How to account for leasehold improvements

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What is a leasehold improvement

Most lenders won’t allow repayment terms beyond the life of the lease if financing is required to pay for any leasehold improvements. Other factors include whether the improvement increases the fair value of the underlying asset from the lessor’s standpoint and the economic life of the improvement relative to the lease term. Qualified improvement property (QIP) is any improvement to the interior of a nonresidential building if such improvement is placed in service after the date the building was first placed in service.

Therefore, they are accounted for with other fixed assets in accordance with ASC 360. The US GAAP lease accounting standards, both ASC 840 and ASC 842, also discuss the amortization of leasehold improvements related to operating leases. If an improvement qualifies under the rules of QIP, an entity must depreciate it over the 15-year prescribed recovery period for tax purposes. If the entity uses any other depreciable life, the IRS could consider that an alternative depreciation system was elected which would make the improvement subject to using a 39-year recovery period. This would also put any other properties eligible for the 15-year recovery period, and that were placed into service the same tax year, at risk for reclassification to longer periods.


Leasehold improvements are an asset that must be accounted for and amortized over the shorter of the useful life of the improvement or the lease term. Additionally, certain types of improvements may be qualified for Section 179 tax treatment. Make sure to discuss any leasehold improvements you may have with your tax advisors to see if your improvements qualify for any special tax treatment or benefits.

What is a leasehold improvement

Interior spaces are modified according to the operating needs of the tenant—for example, changes made to ceilings, flooring, and inner walls. The salvage value is assumed to be zero because ownership of the improvements returns to the lessor, not the lessee. Once implemented, the improvements are owned by the landlord on paper, even if the one benefiting directly is the renter, i.e. the asset is an intangible “right” of ownership. In some cases, a landlord may offer free rent or a discount on rent for a certain number of months.

Tax Treatment of Leasehold Improvements

The tenant is normally responsible for any additional costs that go over the budget. The passing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017 changed the way landlords and tenants can claim deductions involving leasehold improvements. Improvements must still be made to the interior of the building, which means enlargements to buildings, elevators and escalators, roofs, fire protection, alarm, and security systems, and HVAC systems still don’t qualify. When the lessor reimburses the lessee for an asset (i.e. a lease incentive) after lease commencement, the lessee and lessor must determine whether the lease incentive is considered fixed or variable. Another consideration that must be made when a lessee has leasehold improvements is whether or not an asset retirement obligation (ARO) exists. An ARO is a liability for the removal of property, equipment, or leasehold improvements at the end of the lease term or retirement of the long-lived asset.

  1. Ultimately, accounting for the amortization of leasehold improvements did not change from ASC 840 to ASC 842.
  2. Any removeable assets are not considered to be leasehold improvements, since the tenant can take them when a lease term is over.
  3. In that case, we believe both a lessee and lessor should account for the lease incentive as a period item when the contingency is resolved.

Additionally, there are no purchase options for the office space and ownership does not transfer to the lessee at the end of the lease term. Landlords may pay for leasehold improvements to encourage tenants to rent spaces for longer periods of time, especially in the retail industry. The landlord may choose to add four walls to the leased area to create built-in displays and storage areas for the discs. Understanding what types of improvements are considered leasehold improvements is critical to ensuring you are applying the correct accounting treatment. Accounting for leasehold improvements has remained consistent, despite the change in the lease accounting standards.

Are Leasehold Improvements Tax Deductible?

Leasehold Improvements are expenditures that relate to the improvement of a leased property, which are amortized over either the lease term or the estimated useful life. Accounting experts suggest expensing any improvements made that amount to less than the company’s capitalization limit during the same period. If they exceed this amount, the total should be capitalized and amortized over the term of the lease or over the shorter period of the life of the improvements.

Leasehold Improvements Rules

As we explore this topic further, the accounting theory starts as relatively straightforward becomes complex very quickly. As a result, there is a diversity of practice of how lease incentives and leasehold improvements are accounted for. Technically, you are amortizing leasehold improvements rather than depreciating them. The reason is that the landlord owns the improvements, so you are only exercising an intangible right to use the improvements during the term of the lease – and intangible assets are amortized, not depreciated. To reiterate, leasehold improvements refer to alterations by a tenant to a rental property for the sake of customization. The costs of the leasehold improvements are paid by the tenant, who can use the improvements until the end of the lease agreement is reached.

There are several actions that could trigger this block including submitting a certain word or phrase, a SQL command or malformed data. A company that has a call center might need small cubicles and telephones to be installed. A doctor’s office might need a series of consulting rooms with more open spaces for nurses and administrators. Leasehold improvements are designed to meet the operational needs and preferences of the tenant. Here at Cradle, our mission is simple; it’s at the foundation of everything that we do.

Tax and accounting regions

A leasehold improvement allowance negotiated between a lessee and lessor creates an economic incentive for the lessee to use the full amount of the allowance. Therefore, negotiated lease incentives are generally considered reasonably certain of use because a lessee is economically incentivized to use the entire incentive that is negotiated. Landlords budget and pay for improvements by offering a tenant improvement allowance or through rent discounts. They may also pay by offering the tenant a package of modifications from which they can choose.

This includes painting, adding new walls, putting up display shelves, changing flooring and lighting, and the addition of offices, walls, and partitions. The landlord may offer the tenant rent discounts for leasehold improvements. If this option is included in the lease, the tenant may get rent relief of some type, such as one free month or reduced rent for certain periods per year. Just like with the TIA, the tenant oversees the project and controls the lease improvements. For GAAP accounting, amortization of leasehold improvements is the same under both ASC 840 and ASC 842. Leasehold improvements are considered qualified improvement property for tax purposes, along with building improvements, qualified restaurant property, and qualified retail improvements under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017.