Rent Expense: Definition, How It Works, and Types of Cost (2023)

What Is Rent Expense?

Rent expense is the cost incurred by a business to utilize a property or location for an office, retail space, factory, or storage space. Rent expense is a type of fixed operating cost or an absorption cost for a business, as opposed to a variable expense. Rental expenses are often subject to a one- or two-year contract between the lessor and lessee, with options to renew.

Key Takeaways

  • Rent expense is the cost a business pays to occupy a property for an office, retail space, storage space, or factory.
  • For a retail business, rent expense can be one of its biggest operating expenses along with employee wages and marketing costs.
  • For manufacturing companies, rental expenses tied to production are part of factory overhead, while administrative office rent is part of operating expenses.
  • A factor that can impact rent expenses includes the need for a location near a major metropolitan area, ports, or transportation lines.
  • As more people shop online, many retail companies have shifted the money they previously spent on rental expenses to support e-commerce instead.

Understanding Rent Expense

Depending on the type of business, rent expense can be a material portion of operating expenses or a negligible one. For retail businesses that do not own their own property, rent expense is one of the main operating expenses along with employee wages and marketing and advertising costs.

Manufacturing companies typically spend low amounts in rent expense as a percentage of total expenses. Rent expenses for manufacturing operations are included in factory overhead, while rent not tied to production—i.e., administrative office space rent—is charged to operating expenses. In real estate, location is usually the most important factor in the price of rent.

A retailer that wants to set up in a prime area with heavy foot traffic will have to pay higher rent expenses than for a secondary location. A manufacturer that wants to lease factory or warehouse space close to ports or transportation lines in major metropolitan areas would face higher than average leasing costs. Rent expense consideration is balanced against the benefit of being in a prime area, for the retailer, and of being close to transshipment points, for the manufacturer.

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Companies that own their building do not pay rent expense. Instead, they may have a financing arrangement with a lender and pay down monthly debt instead.

Components of Rent Expense

Rent expense may be the aggregate of several different types of expenses. These expenses may be billed monthly and as a single total. Rent expense may or may not include any of the following components:

  • Base Rent: The base rent is the fixed amount that the tenant pays to the landlord regularly as per the terms of the lease agreement. This is the underlying charge to use a property without any additional
  • Operating Expenses: Some leases include a provision for the tenant to cover a portion of the building's operating expenses. This article discusses more in the "Types of Leases" section.
  • Common Area Maintenance (CAM) Charges: In properties with shared common areas like shopping malls or office complexes, tenants may be responsible for a share of the costs associated with maintaining these common spaces. Examples of common areas include hallways, elevators, parking lots, and landscaping.
  • Rent Escalation: Rent escalation clauses in leases can lead to an increase in rent over time. This increase may be based on a fixed percentage, Consumer Price Index (CPI) adjustments, or negotiated terms. The escalation may relate to base rent or allocated expenses.
  • Amortization of Leasehold Improvements: If the tenant made improvements to the leased space, the cost of these improvements may be amortized and included in the rent expense over the lease term.
  • Sublease Income: If the tenant subleases a portion of the space to another party, any income received from the sublease arrangement may offset a portion of the rent expense. In most cases, the subleased revenue would to go the tenant, though the tenant must be mindful to remit the full (not net) amount of their rent expense in this case.

Rent Expense Across Types of Leases

The amount of rent expense may also vary based on the type of lease. In a gross lease, the tenant pays a fixed amount of rent, and the landlord is responsible for covering all property expenses, including property taxes, insurance, and maintenance costs. Tenants prefer gross leases because monthly rent expense is usually lower, consistent, and easy to understand.

Another common type of lease is a triple net lease. In a triple net lease, the tenant assumes responsibility for paying not only the base rent but also all or a portion of the property's operating expenses. These expenses may include property taxes, property insurance, and common area maintenance charges.

In other cases, tenants may pay full-service leases. Full-service leases are prevalent in office buildings. In this agreement, a tenant pays a single, all-inclusive rent expense that covers the base rent and all operating expenses, including utilities, property taxes, insurance, and maintenance.

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Note that there are other types of leases such as absolute net leases, ground leases, or index leases. Under each of these leases, the monthly or annual rent expense may slightly vary based on the amenities included and function of the contract.

Rent Expense and Abatement

Rent expense abatement, also known as free rent, is a temporary period where a tenant is granted relief from paying rent for a specific duration. This relief is typically provided by the landlord as an incentive or concession to the tenant. During the rent abatement period, the tenant is not required to make regular rent payments.

Rent expense abatement is often offered in various situations such as lease negotiations, tenant improvements, space readiness, repairs or maintenance, and tenant disruptions. The rent abatement period can range from a few weeks to several months, depending on the circumstances and the specific terms agreed upon.

After the rent abatement period ends, the tenant is usually required to resume regular rent payments as outlined in the lease agreement. It is crucial for both landlords and tenants to clearly document the terms of the rent expense abatement in the lease agreement to avoid confusion or disputes in the future. Additionally, any impact on other aspects of the lease such as lease term extension or rent escalations should also be addressed and agreed upon during the negotiation process.

In many leases, there is a force majeure clause. This means that a tenant may not be forced to continue to pay rent for specific events that were out of the control of the lessor or lessee.

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Rent Expense and Technology

The increase in the popularity of e-commerce has led many companies to rethink the amount of money they spend on renting commercial real estate. Some companies are reducing the number of brick-and-mortar stores they operate to shift more of their operations to online shopping. "Click and mortar" describes the business model where retailers combine online and offline operations in the form of a website and physical stores to meet consumer demand.

The demand for office space is also changing due to technological advancements as companies realize they can employ workers remotely from home. An obvious benefit for the company is a reduction in property rent expenses, while many employees say they prefer the convenience of working from home.

Real World Example for Property Rent Expense

Starbucks is prominently known for its coffeeshops around the world. Some locations Starbucks owns; other locations, Starbucks enters into leases for to operate their retail locations.

As part of financial statement compliance, Starbucks notes they do not record leases with a term of 12 months or less on its consolidated balance sheet; instead, it records rent expense on a straight-line basis over the lease term. Starbucks also notes in its annual report that its leases "often include options to extend or terminate at our sole discretion."

As part of its lease agreements, Starbucks notes that it pays many different types of expenses such as CAM costs, real estate taxes, and other costs. Starbucks acknowledges it is entered into some variable lease costs such as including a percentage of gross sales in excess of specified levels as part of the cost of rent.

Last, consider how the COVID-19 pandemic impact retailers around the world, Starbucks included. As part of Starbucks annual report, the company acknowledged it received $27.6 million of rent concessions for stores temporarily closed due to the pandemic.

Are Corporate Rent Expenses Tax-Deductible?

Yes, corporate rent expenses are generally tax-deductible for businesses. The IRS allows companies to deduct ordinary and necessary business expenses, which include rent payments, from their taxable income. By deducting rent expenses, companies can reduce their taxable income, which in turn lowers their overall tax liability.

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How Can Companies Manage Rent Expense during Economic Downturns?

During economic downturns, companies may face financial challenges, making rent expense management crucial. Strategies may include lease renegotiations, rent deferrals, or lease terminations. Open communication with landlords and proactive financial planning can help companies navigate difficult economic times.

How is Corporate Rent Expense Recorded in Financial Statements?

Corporate rent expense is recorded in the income statement as an operating expense, specifically under the "Rent" or "Occupancy Costs" category. This category includes all costs associated with the use of leased premises. Note that in some cases, companies may be required to recognize leased assets on their balance sheet as a capitalized asset.

The Bottom Line

Rent expense refers to the cost incurred by a company for leasing commercial properties to conduct its business operations. It includes base rent and, depending on the lease type, may encompass additional expenses like property taxes, insurance, and common area maintenance.


What type of cost is rent expense? ›

Rent expense is a type of fixed operating cost or an absorption cost for a business, as opposed to a variable expense. Rental expenses are often subject to a one- or two-year contract between the lessor and lessee, with options to renew.

What is the description of rent expense? ›

Rent expense refers to the total cost of using rental property for each reporting period. It is typically among the largest expenses that companies report. Only two expenses are usually larger than rental expense: cost of goods sold (COGS) and compensation (wages) expense.

How do you recognize rent expense in accounting? ›

Rent expense is typically allocated between the selling and administrative, and production portions of the income statement. Alternatively, the entire amount may be charged to the selling and administration part of the income statement.

What is the difference between expenses and costs? ›

The key difference between Cost and Expense is that cost refers to the amount spent by the business organization to acquire an asset or to create the assets. In contrast, the expense refers to the amount spent by the business organization for the ongoing operations of the business to ensure revenue generation.

Is rent an example of a cost? ›

Fixed costs tend to be costs that are based on time rather than the quantity produced or sold by your business. Examples of fixed costs are rent and lease costs, salaries, utility bills, insurance, and loan repayments.

Is rent expense a fixed cost? ›

Fixed costs include any number of expenses, including rental and lease payments, certain salaries, insurance, property taxes, interest expenses, depreciation, and some utilities. For instance, someone who starts a new business would likely begin with fixed expenses for rent and management salaries.

What type of asset is rent expense? ›

Rent is an expense which can either be treated as a current asset or current liability. When rent is paid in advance before it is due, then it is known as prepaid rent and is considered as a current asset.

What type of account is rent? ›

Rent account is a nominal account. Other examples of nominal accounts are wages account, commission account, interest received account. The rule for nominal accounts is: Debit all expenses and losses; Credit all incomes and gains.

Is rent expense an income? ›

Rent expense is an expense on the company's income statement and should be calculated as an actual expense for the month in which it is being paid. It should not be confused with prepaid rent which is considered to be an asset to the company.

Where does rent expense belong? ›

Under accounting guidelines, rent expense belongs to the "selling, general and administrative accounts" category. Other SG&A items include charges as diverse as litigation, office supplies, money a business pays to settle regulatory liabilities, salaries, insurance and depreciation.

How does rent expense affect the accounting equation? ›

How a Rent Payment Affects the Accounting Equation. A company's payment of each month's rent reduces the company's asset Cash. This is recorded with a credit to Cash. If the payment is for the current month's rent, the second account is to the temporary account Rent Expense which will be debited.

Is rent expense an operating expense? ›

Operating expenses—also known as selling, general and administrative expenses (SG&A)—are the costs of doing business. They include rent and utilities, marketing and advertising, sales and accounting, management and administrative salaries.

What type of cost is expenses? ›

Expenses can be defined as fixed expenses, such as rent or mortgage; those that do not change with the change in production. Expenses can also be defined as variable expenses; those that change with the change in production. These include utilities and the cost of goods sold.

Does expense mean cost? ›

What is an expense? While a cost is generally a one-time payment, an expense is best described as an amount paid regularly towards ongoing business operations. These payments are important to a company's ability to generate revenues.

Is rent expense a product cost? ›

Examples of Product Costs and Period Costs

Examples of product costs are direct materials, direct labor, and allocated factory overhead. Examples of period costs are general and administrative expenses, such as rent, office depreciation, office supplies, and utilities.

Is rent expense a direct cost? ›

On the other hand, other types of expenses, such as operating expenses, are incurred regardless of sales or revenue. Office rent, for example, would qualify as an operating expense but not a direct cost, while raw materials would be a direct cost because they're tied to revenue.

Is rent an overhead cost? ›

Overhead costs are those that are not directly related to the production of goods or services, but are necessary for the operation of a business. Examples of overhead costs include rent, utilities, insurance, legal fees, office supplies, advertising, payroll, and accounting fees.


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