Triple Net Lease vs. Gross Lease in Commercial Real Estate

Navigating the complexities of commercial leases can be a challenging task for both landlords and tenants. Unlike the more straightforward residential leases that often use standardized formats, commercial property leases present a varied landscape. They range from single-net leases to the more intricate triple-net leases, alongside options like gross leases and percentage lease structures.

The decision on which lease structure to employ depends on several factors: the nature of the property, the landlord’s specific requirements, and the unique needs of potential tenants. Given that commercial leases typically span several years, it’s crucial to meticulously craft every detail. Even minor errors can lead to significant, long-term consequences.

In this blog post, we’re focusing specifically on the distinctions between triple net (NNN) leases and gross leases, two predominant lease types in commercial real estate.

What’s the Difference Between a Gross Lease and a Net Lease?

The primary distinction between a gross lease and a net lease lies in the allocation of operating expenses. In a gross lease, the landlord bears the responsibility of covering these expenses. Conversely, in a net lease, this burden shifts to the tenant. This fundamental difference paves the way for various subtypes within gross and net leases, each delineating the specific operating costs to be borne by the tenant and the landlord. While residential properties commonly utilize gross leases, commercial spaces are more inclined towards net leases, reflecting their distinct operational dynamics.

What is a Commercial Lease?

Commercial real estate operates distinctly from the residential sector, particularly in terms of leasing. Unlike the more straightforward residential leases, which often use standard forms for individual apartments, commercial properties employ more sophisticated lease agreements.

A commercial lease is a legally binding contract between a landlord (referred to as the lessor) and a business tenant (known as the lessee). These agreements are pivotal, defining the tenant’s specific rights to the property. At its core, a standard commercial lease agreement typically includes:

  • The names of both parties involved in the lease.
  • A detailed legal description of the property, encompassing the address and, at times, the physical boundaries.
  • The designated uses of the property (such as industrial, commercial office, or retail).
  • The square footage of the leased space.
  • The duration of the tenancy, including any renewal options and their conditions.
  • The base rent amount and the frequency of payments.
  • Details regarding any security deposit, including the amount.
  • Provisions for property improvements by the landlord before occupancy, often termed as “tenant fit-out.” Alternatively, a tenant fit-out allowance might be provided instead of direct improvements by the owner.

Due to the unique nature of each deal, commercial real estate leases are often complex and tailor-made. The structure of these leases can vary, typically as either a net lease or a gross lease, the specifics of which we’ll explore in further detail in the following sections.

Difference Between Triple Net Lease and Gross Lease

Understanding the differences between a triple net lease and a gross lease is essential in commercial real estate leasing.

Gross Lease

In a gross lease, the base rent typically encompasses all costs related to the use of the space. This model is similar to a standard multifamily apartment lease where the landlord is responsible for all taxes, insurance, and utilities. Essentially, in a gross lease, the landlord takes on the financial responsibilities for the property, providing a more straightforward expense structure for the tenant.

Net Lease

Contrastingly, net leases are more intricate. Under a net lease, tenants often pay a lower base rent compared to a gross lease. However, they are responsible for specific property-related costs, including but not limited to taxes, insurance, and maintenance. This arrangement is akin to renting a single-family home, where the owner handles the mortgage while the tenant covers utilities, routine maintenance, and other ancillary costs.

Triple Net Lease

The triple net (NNN) lease, a prevalent form of net lease in commercial real estate, shifts most cost responsibilities to the tenant. This includes the base rent, property taxes, insurance, utilities, and maintenance, including necessary repairs from the tenant’s usage. For instance, if a single-tenant property under a NNN lease experiences a leaky roof, it’s the tenant’s obligation to address the repair.

Single Net Lease

The single net lease, or “N” lease, is a simpler form of net lease, though less common. Here, the tenant pays the base rent and property taxes, both channeled through the landlord. This ensures that the landlord can manage timely and accurate tax payments to the municipality, as any lapse in this would become the landlord’s liability. In a single net lease, the landlord covers all other expenses, including utilities, insurance, and property maintenance.

Double Net Leases

The concept of double net leases, or “NN” leases, is particularly relevant in multi-tenant commercial properties.

In a double net lease, while the landlord takes care of utilities, maintenance, and other associated costs, the financial responsibility for property taxes and building insurance is divided among the tenants. Each tenant pays their base rent plus a proportionate share of the property taxes and insurance. This share is typically calculated based on the percentage of the building space leased by each tenant. The landlord then aggregates these payments to cover the property taxes and insurance premiums on behalf of all tenants.

Landlord Responsibilities in a Gross Lease

In the case of a gross lease, the landlord bears the financial burden for virtually all property-related costs. This includes taxes, insurance, utilities, repairs, maintenance, capital expenditures, property management fees, legal fees, and more. Tenants under a gross lease arrangement pay a fixed, flat monthly fee, which remains constant regardless of the landlord’s fluctuating costs.

A full-service gross lease is a common type of gross lease, where the tenant pays this single flat fee. However, there’s also the modified gross lease, which differs slightly. In a modified gross lease, tenants may be responsible for increases in the landlord’s operational costs that exceed the amounts stipulated in the base year of the lease. For example, should property taxes increase due to a municipal reassessment, tenants might need to cover part or all of this additional cost.

Lease Rates in Triple Net Lease vs. Gross Lease

When it comes to lease rates, triple net leases generally offer lower rates per square foot compared to single net (N) leases, double net (NN) leases, or gross leases. This difference in rates accounts for the additional costs that tenants are responsible for in a NNN lease arrangement.

Benefits of a Triple Net Lease

Commercial real estate owners and their investors often favor triple net (NNN) leases for several compelling reasons:

  • Mitigation of Unexpected Costs: NNN leases transfer almost all ancillary costs to the tenant, insulating landlords from unforeseen expenses. Whether it’s a rise in property taxes or the need for significant repairs like HVAC system replacements, the tenant bears these costs, making NNN leases a lower-risk investment for landlords.
  • Long-Term Stability: Tenants in NNN leases typically commit to longer durations, often ranging from five to ten years. This long-term commitment ensures stability and predictability for both parties, a significant advantage for both landlord and tenant.
  • Consistent Cash Flow: Landlords under NNN leases enjoy more predictable cash flows. Since they are only concerned with collecting base rent, their income is not affected by variable maintenance or operational costs incurred by the tenant.
  • Hands-Off Ownership: NNN leases afford landlords a more passive role. Unlike other lease structures where landlords might have to address maintenance issues, NNN tenants handle these, allowing landlords to be less involved in day-to-day property management.

Advantages of a Gross Lease

Despite the attractiveness of NNN leases, there are scenarios where a gross lease might be more beneficial for a landlord:

  • Simplicity of Agreement: Gross leases are straightforward, with tenants paying a fixed rent monthly. Unlike the nuanced and sometimes complex NNN leases, gross leases can be executed more quickly and with less complexity.
  • Control Over Expenses: In a gross lease, landlords can include clauses capping utility usage. If tenants exceed this cap, they are liable for the difference, offering a balance between simplicity and cost control for the landlord.
  • Benefit from Operational Savings: Any savings achieved by the landlord through efficient operations and maintenance directly benefit them, not the tenant. For instance, the installation of a rooftop solar system would allow the landlord to reap the benefits of energy savings and tax incentives.
  • Attractiveness to New Businesses: Gross leases often appeal to new businesses that value predictability in their overhead costs. The straightforward nature of gross leases, devoid of the additional costs seen in NNN leases, can make spaces more attractive to tenants, especially those in the early stages of business.

Triple Net Lease Tax Consequences

When it comes to triple net (NNN) leases, landlords face specific tax implications. Under Section 199A of the Internal Revenue Code, landlords with properties under NNN leases are often not viewed as engaging in an “active trade or business.” As a result, they may not be eligible for the 20% Qualified Business Income (QBI) deduction typically available to active landlords. Landlords should consult with their tax advisors to explore if a safe harbor exemption can make them eligible for this deduction, even with properties leased under NNN agreements.

Additionally, rental income from NNN-leased properties may be categorized as “passive” investment income. In certain scenarios, this could lead to an additional 3.8% net investment income tax. Landlords who feel the tax impact of NNN leases might consider transitioning to a gross lease approach as tenants approach their lease expiration dates.

Gross Lease Tax Consequences

Conversely, gross leases offer distinct tax advantages for landlords. Since they are responsible for most property-related expenses, landlords can leverage these as substantial write-offs each tax year. The expenses that a tenant would typically cover in a NNN lease are borne by the landlord in a gross lease, allowing them to deduct these costs against the rental income received.

The Importance of Understanding CRE Leases for Investment

Navigating the complexities of commercial real estate (CRE) leases is crucial for effective investing. While gross and net leases represent the primary categories, the nuances in covering operating expenses vary significantly. The specific type of lease – whether it’s a single, double, or triple net lease, or a gross lease – plays a crucial role in determining a property’s value.

Leasing commercial property is inherently more complex than residential leasing. Unlike the standard forms used in apartment rentals, commercial lease agreements require more nuanced language, tailored to each specific situation. This complexity holds true regardless of the lease type – net, double net, triple net, or gross.

For optimal lease crafting, collaboration with a leasing broker and/or a commercial real estate attorney is advisable. This ensures that the owner’s interests are safeguarded both in the present and the long term, considering the typically extended duration of commercial leases.

FAQ About Triple Net Lease vs Gross Lease

What is a Triple Net Lease in Commercial Real Estate?

A Triple Net Lease, often abbreviated as NNN Lease, is a lease agreement where the tenant is responsible for all costs of the property, including property taxes, building insurance, and maintenance, in addition to the base rent. This type of lease is common in commercial real estate and is often preferred for its long-term stability and predictability.

What is a Gross Lease in Commercial Real Estate?

In a Gross Lease, the landlord is responsible for most or all property-related costs, such as taxes, insurance, and maintenance. The tenant pays a flat rent amount, making this lease type simpler and more predictable, especially for new businesses.

How Does a Triple Net Lease Differ from a Gross Lease?

The main difference lies in the distribution of property-related costs. In a Triple Net Lease, the tenant bears these costs along with the base rent. In contrast, a Gross Lease includes these costs in the flat rent paid by the tenant, with the landlord assuming responsibility for them.

What Are the Advantages of a Triple Net Lease for Landlords?

Landlords benefit from predictable cash flow, fewer unexpected costs, long-term lease agreements, and a more hands-off management approach, as tenants are responsible for property expenses and maintenance.

Why Might a Landlord Prefer a Gross Lease?

Gross leases offer simplicity in agreement terms and allow landlords to have greater control over property expenses. They also provide the opportunity for landlords to benefit from operational savings and can be more attractive to new businesses.

Are Triple Net Leases More Cost-Effective for Tenants?

While Triple Net Leases can offer lower base rent, tenants need to consider additional costs such as taxes, insurance, and maintenance. The cost-effectiveness depends on the specific terms of the lease and the tenant’s ability to manage these additional expenses.

What Tax Implications Should Landlords Consider in Triple Net Leases?

Landlords in Triple Net Lease arrangements might not qualify for the 20% Qualified Business Income deduction under Section 199A of the Internal Revenue Code, as such properties are often considered passive investments. Consulting a tax advisor is recommended to navigate these implications.

Can Tenants Negotiate Terms in a Triple Net or Gross Lease?

Yes, tenants can negotiate terms in both types of leases. It’s essential to understand all financial responsibilities and consider potential future costs when entering a lease agreement.

How Common are Triple Net Leases in Commercial Real Estate?

Triple Net Leases are quite common in commercial real estate, particularly for properties with single tenants, due to their long-term stability and the financial predictability they offer to landlords.

What Factors Should Tenants Consider Before Signing a Triple Net Lease?

Tenants should assess their financial capacity to handle property-related expenses, understand the condition of the property to anticipate maintenance costs, and consider the lease’s duration to ensure alignment with their long-term business plans.


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