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Ground Lease Real Estate Agreement Explained

A ground lease is a real estate term that is often misunderstood. In its simplest form, a ground lease is an agreement between the landlord and tenant in which the tenant leases the land from the landlord for a specific lease period, usually between 50 and 99 years, or more. The lease agreement will spell out the tenant’s rights and obligations, as well as the landlord’s.

Real estate investors cannot overstate the importance of ground lease, especially in today’s market, where leased land is becoming increasingly rare. We’ll be discussing what a ground lease is and why it is so important for both tenants and landlords.

What is a Ground Lease?

what is a ground lease

If you’re in the market for a new commercial property or are a landlord with vacant land that you’re looking to lease out, then you’ve probably heard the term “ground lease.” But what does it mean?

In simple words, a ground lease involves a contract between a property owner and a tenant. The tenant agrees to pay rent for the use of the land. The property owner retains title to the land. At the same time, the tenant is responsible for all improvements erected on the commercial property.

Ground lease vs land lease: A land lease is a lease term in which the lessee (tenant) leases a parcel of land from the lessor (landlord). The lessee has the complete right to use the land for any purpose that is not illegal or harmful to the property. The tenant pays rent to the lessor or property owner in exchange for this right.

Therefore, ground leases stipulate the responsibilities of both the tenant and the property owner. They’re also a common way for commercial buildings businesses to secure the land they need for their operations while avoiding the costs of traditional property ownership. 

This type of lease arrangement is common in commercial real estate transactions. It allows businesses to secure the land they need without purchasing it outright.

What are typical ground lease rates? Ground lease rates typically fall within a 7%-9% range, reflecting the current economic and market conditions.

Land Lease Agreement: What Does it Mean for Tenants and Landlords?

For tenants, a ground lease is an opportunity to lease land at a fraction of the cost of purchasing it. In addition, a ground lease gives the tenant control over the property. It allows them to make improvements without fear of losing their investment.

On the other hand, a ground lease provides stable and predictable income with minimal risk for landlords. Landlords also have the advantage of leasing their land to multiple tenants, which can help spread the risk among several parties.

Overall, a ground lease is an important real estate term that should be understood by both the landowner and tenants. By understanding the basics of a ground lease agreement, both parties can benefit from this type of lease arrangement.

How The Ground Lease Process Works

ground lease agreement

The ground lease process usually involves three parties: the property owner, the tenant, and a broker. The landowner will first need to find a tenant interested in leasing their land. Once they have found a tenant, the landowner will work with a broker to negotiate the lease terms. Once the lease is finalized, the tenant will pay rent to the property owner according to the agreed-upon terms.

Under a lease agreement, the tenant is typically responsible for making all improvements to the property. These improvements can include anything from buildings and parking lots to landscaping and fencing. Landlords retain ownership of the land and any improvements made to it and can sell it at the end of the lease term for a profit.

If you are a property owner considering leasing your land, it’s also recommended to consult with a broker to learn more about this type of agreement and whether it would be a good fit for your needs, especially when considering making some land improvements.

Tenant’s Responsibilities Under a Ground Lease

ground lease definition

In addition to making all improvements to the property, tenants who enter into ground leases are typically responsible for paying all the property taxes. The landlord is not responsible for any of these expenses, which can add up over time. It is important to factor in taxes when calculating your ground rent payments.

If you are considering entering into a lease arrangement for your commercial property or business, it is important to understand all of the terms and conditions involved.

How Do the Ground Lease Payments Work?

what is ground lease

Ground lease payments are typically made on a monthly or yearly basis. They are calculated as a percentage of the property’s value. The amount of rent charged depends on several factors, including the property’s location and the lease term’s length.

Types of Ground Leases: Subordinated Ground Lease & Unsubordinated Ground Lease

Ground leases are often divided into two categories, depending on what happens if the tenant has financial difficulties during their term. These include subordinated ground leases and unsubordinated ground leases.

ground lease agreements

Subordinated Ground Lease

Ground leases are a common way for landowners to lease their land to developers. There are many different types of ground leases, but the most common is ground lease subordination.

This is a type of lease in which the developer has first priority to purchase the land if it ever becomes available for sale. This is different from a standard ground lease, which gives the developer second priority. In a subordinated ground lease, the landlord retains the right to sell the property to someone else or develop it themselves, but the developer has the first opportunity to purchase it.

In other words, within this arrangement, the tenant agrees that their leasehold interest will be subordinate to any future mortgages or liens placed on the property by the landlord. This means that if the landlord ever needs to borrow money using the property as collateral, the subordinated ground lease will be secondary to the lender’s interest.

Unsubordinated Ground Lease

An unsubordinated ground lease is less common but does offer some advantages to tenants. In this type of arrangement, the tenant’s rights are not subordinated to any future mortgages or liens placed on the property.

An Unsubordinated Ground Lease can be an attractive option for tenants looking for a long-term lease agreement with few restrictions. Nonetheless, it is necessary to remember that the landlord still owns the property and can ultimately do whatever they want with it. If the tenant ever wants to buy the property, they must negotiate with the landlord directly.

Likewise, unsubordinated ground leases give tenants a bit more security, knowing that their interests come first should anything happen with the commercial property down the line. It’s important to note that unsubordinated ground leases are typically more expensive, as landlords need to be reimbursed for the increased risk they’re taking on.

The Advantages of Ground Leases

ground lease example

There are multiple benefits that property owners and tenants can enjoy from entering into a ground lease agreement.

Advantages of a Ground Lease for Tenants

Tenant Control

Ground leases give tenants control over the property, allowing them to decide about design, construction, and operations.


Ground leases offer tenants stability and predictability in their monthly rent payments.

Easier Financing

Ground lease agreements are often seen as more favorable by lenders, making it easier for tenants to obtain financing.

Advantages of a Ground Lease for Landlords

ground lease financing

Rental Income

Ground leases allow landlords to collect rent on their land while retaining ownership, which is a great way to generate passive income.

Predictable Payments

Landlords know exactly what they will be receiving each month in rent payments, making budgeting easier.

Tax Savings

When landlords sell the property outright to their tenants, they realize the gain. Instead, when executing ground leases, there is no need for reporting any such gains as it would be irrespective of what type of contract one signs with their tenant(s). However, tax implications may still arise regarding how much rent has been received by them in relation to income generated from that source alone.

Easier Financing

Ground land leases agreements are often seen as more favorable by lenders, making it easier for tenants to obtain financing.

With that being said, if you’re considering agreeing to a land lease, as a landlord or tenant be sure to consult with an experienced real estate attorney to ensure that you understand all of the terms and conditions. With so many benefits, it’s no wonder why ground leases are becoming increasingly popular among commercial property owners and tenants alike!

Cons of Ground Leases

Cons of Ground Leases for Landlords

While there are many benefits to this type of arrangement, there are also some potential drawbacks that you should be aware of.

Risk of Tenant Default

A risk for landlords when entering into a ground lease is that the tenant may default on their payments. This could leave the landlord responsible for the entire lease payments, which could be difficult to manage if the property is not generating enough income.

Limitations For Selling or Developing a Property

ground lease real estate

Another potential downside is that ground leases can often be much longer than typical commercial leases, meaning that you could be locked into an agreement for many years, which could limit your ability to sell or develop the property in the future.

Cons of Ground Leases for Tenants

All in all, there are cons to consider when entering into a ground lease agreement. Tenants should carefully weigh all the risks and benefits before signing on the dotted line.

Little Control When The Lease Expires

A ground lease expires, which could mean that the tenant’s business is no longer viable.

Not Able to Relocate Easily

The tenant may have invested a great deal of money into their current location and may not be able to relocate easily or at all.

A ground lease can be difficult to understand

Finally, it’s important to remember that ground leases are often complex legal documents, meaning that it’s essential to have an experienced attorney review the lease before you sign it. They will be able to assist you in drafting a lease agreement that meets your needs and protects your interests. Otherwise, you could be inadvertently agreeing to terms that are not in your best interests.

Is A Ground Lease Good For My Business?

When a business is looking to expand, finding the right property can be a daunting task. There are many things to consider – such as size, location, and zoning. One important thing that often gets overlooked is negotiating a ground lease. 

There are a few different types of commercial leases that business owners should be aware of. One such lease is the ground lease.

Ground lease vs. NNN ground lease

A ground lease is a type of triple-net lease, which means the tenant is responsible for all management duties and costs associated with the property. This can include things like real estate taxes, snow-plowing, parking lot maintenance, new roofing, and more. 

A ground lease can provide businesses with much-needed flexibility. For example, if business conditions change or the company decides to move its operations, it can do so without having to purchase or sell the property. In addition, a ground lease can be negotiated to allow both property owners and developers to achieve their financial and business goals.

The Takeaway

Given these points, a ground lease can provide the best value to the landlord, tenant, and lender for the right client. By understanding the risk and benefits, as well as the typical party’s motivations, an attorney working on a ground lease can best prepare his client for the unlikely eventualities that may face a party to a ground lease – whether they come in the first year or the ninety-ninth.

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