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Navigating Commercial Lease Negotiations & Tenant Improvements: Who Funds the Fit-Out

by Mish Daniel | Free Information

If you are involved in commercial real estate transactions, understanding the legal matters surrounding commercial lease negotiations, fit-outs, and tenant improvements is crucial.

This month, commercial property industry expert Mish Daniel collaborated with Shasta Turnbull, the lead attorney at Legali Law,

a reputable boutique commercial law firm, to provide you with valuable insights and practical tips on questions like “Can a tenant make improvements to leased property?” and “Who owns tenant improvements?”

Whether you’re a tenant or a landlord, their insights will help you make informed decisions and negotiate fair and favourable lease agreements. From financing options for fit-outs, known as tenant improvement allowance, to defining responsibilities for repairs and maintenance, their expertise covers a wide range of crucial considerations.

Listen to the full conversation below, or keep reading. 💡

Understanding Fit-Out Financing Options and Tenant Improvement Allowances

Fit-outs, also known as leasehold improvements paid by tenant, are changes made to the interior of a commercial space. They include designing, constructing, and installing walls, floors, lighting, furniture, and more. The idea is to make the space more usable and attractive, which also lets you show what your business is about.

It’s important to note that improvements made to rental property by tenant are considered tenant improvements and often come with their own set of rules and regulations.

One of the big questions around fit-outs is who foots the bill – the tenant or the landlord? This often boils down to the arrangement around the tenant improvement allowance.

There are typically three types of fit-out financing arrangements: Tenant-Funded Fit-Outs, Landlord-Funded Fit-Outs, and Shared-Cost Fit-Out Arrangements.

Tenant-Funded Fit-Outs

In tenant-funded fit-outs, the tenant controls all aspects of the fit-out, from design to completion. This gives them the freedom to create a space that perfectly reflects their brand identity. But this means that the tenant has to carry the entire financial burden.

One possible challenge with this arrangement is for the tenant to recover their investment if they leave the property before the lease term ends. Tenant-paid scenarios are generally uncomplicated, which helps ensure smooth transitions and clear financial expectations for both parties.

But, can a tenant claim for improvements made during the lease? This question will need to be addressed in the lease agreement and varies depending on local laws and regulations.

Landlord-Funded Fit-Outs

With landlord-funded tenant improvements, the property owner covers the costs associated with making the space suitable for the tenant. This can lead to more competitive lease terms, as landlords might offer perks like a rent-free period or lower rent to balance the expenses they incurred. For tenants, this means less upfront financial commitment and more affordable space.

However, there are potential downsides to this setup. The landlord typically has more control over the design and execution of the tenant improvements, which could limit the tenant’s ability to tailor the space exactly how they want.

Also, while the tenant might not pay directly for the improvements, the costs are often built into the lease agreement. This means the tenant might end up paying for the improvements through higher rent over the term of the lease.

When tenants expect the landlord to help fund their tenant improvements, the details are usually negotiated and incentive deeds are often used. They spell out the terms and conditions of the landlord’s contribution to the tenant improvements. For more on this, you can visit the Australian Taxation Office’s Leasehold improvements and taxation page.

Shared-Cost Fit-Out Arrangements

At times, the tenant and landlord mutually contribute to cover the costs of fit-outs. This approach achieves a balance, blending the advantages and mitigating the disadvantages of the other two methods.

This cost-sharing approach results in both parties being invested in the project, fostering collaboration on design and execution. Such an arrangement can enhance the tenant-landlord relationship and result in a more custom-tailored fit-out.

However, shared-cost agreements may extend decision-making periods as both parties need to reach consensus on design, budget, and timelines. Additionally, financial responsibility is not entirely absolved from either party, which could pose a challenge if one party has limited resources or competing priorities.

Success with shared-cost fit-outs depends on transparent communication, skilled commercial lease negotiations, and a willingness to compromise.

Key Considerations in Negotiating a Fair Fit-Out Agreement

Addressing these points before finalising the lease is critical. Once the lease is signed, its terms become binding for the entire lease period, which can often be substantial.

Understanding Individual Needs & Priorities:

  • Take into account the unique needs, priorities, and financial constraints of each party.
  • Craft commercial lease negotiations to address these considerations.

Evaluating Financial Capabilities:

  • Assess the tenant’s financial capability to meet obligations.
  • Strive to balance legal requirements with financial practicality.

Understanding Goals and Limitations:

  • Comprehend the tenant’s aspirations and constraints regarding the fit-out.
  • Strive for compromise and achievable solutions.

Promoting Open Communication and Compromise:

  • Maintain transparent dialogues with tenants.
  • Align expectations and negotiate within reasonable parameters.

Lease Clauses for Repairs and Maintenance

For property repairs and maintenance, it’s crucial to explicitly define each party’s responsibilities. Typically, landlords address structural issues, while tenants maintain the interior of the property.

The lease should include a section detailing the responsibilities of each party concerning repairs and maintenance. It should also explain the procedure for addressing any arising issues.

End-of-Lease Scenarios and Negotiations

In a lease agreement, exit terms are pivotal. They delineate the scope of work, assign responsibilities, address financial matters, and establish clear expectations for the end of the lease.

It’s crucial to specify who will be responsible for specific tasks, such as undoing modifications made to the property. It’s also important to determine if any changes made within the property must be removed at lease termination.

The objective is to negotiate a win-win outcome where both parties are content with the revised lease terms, thereby fostering robust business relationships.

Possible end-of-lease scenarios include:

  • The tenant vacates and restores the space to its original condition.
  • The tenant vacates, leaving improvements intact.
  • The lease is renewed under new terms.

Commercial Lease Negotiations of End-of-Lease Terms

During the commercial lease negotiation of termination terms, consider these factors to ensure a smooth transition and equitable resolution.

Assessing the Value of Improvements:

  • Evaluate the cost, quality, and impact of the improvements made during the lease.
  • Consider their influence on the property’s overall value.

Determining Expected Condition:

  • Clearly define the state the space should be in at lease termination.
  • Specify any required repairs, maintenance, or restoration.

Addressing Penalties or Fees:

  • Discuss potential charges for failing to comply with lease terms.
  • Include charges for excessive wear and tear or not meeting return conditions.

Open discussions and agreements on expectations, responsibilities, and potential penalties ensure a fair resolution for all parties involved.

Building a Strong Team

In commercial property management, a strong, collaborative team is pivotal.

Seeking expert advice based on lease terms and negotiations can provide invaluable insights. If you’re looking for expert guidance to fuel your success, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re ready to be a key part of your team.

Through our collaborative approach and comprehensive industry knowledge, we can help you realise your goals and assure a smooth leasing experience.

Contact us today to discuss how we can collaborate and bring your commercial property vision into reality.


Remember, we’re here to help you succeed in the world of commercial real estate. 

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