Ohio Real Estate Law: Ohio Auditors take aim at “LLC Loophole” transfers

Ohio imposes fees on the conveyance of real estate, and generally determines the value of real property based upon the sale price when the property is sold. One means of avoiding the conveyance fee and reporting the sale price is the use of a “LLC Loophole.”

The LLC Loophole is a means of conveying title to real property using an LLC as an intermediary, rather than transferring title directly from the seller to the buyer. A property owner transfers title to real estate to an LLC that she owns, and then sells the LLC itself to the buyer. One benefit of  this conveyance is that no conveyance fee is paid, and the auditor is not alerted to the sale price.

Consider this illustration:

Property owner owns a strip mall valued by the auditor at $500,000. She has received an offer to buy the property for $750,000, but the buyer wants to avoid the publicity of reporting the sale through a conveyance form and the automatic increase in tax value that would come by simply buying the property directly from the property owner. So, the property owner sets up a new limited liability company, Strip Mall, LLC; conveys title to the property to Strip Mall, LLC; and then sells her 100% ownership interest in Strip Mall, LLC to the buyer for $750,000. The only filing with the county auditor is the conveyance fee showing a fee exempt transfer from the property owner to the LLC. No one is alerted that the buyer now owns the strip mall or that it was valued at $750,000 in an arm’s length transaction.

Under the proposed law, when the property owner sells her ownership interest in the LLC, she would have to report that sale to the auditor as if she had sold the real estate directly to the buyer. At that point, the auditor would assess a conveyance fee, and the real estate would be taxed at the sale price. The proposed bill would require the reporting and payment of taxes whenever any interest in an LLC or other entity that owns real estate (directly or indirectly) takes place.

To be clear, there is nothing unlawful about using LLCs in property transfers, and it is a perfectly legitimate method for conveying real estate.

We expect that public school boards in particular, as well as other property tax funded organizations will lobby in support of this legislation; and that it will find opposition from real estate investors and small government advocates generally. Whether it is this particular bill or another future proposal, the LLC Loophole will be facing continued scrutiny and efforts to impose conveyance fees and determine the purchase price.

The Legislative Services Commission’s analysis and the bill text are below.

Finney Law Firm will be keeping an eye on this bill as it works through the Ohio Legislature.

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