Property Leases: Navigating New Terrain in Lease Accounting

Property Leases: Navigating New Terrain in Lease Accounting

The implementation of ASC 842, a standard set by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), marked a significant shift in lease accounting practices for businesses in the United States. This standard, which came into effect for public companies in 2019 and for private companies in 2021, fundamentally changes how organizations recognize lease assets and liabilities on their balance sheets. One area of particular interest under ASC 842 is the treatment of deferred rent, especially as it applies to properties. This article explores the nuances of deferred rent under ASC 842 and its implications for property leases, providing clarity on how businesses should approach this aspect of the new standard.

Deferred Rent under Previous Standards

Under the previous lease accounting standard, ASC 840, companies commonly recognized rent expense on a straight-line basis over the lease term, regardless of the actual payment schedule. This method often resulted in the creation of a “deferred rent”, sometimes known as deferred rent ASC 842 liability or asset on the balance sheet, representing the difference between the rent expense recognized and the amount actually paid. This approach allowed for the smoothing out of rent expenses over time, especially in cases where lease agreements included periods of free rent or escalating rent payments.

ASC 842’s Approach to Lease Payments

With the introduction of ASC 842, the concept of deferred rent, as it existed under ASC 840, has been effectively eliminated. ASC 842 requires lessees to recognize a right-of-use (ROU) asset and a lease liability at the lease commencement date, based on the present value of lease payments over the lease term. The standard specifies the inclusion of fixed payments, variable lease payments that depend on an index or rate, amounts expected to be payable under residual value guarantees, and the exercise price of purchase options reasonably certain to be exercised, among others.

Key Considerations for Property Leases under ASC 842:

  • Lease Term: Determining the lease term under ASC 842 includes considering options to extend or terminate the lease and assessing their likelihood of being exercised.
  • Lease Payments: Calculating the present value of lease payments requires identifying all components that constitute lease payments, including fixed payments, variable payments based on an index or rate, and any lease incentives.
  • Right-of-Use Asset and Lease Liability: The initial measurement of the ROU asset and lease liability involves discounting the identified lease payments using the appropriate discount rate, which can be the rate implicit in the lease or the lesseeโ€™s incremental borrowing rate.
  • Lease Expense Recognition: For operating leases, lessees will recognize a single lease cost, calculated so that the cost is allocated over the lease term on a generally straight-line basis. This approach differs from the previous treatment of deferred rent, as it directly ties expense recognition to the lease liability and ROU asset, rather than deferring costs to align with payment schedules.

Implications for Property Leases

The shift from deferred rent to the recognition of ROU assets and lease liabilities under ASC 842 brings transparency to the balance sheet but also poses challenges for companies in managing and reporting their property leases. Businesses must carefully review their lease agreements, identify all components of lease payments, and ensure accurate measurement and recognition of lease assets and liabilities. The standard’s emphasis on a more detailed assessment of lease terms and payments can lead to a more nuanced understanding of a company’s financial obligations and rights regarding leased properties.

Navigating the Transition to ASC 842 for Properties

The transition to ASC 842 represents a significant undertaking for companies with extensive property lease portfolios. It necessitates not only a comprehensive review of existing lease agreements but also the development of new internal controls and processes to ensure ongoing compliance. Organizations must invest in training their accounting teams on the nuances of the new standard and may need to upgrade or adopt new lease accounting software to manage the increased complexity of lease calculations and reporting. The effort to align property lease accounting practices with ASC 842 is not merely a compliance exercise but an opportunity to gain deeper insights into leasing arrangements’ financial impact and strategic value. By embracing the changes brought about by ASC 842, companies can enhance their financial analysis and decision-making related to property leases, ultimately supporting more informed and strategic real estate management.

The Strategic Implications of ASC 842 Compliance

Complying with ASC 842 goes beyond meeting regulatory requirements; it has strategic implications for businesses, especially in their approach to leasing versus buying decisions. The new standard’s requirement to recognize lease liabilities on the balance sheet makes the financial implications of leasing more visible, which can influence a company’s leverage ratios and, potentially, its credit ratings. This visibility can prompt companies to reevaluate their real estate strategies, considering the long-term cost and benefits of leasing properties versus other forms of financing or investment. Furthermore, the detailed lease information required under ASC 842 can serve as a valuable database for negotiating lease terms, managing lease renewals, and identifying opportunities to optimize the use of leased properties. In this way, the adoption of ASC 842 can catalyze a more strategic and data-driven approach to property management and corporate real estate strategy.


ASC 842 transforms the landscape of lease accounting, particularly in how deferred rent is treated for property leases. By requiring the recognition of ROU assets and lease liabilities, the standard aims to provide a clearer picture of a company’s lease commitments. For businesses, adapting to these changes involves a thorough examination of lease agreements, careful calculation of lease payments, and diligent financial reporting. While the transition may be challenging, the move towards greater transparency and consistency in lease accounting under ASC 842 ultimately benefits all stakeholders by providing a more accurate depiction of a company’s financial position.