Real Estate IRA - How the IRS Treats Prohibited Transactions

When it comes to owning real estate assets in an IRA, it may be tempting to live in the property or work on the property before it is distributed out of the IRA. However, these are prohibited by the IRS and can result in steep penalties and a distribution of the account.

At New Direction Trust Company, we hear a lot of questions from investors asking what they can and can’t do with their IRA property according to IRS rules. Here’s a few of those questions and some basics about how the IRS treats prohibited transactions within real estate IRAs.

The Basics

IRS audits are extremely thorough. If you break a rule and your IRA is audited, you’re affairs better be in order. The penalties can be extremely damaging to an IRA. On top of that, unlike within our Judicial System, the accused is guilty until proven innocent – not the other way around. The burden of proving innocence falls on the accused taxpayer.

The IRA prohibited transaction rules can be found section 4975 of the IRS code. In respect to buying real estate within an IRA, you (and your direct lineal relatives) cannot use the asset that your IRA owns. Additionally, your IRA cannot have transactions (buy/sell) with you or your direct lineal relatives. If your IRA owns a property, there is no way for you to use the property or benefit from the property in any capacity. Likewise, if you own an asset personally there is no way to move it into your tax-deferred IRA.

“How would the IRS know if I use the property?"

SDIRA administrators and providers can help account holders avoid prohibited transactions, but their purpose isn’t to babysit investors and make sure they follow the rules. If your IRA owns real estate and you haven’t distributed that real estate, you cannot live in or physically work on that property. It is prohibited to do so and could result in the distribution of that asset.

The IRS is not likely to monitor an IRA holder’s investments, so the agency relies on administrators to report prohibited transactions. At New Direction Trust Company, we won’t knowingly process a prohibited transaction and illegal distributions are reported to the IRS so they can be properly taxed and penalized. And, if your IRA is audited, the IRS may be able to determine if you lived in or worked on the property.

“What if I sell my personally owned property to my friend and then buy it back with my IRA? How would the IRS ever know?”

Buying the property with your IRA from your friend is not directly a prohibited transaction; however, the arrangement of selling something you own to the friend and then buying back with the IRA is most definitely a prohibited transaction.

The IRS doesn’t just look at transactions on paper, they also look at the circumstances involved. The IRS has seen just about anything an investor could propose or scheme. They can recognize these prohibited structures and declare them as a prohibited transactions.

Other investors suggest using an LLC to get around the IRS rules. LLCs can sometimes be useful in structuring real estate investment. However, they are not magical entities that make all the rules disappear. If your IRA invests in an LLC, then the rules apply to the IRA now apply to the LLC as well, but now the onus is on you to maintain proper bookkeeping for the account in case of an audit.


The penalties for prohibited transactions can be extremely harsh. Each case is judged on a case by case basis. An IRA that committed a prohibited transaction will almost certainly lose its tax-deferred status (the IRA would be immediately distributed to the account holder). This can create an unexpected tax liability as well as penalties if the account holder is under the age of 59.5. On top of that, the IRS will most likely impose a 15% prohibited transaction penalty. There have been extreme cases when the prohibited transaction resulted in 100% loss of the IRA. Prohibited transactions are not to be taken lightly.

The bottom line

Your IRA receives special tax treatment from the IRS. IRAs have built in tax-deferred growth. In order to maintain that treatment, it is important that the IRA investments are just that--investments. If you want to use the IRA funds or benefit from the IRA funds then you should take a distribution, pay the tax and then do whatever you like with the funds. However, while they remain in the IRA you (and your direct lineal family members) should not benefit from what the IRA is doing.

Give us a call at 877-742-1270 or send us an e-mail at if you ever have questions or concerns.