IRS Tax Relief for Hurricane Victims

10 10 2017

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offered a rundown of key tax relief available to victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. In general, the IRS relief to individuals and businesses applies anywhere in Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, as well as parts of Texas.

Because the relief postpones various tax deadlines, individuals and businesses have until Jan. 31, 2018 to file any returns and pay any taxes due. Those eligible for the extra time include:

  • Individual filers whose tax-filing extension runs out on Oct. 16, 2017. Because tax payments related to these 2016 returns were originally due on April 18, 2017, those payments are not eligible for this relief, it only impacts the filing
  • Business filers, such as calendar-year partnerships, whose extensions ran out on Sept. 15, 2017
  • Quarterly estimated tax payments due on Sept. 15, 2017 and Jan. 16, 2018
  • Quarterly payroll and excise tax returns due on Oct. 31, 2017
  • Calendar-year tax-exempt organizations whose 2016 extensions run out on Nov. 15, 2017

variety of other returns, payments and tax-related actions also qualify for additional time. The IRS also continues to closely monitor the aftermath of these storms, and additional updates for taxpayers and tax professionals will be posted to IRS.gov.

Besides extra time to file and pay, the IRS offers other special assistance to disaster-area taxpayers. This includes the following:

  • Special relief helps employer-sponsored leave-based donation programs aid hurricane victims. Under these programs, employees may forgo their vacation, sick or personal leave in exchange for cash payments the employer makes, before Jan. 1, 2019, to charities providing relief. Donated leave is not included in the employee’s income, and employers may deduct these cash payments to charity as a business expense.
  • 401(k)s and similar employer-sponsored retirement plans can make loans and hardship distributions to hurricane victims and members of their families. Under this broad-based relief, a retirement plan can allow a hurricane victim to take a hardship distribution or borrow up to the specified statutory limits from the victim’s retirement plan. It also means that a person who lives outside the disaster area can take out a retirement plan loan or hardship distribution and use it to assist a son, daughter, parent, grandparent or dependent who lived or worked in the disaster area. Hardship withdrawals must be made by Jan. 31, 2018.
  • The IRS is waiving late-deposit penalties for federal payroll and excise tax deposits normally due during the first 15 days of the disaster period. Check out the disaster relief page for the time periods that apply to each jurisdiction.
  • Individuals and businesses who suffered uninsured or unreimbursed disaster-related losses can choose to claim them on either the return for the year the loss occurred (in this instance, the 2017 return normally filed next year), or the return for the prior year (2016). See Publication 547 for details.
  • The IRS is waiving the usual fees and expediting requests for copies of previously filed tax returns for disaster area taxpayers. This relief can be especially helpful to anyone whose copies of these documents were lost or destroyed by the hurricane.
  • If disaster-area taxpayers are contacted by the IRS on a collection or examination matter, they should be sure to explain how the disaster impacts them so that the IRS can provide appropriate consideration to their case.

Further details on these and other relief provisions can be found on the agency’s disaster relief page, as well as on the special pages for Hurricane Harvey and Hurricanes Irma and Maria. For information on disaster recovery, visit disasterassistance.gov.

Source: Florida Realtors

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Congress Considers Post-Hurricane Flood Insurance Programs

9 10 2017

For the first time since 2005, four hurricanes have made a U.S. landfalls in a single hurricane season in over a decade.

The path of destruction in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate is catastrophic and there is an enormous financial jam facing the National Flood Insurance Program.  There has never been a greater need for the program. But that need has also set off a new round of calls to dramatically overhaul a program that hasn’t been able to sustain itself without major subsidies from the U.S. Treasury.

Established in 1968 to help homeowners living in flood-prone areas that private insurers wouldn’t cover, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has never been on steady financial footing, and continued construction in low-lying areas — as well as more frequent and powerful storms attributed to climate change — have put the NFIP deeply in the red.

As a result, Congress repeatedly finds itself re-authorizing new money to support the program. Even before Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the program was set to expire on Sept. 30, and no new insurance policies can be written until it’s re-authorized again. 

Few home insurance policies cover flood damage, and nearly all U.S. flood insurance policies are issued through the program. To qualify for national flood insurance, a home must be in a community that has agreed to adopt and enforce various policies to reduce flooding risk.  

It’s hard to find a member of Congress who will call for an outright abolition of the program, which would likely destabilize real estate markets and property tax bases in those areas. So the aim among some legislators is to pass laws that will encourage homeowners to move into the private market.

One option is to raise the premiums for government insurance to help sustain the program, discourage new construction in high-risk areas and hope that as rates rise, more private companies will enter the flood insurance market.

The fear of many lawmakers who represent these homeowners is that a substantial rise in rates will be more than some can afford. 

The issue had the potential to become a crisis as congressional insiders worried that re-authorizing the program could get tangled up in fights over raising the debt ceiling and funding the government. But to the surprise of nearly everyone, President Trump cut a deal with Democratic leaders to re-authorize the program for the short-term and push all of those big decisions into December. 

Now, activists and member of Congress who want to overhaul the flood insurance program have an opportunity to make their case over the next couple of months.

They argue that government-subsidized insurance encourages more people to build in flood-prone areas — which then forces the government to rebuild their homes after every flood at taxpayer expense.

Those advocating an overhaul include taxpayer watchdogs, environmentalists, insurance companies and members of Congress who oppose bailing out areas that allowed building in flood-prone areas. They’re pushing for legislation that requires better flood plain mapping that takes climate change into account, stricter building regulations requiring measures like elevating homes and buildings to reduce flood risk, and setting sustainable insurance rates that won’t shock the market.

A powerful trifecta of interests groups comprised of bankers, real estate agents and home construction companies have fought these efforts. 

Back in 2012, former President Obama signed into law a major Congressional overhaul of the flood insurance program. Among the changes: eliminating subsidies for homes that are repeatedly damaged by flooding. 

But some homeowners and their representatives in Congress protested the steep price increase. In early 2014, Congress and Obama reversed course, passing into law a cap that would limit premium increases and mostly unwound the 2012 efforts. 

Now, many House members are pushing to let the private market take over the job of insuring properties in flood zones.

Supporters of the legislation in the House say they are undeterred, believing it’s the most popular proposal for changing the program and will inevitably pass.

For now, no one on Capitol Hill seems inclined to increase the misery of those affected in Houston by drastically changing the flood insurance program for those who are currently filing claims. And the Florida and Texas delegations have vowed to combine their legislative firepower to protect their constituencies — members from both parties say protecting the program is a key priority.

Source: The Eagle (Bryan-College Station, TX.)

 





Hurricanes and Real Estate Contracts

3 10 2017

Florida residents enjoy weather that many northern neighbors envy: warm temperatures all year, combined with easy access to breezy oceans, lakes, rivers and springs.

However, the weather here occasionally turns sinister, most notably when hurricanes meander across the Atlantic to wreak havoc on our state.

When these hurricanes impact real estate transactions, many Realtors scramble to locate casualty and bad weather provisions. This short inventory provides an overview of key provisions in the Florida Realtors/Florida Bar “AS IS” Residential Contract for Sale and Purchase revised in April of 2017, along with one reference to the casualty provision contained in the Florida Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.

  1. Section 18(G) Force Majeure
    This is an automatic extension that comes into play when a dramatic event prevents a party’s performance or closing from happening. It takes an unusual and unplanned event to trigger this “Force Majeure” clause, as you can see from a few of the examples given, such as, hurricanes, acts of God and acts of terrorism. Once the clause is triggered, though, certain time periods (including the closing date, if applicable) will be extended for a reasonable time up to 7 days after the force majeure no longer prevents performance. Parties should pay attention to the time in relation to the closing date, though, since either party may terminate the contract by delivering a written notice if force majeure continues to prevent performance more than 30 days beyond the closing date.
  2. Section 18(L) Access to Property to Conduct Appraisals, Inspections, and Walk-Through
    After a hurricane passes over a property, a buyer often wants to take another look at the property, regardless of whether the buyer is still in the inspection period. This clause generally favors the buyer’s request, as it provides that “Seller shall, upon reasonable notice, provide utilities service and access to Property for appraisals and inspections, including a walk-through (or follow-up walk-through if necessary) prior to Closing.”
  3. Section 18(M) Risk of Loss
    If the buyer or seller discover casualty damage from the hurricane, this clause describes the rights and obligations of each party. If the cost to restore the property does not exceed 1.5% of the purchase price (this cost includes the cost of pruning or removing damaged trees), then the cost is a seller obligation. If the restoration isn’t complete prior to closing, the seller will escrow a sum equal to 125% of the estimated cost to complete the restoration. If the cost of restoration exceeds 1.5% of the purchase price, then buyer has the option to either take the property along with 1.5% of the purchase price, or receive a refund of the deposit, releasing buyer and seller from all further obligations under the contract.
  4. Section 83.63, Florida Statutes (Casualty Damage)
    This brief section simply provides that if rented residential premises are damaged or destroyed “so that the enjoyment of the premises is substantially impaired, the tenant may terminate the rental agreement and immediately vacate the premises.” This section continues to present a second scenario whereby a tenant may “vacate the part of the premises rendered unusable by the casualty, in which case the tenant’s liability for rent shall be reduced by the fair rental value of that part of the premises damaged or destroyed.”

Source: Florida Realtors, Florida Realtors Legal Hotline








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