have a big impact on your taxes.

Kate Mallison
Kate Mallison

As a landlord, it’s essential to know the difference between repairs to your rental property and improvements to the property, because the distinction can have a big impact on your taxes. Repair costs can be deducted in their entirety that same tax year, while improvement costs must be deducted over the course of several years. The specific number of years depends on the type of improvement.

Related: Repair Strategies for Landlords and Property Managers


A repair is a basic fix to keep something in working order. Sometimes these are called operating expenses. Repairs can include buying replacement parts for appliances, patching a roof or worn carpet, or even something as simple as unclogging a drain.

Repairs are not big-ticket items, and they are not upgrades. Rather, repairs prolong the life of the original appliance, structure, or amenity.

As stated above, the full cost of a repair in a rental property can be written off as a tax deduction. For this reason, experienced landlords recommend keeping track of your expenses and saving receipts. Some even use a digital filing system with categories to avoid the “receipts-in-a-shoebox” method of organization.

Tellus Tip

If you’re keeping track of your receipts in Tellus, it’s easy to sort expenses by category and see how much you spent on repairs at any given time.

Related: Tellus Features: Finances

Related: How Much Cash Does a Landlord Need for a Reserve Fund?


Improvements are considered upgrades. Unlike repairs, where the life of an appliance or structure is prolonged, an improvement makes a full-out replacement. Improvements are usually more expensive, and include items such as new kitchen appliances, a bathroom remodel, a roof replacement, or a new water heater.

Since improvements have the potential to add significant value to the home for years to come, tax deductions are not claimed all at once. Instead, each improvement’s value is recuperated over the course of the improvement’s useful lifetime. This process is known as depreciation.

For example, if you put in a new carpet, the IRS claims a useful life of 5 years (assuming the carpet is tacked down, as most carpets are these days, as opposed to glued down). If you spent $5000 on the carpet, you would be able to claim ⅕ of that ($1000) as a deduction each year for five years.

The IRS sets specific timeframes for depreciation, which affects how much you can deduct for improvements each year. The following table shows several examples. Note that the land never depreciates, since land can always be built on again.

Item Depreciation Schedule
Carpet (tacked down) 5 years
Appliances 5 years
Furniture 5 years
Office furniture 7 years
Fences 15 years
Driveways 15 years
Roads 15 years
Furnaces 27.5 years
Pipes 27.5 years
Carpet (glued down) 27.5 years
Residential buildings 27.5 years
Commercial buildings 27.5 years

Repairs vs. Improvements

To better understand this important distinction, here are some examples of expenses that would be considered repairs vs. improvements:

Repairs Improvements
Patching worn carpet Installing new carpet
Patching the roof Replacing the roof
Tightening a loose doorknob Replacing the door
Fixing broken cabinets Remodeling the kitchen
Replacing an electric burner Replacing the stove
Replacing a valve Installing new pipes

Final Word

Repairs prolong the life of an amenity while improvements upgrade it and increase the value of the home. Repairs can be deducted in their full amount each year, but improvements must follow a depreciation schedule set by the IRS. Understanding the difference will help your taxes be much more straightforward!

If you want to keep your rental property expenses organized for tax season, try using Tellus.

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