I just found out that the person that I rent my storefront from has had an IRS lien placed on that property. We are not in business together; I just pay rent. Does the IRS have rights to my property, i.e. inventory, equipment, etc.? Would it be prudent to pack up and leave the property?
An IRS lien attaches only to the property that the taxpayer owns, so it should not attach to any property you or your business owns (especially since the landlord does not have an ownership interest in your business) -- so the IRS lien should not have a direct impact on your rental agreement with the landlord.
Before you decide to rent another location, consider reviewing your lease agreement to see if the landlord's failure to stay current with his tax obligations gives you the right to terminate the lease (I doubt it). However, if the landlord is behind on his taxes then he may be neglecting the leasehold -- like failing to keep common areas clean or failing to maintain the building (improper lighting, failure to fix plumbing or AC problems). Such failure might give you the right to break the lease. If you breach the lease without having a right to do so, then the landlord may have the right to collect unpaid rent or sue you for breach of contract.
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Oscar Javier Ornelas
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Unless you bought the business from the owner and are leasing equipment, your risk is minimal. The IRS may send a Notice of Levy to you which would require you to make any payments to the IRS rather than the landlord. If that happens, you should immediately contact a tax attorney. You may also want to discuss this with the landlord if you are concerned.
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I agree with the other two attorneys. You cannot be held liable for any of your landlord's taxes.
The worst thing that could happen to you is that the IRS can enforce its lien on the real property (and the improvements thereto) by seeking to sell it, either at an administrative sale or a judicial sale (the latter sale is done following a tax collection lawsuit, after the U.S. obtains a judgment against the taxpayer). A sale of the property would obviously be a major hassle to you and force you to find new business premises to lease.
The second worst thing that could happen to you is that the IRS can serve a Notice of Levy upon you, demanding that the rent that is otherwise due and owing be paid to it instead of to the taxpayer (your landlord). If you receive a Notice of Levy, you need to honor it. A third-party served with a levy notice who honors it is broadly "discharged from any obligation or liability to the delinquent taxpayer" with respect to the property surrendered or paid. I.R.C. Sec. 6332(e). Thus, you should not face any reprisals from the landlord (other than "bad blood") by honoring the levy.
The answer to this question does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Moreover, this attorney is licensed to practiced law ONLY in the State of California. Answers to questions from users in other jurisdictions or states are meant to provide only general information. Users should contact a local attorney in their jurisdiction or state to address their specific tax issue.
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