What types of commercial leases are there?

22. June 2023
What types of commercial leases are there?
What types of commercial leases are there?

Understanding Commercial Leases: Types and Variations

The realm of commercial real estate is vast and complex, with diverse property types and a multitude of leasing structures. Whether you're an investor, tenant, or broker, understanding the nuances of commercial leases can play a pivotal role in your real estate journey. In this piece, we'll delve into the various commercial leases available, illustrated with tangible examples from the industry.

Defining Commercial Leases

At its core, a commercial lease is an agreement between a landlord and a business outlining terms and conditions of property rental. The type of lease determines how costs are calculated and shared, and it's essential to understand these nuances to make informed decisions.

The Most Common Types of Commercial Leases

There are several types of commercial leases, each with its set of advantages and drawbacks. Let's look at some of the most common.

1. Gross Lease or Full Service Lease

Here, the tenant pays a single, lump-sum rent amount, while the landlord covers most of the property expenses like taxes, insurance, and maintenance. Such leases are prevalent in multi-tenant office buildings.

Example: A marketing agency leases an office space for $5,000 per month. The amount covers not just the space but also utilities, janitorial services, and property taxes. The agency can then budget with greater certainty, knowing there won't be unexpected charges.

2. Net Lease

Under a net lease, the tenant agrees to pay a base rent plus some (or all) of the variable property expenses. There are variations within net leases, including:

  • Single Net Lease (N Lease): Tenant pays base rent and property taxes.

  • Double Net Lease (NN Lease): Tenant pays base rent, property taxes, and insurance.

  • Triple Net Lease (NNN Lease): Tenant pays base rent, property taxes, insurance, and maintenance.

Example: A café operating under a triple net lease would pay not only for the space but also share the burden of the building's property taxes, insurance, and maintenance costs.

3. Modified Gross Lease

A hybrid between the gross and net lease, the modified gross lease allows for a base rent, after which both the landlord and tenant share specified operating costs.

Example: A retail store might pay a base rent and agree to share the costs of common area maintenance with the landlord.

What Are the Four Types of Leases?

While the above leases are commonly known in commercial real estate circles, when categorizing leases based on their financial and operational implications, we identify four primary types:

1. Operating Lease

Often short-term and cancelable before their expiry date, operating leases do not transfer the risks and rewards of ownership to the lessee. They're not recorded on the balance sheet and are popular for assets that might become obsolete quickly, like certain machinery or technology.

2. Capital Lease (or Finance Lease)

Contrary to operating leases, capital leases are treated as asset purchases. The lessee assumes most of the risks and rewards of ownership, and the asset and liability get recorded on the balance sheet.

3. Sale and Leaseback

In this setup, an entity sells an asset to another entity and then leases it back. This strategy can free up capital tied in assets while still allowing the original owner to use the asset.

4. Ground Lease

A long-term lease where tenants can develop a parcel of vacant land. At the end of the lease, the land and all improvements are returned to the landlord. Ground leases can span several decades.

Example: A hotel chain might enter a ground lease, develop a hotel on a plot of land, operate it for 50 years, and then, at the end of the term, the entire property—including the hotel—reverts to the landlord's ownership.


Choosing the right type of commercial lease is critical. It impacts the financial health of a business and can influence strategic decisions. By understanding the intricacies of each lease type, tenants, landlords, and professionals can navigate the commercial real estate landscape more effectively, ensuring that each deal aligns with their long-term goals and objectives.