Occupancy Costs and Lease Types

Lease Cost Matrix and Occupancy Cost

When comparing different properties tenants all want to know the total occupancy cost. Competent agents provide rents and expenses then do a comparative analysis of these costs. When we look at occupancy costs, we evaluate base rent, concessions, improvement costs and tenant other tenant driven costs and compare these options using simple spreadsheets to complex analysis software. Some clients want to look at annual costs, some want a net present value of costs, either way the information is available and we encourage clients to understand these costs before signing a lease. And remember, the defined expenses in the lease should relate to the projected and historical expenses presented by the property owner.

It all comes down to occupancy cost.

The majority of office leases in our community are full service gross and operating expenses are charged as a pass through rent over a base year. In fully serviced office leases operating costs are included in the first year’s base rent and changes in operating costs are reconciled each year against a base year. In some markets landlords charge rent on a NNN basis. That means operating costs are paid each month as a pro rata share or percentage of the property leased. Compared to fully serviced or gross leases, operating expenses are a mix of taxes, insurance, common area maintenance and direct expenses controlled by the tenant like utilities. The important thing to note is expenses are not free. Either you pay them directly in a NNN lease or indirectly in a gross rent with changes in the expenses applied over a Base Year

Lease Types Explained

Not all leases are equal, but operating costs when comparing the different lease types can be equivalent or very similar. The first table [fig 1-1] to the right shows the different types of leases: NNN, Industrial Gross, Modified Gross, Fully Serviced. We categorize expenses and compare how the costs are segregated. In the next table [1-2] we give a mathematical example how the costs segregated add up to the same occupancy cost.

Industrial Gross Error


Many agents quote Industrial Gross as net of Janitorial and Electricity/Gas, but rent could also exclude HVAC maintenance, water, and garbage.


Be sure to ask.

So what goes into operating costs?

Base Rent—this is the rent a tenant pays and is clearly stated in a lease. Real estate agents will quote this rent. Often we create a schedule to reference in the lease document to eliminate discrepancies or misunderstandings during the lease term. In some instances rental increases can be based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Make sure the CPI has a base year and a metropolitan statistical area (MSA). These are important so the correct increase can be applied. For example SF/Oakland MSA 2010=100.

Base Year—the base year is the year which the operating expenses are compared. For example if the lease is executed and the tenant moves in the property say in May of 2016, the base year would be 2016. In our market the base year is tied to the year the tenant takes possession of the premises; if possession is in the 4th quarter of the year most landlords will move the base year to the next year.

Comparison Year—the comparison year is the year which we compare expenses against the base year. In fig 1-3 above we show how the math is calculated. Under Gross Leases the tenant is responsible for differences in the base year and comparison year costs. We often refer to these as expense “pass throughs’, because the cost is passed through to the tenant. Operating costs do not always go up, some comparison year operating costs are lower than the base year, and the tenant is not supplied a credit. In the example above the comparison year fluctuates but at a cost higher than the base year. Tenants are supplied credits if they over pay for estimated or projected operating costs in a comparison year. The credit is applied in the next comparison year.

Pro Rata Share—this is the percentage of rented space to the total property or project [see fig 1-4]. Pro rata shares are important for tenants and owners to portion costs as a percentage of occupancy. In NNN leases tenants pay their share of total operating costs as a direct expense. In gross office leases the pro rata share is applied for the difference in total operating costs.


Other terms you may hear:

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