Leasehold Improvements

Updated on February 23, 2024
Article byKumar Rahul
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What are Leasehold Improvements?

Leasehold improvements refer to alterations, modifications, or enhancements made to rental premises by a tenant to meet their specific business needs. These improvements are typically undertaken to customize the space and make it more suitable for the tenant’s operations. Such improvements represent a capital investment made by the tenant in a property they do not own.

Leasehold Improvement

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The primary aim of such improvements is to create a more functional and aesthetically pleasing environment that aligns with the tenant’s business requirements. These improvements can include the installation of partitions, lighting systems, flooring, or any other modifications that enhance the overall utility of the leased space. In addition to meeting operational needs, such improvements can also contribute to a positive and professional image, potentially attracting clients and customers.

Key Takeaways

  • Leasehold improvements are alterations made by a tenant to a leased space to meet specific business needs, ranging from interior renovations to the installation of specialized equipment.
  • The costs of such improvements are typically capitalized on the balance sheet as assets and amortized over the useful life of the improvements.
  • Qualified leasehold improvements may qualify for accelerated depreciation, offering potential tax advantages, while non-qualified improvements are subject to standard depreciation rules.
  • The responsibility for such improvements can vary, with tenants generally bearing the cost. Some landlords may contribute to or cover the expenses to enhance property value.

Leasehold Improvement Explained

Leasehold improvements encompass the expenditures made by a tenant to customize or upgrade leased premises to suit their operational needs better. These financial investments aim at transforming generic spaces into tailored environments, enhancing functionality, aesthetics, and overall efficiency. Common examples include the installation of specialized equipment, interior renovations, or the incorporation of technology infrastructure. The goal is to optimize the usability and visual appeal of the leased space, aligning it with the tenant’s specific business requirements.

Leasehold improvements are distinct assets that carry financial implications for both tenants and landlords. The origins of this concept lie in the need for businesses to adapt rented spaces to their unique operational demands. Finance considerations come into play as tenants assess the cost-effectiveness of these improvements relative to the duration of their lease. This financial commitment can impact the overall balance sheet, with such improvements typically depreciated over their estimated useful life.

What Is Considered Qualified Leasehold Improvement (QLI)?

A Qualified Leasehold Improvement (QLI) refers to specific leasehold improvements that meet certain criteria established by tax regulations in the United States. These improvements must satisfy the requirements outlined in the tax code to be eligible for favorable tax treatment. Historically, the term was associated with the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS), a tax depreciation method.

To qualify as a QLI, the improvement must meet the following conditions: it must be made to an interior portion of a building, the building must be nonresidential real property, and the improvement must be placed in service more than three years after the date the building was first placed in service. Additionally, the improvement must be either made by the lessee or, if made by the lessor, the lessee must pay for it.

Qualifying for QLI status allows businesses to depreciate these improvements over a shorter recovery period, typically 15 years, rather than the longer recovery periods associated with non-qualified improvements. This accelerates the depreciation deductions, providing businesses with potential tax benefits and improved cash flow in the earlier years of the lease.


Let us understand it better with the help of examples:

Example #1

Suppose a technology company, TechInnovate, is leasing a commercial space for its operations. To enhance the workspace and accommodate its specialized needs, TechInnovate invests in qualified leasehold improvements. They decide to install a cutting-edge IT infrastructure, customized workstations, and smart lighting systems to create an innovative and efficient work environment.

These improvements are capital investments and qualify for favorable tax treatment. TechInnovate can depreciate them over the shorter recovery period, potentially 15 years, allowing for accelerated tax deductions. The financial strategy behind these improvements aims to align the workspace with the company’s technological requirements while optimizing tax benefits throughout the lease.

Example #2

StandardAero, a prominent aerospace maintenance and repair provider, in 2023 unveiled a substantial financial commitment, amounting to millions of dollars, for the expansion of its Springfield, Illinois, facility. The investment encompasses a strategic focus on leasehold improvements, aiming to augment the base’s capabilities and services, particularly within the business aviation sector.

The expansion project includes the integration of cutting-edge technologies and infrastructure, reinforcing the Springfield base’s role as a pivotal hub for leasehold improvements in aircraft maintenance and support. StandardAero’s significant financial pledge underscores its dedication to meeting the escalating demand for aviation services while providing state-of-the-art facilities. This move aligns with the company’s commitment to delivering excellence and emphasizes its commitment to such improvements, solidifying its competitive edge in the aerospace industry.

Accounting Treatment

The accounting treatment of leasehold improvements involves recognizing and recording the costs associated with enhancing a leased property on the company’s financial statements. Here are the key steps:

  1. Capitalization: Leasehold improvements are generally capital expenditures. The costs for qualified improvements add to the asset side of the balance sheet under the category of leasehold improvements.
  2. Amortization: Instead of expensing the entire cost in the year of acquisition, the capitalized amount is amortized over the useful life of the improvements. The amortization period is based on the lesser of the improvement’s useful life or the remaining lease term.
  3. Recording Amortization Expense: The amortization expense is in the income statement over time. This spread of costs aligns with the economic benefit derived from the improvements throughout their useful life.
  4. Impairment Considerations: If there is an indication of impairment (e.g., a decline in the property’s value or a change in the expected useful life), the company may need to assess and potentially adjust the carrying amount of the leasehold improvements.
  5. Tax Implications: Qualified leasehold improvements may also have tax implications. Businesses may be eligible for accelerated depreciation or other tax incentives based on the nature of the improvements and applicable tax regulations.

Qualified vs Non-Qualified Leasehold Improvements

Following is a comparison between Qualified Leasehold Improvements (QLI) and Non-Qualified Leasehold Improvements (Non-QLI):

Specialized IT infrastructure, and custom workstationsQualified Leasehold Improvements (QLI)Non-Qualified Leasehold Improvements (Non-QLI)
DefinitionSpecialized IT infrastructure and custom workstations.General improvements that do not meet specific tax criteria.
Tax Depreciation PeriodShorter, often 15 years under MACRS.Longer, typically 39 years under MACRS.
Tax BenefitsAccelerated depreciation, potentially tax advantages.Depreciation over a longer period, slower tax benefits.
EligibilityInterior improvements on nonresidential real property.Various improvements, not limited to interior enhancements.
Ownership RequirementLessee or lessor, with lessee paying if lessor makes improvements.Typically made by the lessee.
Tax Code ReferenceHistorically associated with MACRS.Follows general tax depreciation rules.
Common ExamplesSpecialized IT infrastructure, custom workstations.Basic repairs, maintenance, or cosmetic enhancements.

Leasehold Improvement vs Building Improvement

Below is a comparison between Leasehold Improvement and Building Improvement:

CriteriaLeasehold ImprovementsBuilding Improvements
DefinitionEnhancements made by a tenant to leased space.Enhancements made to the overall building.
OwnershipBelongs to the tenant during the lease term.The landlord usually covers building improvements.
ControlThe tenant bears the cost of leasehold improvements.Landlord typically has control and oversight.
Typical ExamplesInterior renovations, IT infrastructure.Part of the building is owned by the landlord.
Ownership TransferGenerally stays with the leased property.Stays with the building, benefits landlord.
DepreciationTypically depreciated over the lease term.Longer depreciation, consistent with building.
Financial ResponsibilityIt may qualify for accelerated depreciation.The landlord owns part of the building.
Tax TreatmentEnhancements were made to the overall building.Subject to standard depreciation rules.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. How do leasehold improvements impact financial statements?

Leasehold improvements are capitalized on the balance sheet and amortized over time. The amortization expense is reflected on the income statement. The presence of leasehold improvements can enhance the overall asset value on the balance sheet.

2. What are typical examples of leasehold improvements?

Examples include interior renovations, installation of specialized equipment, custom workstations, lighting enhancements, and technology infrastructure tailored to the tenant’s business needs.

3. Can leasehold improvements be expensed immediately?

Generally, leasehold improvements are capitalized and amortized over time. However, certain repairs and maintenance expenses that do not significantly enhance the property may be expensed immediately.

4. Do leasehold improvements have tax implications?

o Yes, leasehold improvements can have tax implications. Depending on whether they qualify as qualified leasehold improvements, tenants may be eligible for accelerated depreciation and potential tax benefits.

This article has been a guide to what is leasehold improvement. We explain its examples, comparison between qualified & non-qualified, and accounting treatment. You may also take a look at the useful articles below –