Often asked, “what is a triple net lease”,the NNN Lease, often just called the triple net lease, is a common lease structure used in commercial real estate. Despite the popularity of the NNN lease, the triple net lease structure is still commonly misunderstood by many commercial real estate professionals. In this article we’ll take a deep dive into the NNN lease, dispel some common misconceptions about the triple net lease, and then finally we’ll tie it all together with a clear and concise example.
What is a Triple Net Lease? (NNN)
First of all, what exactly is a triple net, or NNN, lease?
A triple net (NNN) lease is defined as a lease structure where the tenant is responsible for paying all operating expenses associated with a property. The triple net or NNN lease is considered a “turnkey” investment since the landlord is not responsible for paying any operating expenses. With that said, in order to fully understand the NNN lease you must first understand the spectrum of commercial real estate leases.
The Spectrum of Commercial Real Estate Leases
All commercial real estate leases fall somewhere along a spectrum with absolute net leases on one end and absolute gross leases on the other end. Most leases fall somewhere in the middle and are considered to be a hybrid lease.
Commercial real estate net lease spectrum
When most people talk about a triple net or NNN lease, they are usually thinking about an absolute net lease. However, just because a lease is called or labelled an NNN lease, does not mean it’s actually an absolute net lease. Often a lease will be called a “triple net lease” for convenience when in fact it is not.
For example, when a building is brand new the tenant may indeed be responsible for funding replacements such as the roof or HVAC systems as they wear out over time. However, on older buildings a lease can often be called triple net, but actually require the landlord to fund these capital expenditures over time, rather than the tenant.
The most important thing to remember when working with commercial real estate leases is to ALWAYS read the lease. The only way to truly understand the terms and conditions of a lease is to actually read the lease. Simple labels like triple net, full service, or modified gross, which are commonly used by brokers and landlords, will often conflict with the actual terms of the lease.
What the NNN Lease Does Not Include
Even if your lease is a true absolute net lease, a common misconception is that even a true absolute net lease covers ALL expenses associated with a property, which is not always the case. While a true absolute NNN lease with a strong tenant can be thought of as a turnkey commercial property from the landlord or investor’s perspective, even an absolute net lease has some expenses that won’t be covered by the tenant(s).
For example, it’s rare for an NNN lease to cover the accounting costs charged by the landlords CPA or legal costs charged by the landlord’s attorneys when drafting or reviewing documents. While these costs are usually small relative to the purchase price of a property, they are nonetheless not typically covered in a standard “NNN lease”.