Tenant Improvements and Leasehold Improvements: Breaking Down Costs and Payments in Simple Terms

  • September 22, 2023
  • OHI

When you rent a place, like a store or an office, you often want to make it feel more “you”. This might mean adding a fresh coat of paint, putting up new shelves, or even changing the lighting. These changes are generally called “tenant improvements” or “leasehold improvements”. Let’s dive deeper into these terms and see how they play out in the world of money and accounting.

Understanding the Basics: Tenant vs. Leasehold Improvements

A property’s value isn’t just in its bricks and mortar; it’s also in the businesses that call it home. Ensuring tenant satisfaction is a vital aspect of asset value enhancement. Effective commercial property management companies understand this intricate dance. They focus on:

  • Tenant Improvements (TIs): Think of this as a helping hand from your landlord. Let’s say you rent a store, and it needs some sprucing up. Your landlord might give you some money to help with these changes. This is the “tenant improvements” allowance. It’s like a mini-budget from the landlord to help you set up.
  • Leasehold Improvements: Now, if you decide to make some changes on your own dime, these are “leasehold improvements”. They’re changes you pay for, and they’re meant to last as long as you’re renting the place.

1. Recording the Money: How Does It Work?

An integral part of ensuring a property’s appreciation is its upkeep. Commercial real estate property management extends beyond just reactive repairs—it involves:

  • Starting Point: When you first spend on these changes, it’s not like buying a candy bar and forgetting about it. You keep track of it, almost like saving a big receipt. This is because these changes benefit you for a long time.
  • All Costs Counted: The total money you spend on these changes isn’t just the big stuff. It includes everything – from the nails and screws to the workers’ lunch breaks.
  • Landlord’s Contribution: If your landlord gives you an allowance (the TI money) and you spend less than that, the extra money’s fate depends on your rental agreement. Sometimes you get to keep it, sometimes you don’t.

2. Spreading the Costs: Making It Easier on the Wallet

Imagine buying a big toy and paying for it a little bit every month. Instead of feeling the pinch all at once, you spread it out. This is similar to what happens with the money spent on improvements.

  • Duration Matters: You spread the cost over the time you think the changes will last or your rental agreement’s length, whichever is shorter. So, if you’ve made changes that will be good for 10 years, but you’re only renting for 5 years, you’ll spread the cost over those 5 years.
  • Simple Math: For example, if you spent $500 on changes and you’re renting for 5 years, each year you’ll account for $100 of that cost (which is $500 divided by 5 years).
  • Adjusting Along the Way: Sometimes, things don’t go as planned. Maybe a change you made doesn’t last as long as you thought. If that happens, you adjust your numbers. It’s like realizing a toy you bought won’t last for 10 years but only for 5, so you value it accordingly.

3. End of the Rental Journey: What’s Next?

  • Continuing the Journey: If you decide to keep renting and using the changes, you stick to the plan and keep spreading out the costs.
  • Time to Move: If you decide to move out and not renew the lease, any money that’s left to be spread out is considered a loss.
  • Reverting to Original: Sometimes, when you leave, you might need to undo the changes and bring the place back to how it was. The money you spend on this is an extra cost you need to account for.


Making a rented space feel like your own is exciting, but it’s essential to keep track of the money side of things. By understanding tenant and leasehold improvements in simple, everyday terms, you can make smarter decisions and handle your finances more effectively. Remember, every change, no matter how small, has a cost, and it’s always good to know where your money is going.

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