DEAR BENNY: I have a problem with the tenant who lives below me and I need some help. This building has a central A/C with air handlers in a closet and a thermostat on the wall outside. All of the tenants I know set the thermostat on A/C and on “Auto” which cycles. However, the tenant below never cycles, just lets it run for hours and hours. For a long time, I lived with the noise. Recently, the thermostat has been set to “FAN”, and this makes a lot of noise and wakes me up. This has impacted my health. Management told me I can have the next available apartment, but that can take a lot of time. Any suggestions? – Evelyn
DEAR EVELYN: This situation appears to impact on your health and well-being, so you should be more aggressive with your manager. Typically, to avoid tenants from tampering with thermostats outside of apartments, they are enclosed in a glass box. Only the manager has access. You should demand that all thermostats be similarly enclosed. I would think that the manager would be concerned since the continuous running of the A/C can be expensive.
DEAR BENNY: I am a seller and closing on a real estate contract shortly. The escrow company told me that, among a number of documents, I would have to sign is a FIRPTA statement. What is that, and do I have to sign? – Harry
DEAR HARRY: FIRPTA stands for the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980. Congress was concerned that foreign citizens were selling real estate here in the United States, making substantial profit, but not paying any capital gains tax. Accordingly a law was enacted requiring the buyer to withhold money out of the closing proceeds and send the money to the IRS. Prior to Feb. 17, the amount was 10 percent of the purchase price; it is now 15 percent.
While the law imposes this burden on the buyer, in reality the withholding is done by the title, or escrow, company that conducts the closing. To make sure the seller is not a foreign citizen, a FIRPTA statement must be signed. No IRS withholding will be required for American citizens; however, there may be some states – such as in Maryland – where withholding for state capital gains tax will apply against non-resident sellers.
Yes, you should sign that form.
DEAR BENNY: Your column is always interesting and instructive. You recently wrote “…the IRS never calls people about tax problems.” If so, why does Form 1040 require a phone number? – Chuck
DEAR CHUCK: I get a lot of email questions from all over this country, but I believe this was one of the most interesting ever received. I had no idea how to respond, so I reached out to the IRS. Here is their response:
“Given that a pervasive and sophisticated IRS phone scam continues to impact taxpayers, the agency has maintained that the IRS will not call taxpayers to ask for personal or financial information, and the IRS will not call about taxes owed without first sending a notice or letter in the mail.
“However, in rare instances the IRS may call a taxpayer, who provided their telephone number, to clarify an item needed to complete the processing of a tax return they recently filed. Per the Instructions for Form 1040 (page 76): Providing your daytime phone number may help speed the processing of your return. We may have questions about items on your return, such as the earned income credit or the credit for child and dependent care expenses.
“But the important message for taxpayers to remember, especially as they remain vigilant against scams, is that the IRS will never:
*Call to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
*Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
*Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
*Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
*Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.”
So, Chuck, thanks for the great question. Hopefully, if a reader gets a call from someone claiming to be the IRS, do not provide any personal information. Protect your wallet.
Benny Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C. and in Maryland. He is not providing specific legal or financial advice to any reader. He wants readers to e-mail him, but cannot guarantee a personal response. He can be reached at: email@example.com.