Tower Companies May Be Disqualified as REITs

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Within the few last years, many companies have reorganized as real estate investment trusts (REITs) for federal income tax purposes. American Tower Corporation began operating as a REIT at the beginning of 2012 and Crown Castle followed suit in January 2014. However, the Boston Globe recently reported, “A Republican leader in the House of Representatives wants to block the rush to form REITs. With the surge in real estate trusts costing the U.S. government billions in lost tax payments, Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, has drafted a massive tax reform bill that would reverse past IRS rulings and outlaw many REIT conversions.” Unfortunately, this legislation would limit the types of assets that would qualify as real estate and some legal specialists suggested that cell phone towers would be disqualified. “The REIT rules were not intended to facilitate erosion of the corporate tax base,” the Ways and Means Committee said in a document accompanying a draft of the tax proposal. This may be one of the reasons the major tower corporations are buying up ground leases to secure their position in the real estate market. It’s not clear whether this proposed legislation would force non-traditional trusts to revert back to being corporations because their property would no longer qualify as real estate. But the language in the Ways and Means proposal suggests those companies would lose their tax-free REIT status.

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