I was recently asked by a Cupertino real estate investor whether he should form his limited liability company in Nevada or some other state in order to avoid California taxes. I had to tell him that if anything, this would just increase his overall costs and taxes.
California franchise taxes can be much higher than taxes in other states, and include a minimum tax of $800 per year. As a result, companies often do not want to be classified as doing business in California. One way to avoid this classification used to be to form your entity in another state, and not register it in California. Some of my clients have numerous Delaware LLCs or Nevada LLCs. Often, those LLCs own other LLCs, which own property in California. In order to avoid the California minimum franchise tax for multiple entities, they just register the entity that actually owns the property in California.
However, a new ruling says that if the entity is doing business in California, owns property in California, or is managed by people in California, this exemption is no longer available at the parent LLC level.
The California Franchise Tax Board just issued FTB Legal Ruling 2011-01, stating that activities of a disregarded entity will be attributed to the entity's sole owner. A disregarded entity is a single member LLC or a Qualified Subchapter S subsidiary ("QSub") which is disregarded for income tax purposes so that its income passes through to its parent for tax reporting purposes. Therefore, if the disregarded entity is doing business in California, the 100% owner will be considered to be doing business in California and, if it is an entity, will have to register with the Secretary of State in California. This is true even if that owner entity has no other activities in the state, other than owning the disregarded entity.
This ruling is in addition to a previous California Franchise Tax Board ruling that an entity will be considered to be doing business in California if its managing person(s) are in California, even if all of its other activities are out of state.
For real estate investors, lenders often require a special purpose entity ("SPE") to hold the property, which is structured as a single member Delaware LLC. Under these new Franchise Tax Board rulings, the single member LLC holding the property must be registered in California, and its 100% owner parent company must be registered in California as well. The bad news is that both entities are required to pay the $800 minimum franchise tax to California. However, the LLC gross receipts tax is not incurred twice on income that flows through from one LLC to another.
For California owners, forming an LLC in Nevada or Delaware is no longer as attractive as it once was. The FTB's new ruling makes it important for out-of-state entities to examine the California activities of their subsidiaries. Structure Law Group attorneys can assist you in determining if this new ruling requires you to register your entities in California.