Rental Management

Tenant Improvement (TI) in Real Estate

June 15, 2024

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An Introduction To Tenant Improvement (TI)

In commercial real estate, tenants will likely need to modify their new commercial space to meet their specific business needs. Landlords may make improvements to the space prior to tenant move-in as part of the lease agreement, fulfilling the tenant’s business modification requests. These improvements are called tenant improvements, or leasehold improvements 

Landlords and tenants collaborate to enhance properties for optimal functionality and aesthetic appeal; landlords do this to ensure that their tenants are happy and satisfied in their space while adding value to the leased property. 

These modifications go beyond renovations – they also add value to a workspace and brand identity. In this article, we will discuss negotiating payment terms, understanding the importance of TI clauses, and maximizing your tenant improvement allowance. 

If you invest in real estate, especially commercial/office space, considering the importance of tenant improvement and how it can help your tenant’s satisfaction rate is a great step towards cultivating your tenant/landlord relationships. 

Definition of Tenant/Leasehold Improvements 

A tenant or leasehold improvement (also known as TIs) is any alteration, repair, or renovation that a landlord makes to a (often commercial) property as agreed upon in the lease agreement. Usually, these improvements are made to better fit the needs or preferences of the tenant. 

When defining the scope of a particular tenant improvement, only consider alterations that can enhance the property’s functionality and value. Tenant improvements encompass changes like modifying walls, floors, ceilings, lighting, HVAC systems, and plumbing to tailor the space to tenant needs. For example, a retail business will need to add shelving units and wall displays to show off their merchandise. They may also want to add a security system to protect against theft. These alterations are permanent or semi-permanent and aim to add long-term value to the property. 

Components and Exclusions in TI 

Not everything can be considered a leasehold/tenant improvement, and it’s important to know what adds value to the space and what does not.  

TI components encompass the previously mentioned alterations like changes to walls, floors, ceilings, lighting, HVAC, and plumbing, all improvements that enhance the property’s value. These changes cater to specific tenant needs—typically, the tenant will ask for these upgrades in their lease agreement, and these alterations will change the space to better suit what the tenant intends to use it for. 

Exclusions from tenant improvements include furniture changes, decorations, outdoor upgrades, cabling, and moving expenses, as these are easily removable or reversible and don’t add long-term value. Any other temporary enhancements and non-permanent alterations are also not classified as tenant improvements. 

Understanding these distinctions is crucial for negotiating lease terms and ensuring that tenant improvements align with both tenant requirements and property enhancement, benefiting both parties involved in the real estate transaction. 

Financial Considerations for Tenant Improvements 

There are important financial considerations when navigating commercial real estate transactions that involve TI. 

Tenant improvements are vital for meeting business needs, enhancing property value, and fostering positive landlord-tenant relationships. Negotiating lease terms regarding these improvements is key to ensuring a space tailored to your requirements. 

Financially, tenant improvement allowances cover construction costs, with any excess typically falling on the tenant. It’s essential to budget for additional expenses like utilities and insurance, to negotiate costs effectively, and seek legal advice if you need help with lease comprehension or negotiation.  

Tenant Improvement Allowance 

Who pays for tenant improvement costs? 

Typically, the landlord pays for initial improvements since they add value that the landlord then gets to keep, but those funds usually come in the form of allowance. Tenant improvement allowance is an amount of money (usually a lump sum or line of credit) provided by the landlord to the tenant for the purpose of making improvements to a commercial property. 

Tenant improvement allowance should be negotiated so that clear parameters for projects can be included in your lease agreement. If costs end up surpassing the allowance, the tenant may be liable for the excess. Negotiating these terms upfront is vital. Some landlords might be open to accommodating additional costs or splitting up these construction costs into installments over multiple rent payments if the negotiated tenant improvement allowance is not enough. 

Start by negotiating the tenant improvement allowance amount during lease discussions to ensure clarity on cost responsibilities. The tenant improvement allowance, typically expressed per square foot, covers construction costs. 

There are expenses that fall within the allowance, as well as expenses that are outside of it, like furniture. By discussing and finalizing these details early on, you can avoid misunderstandings and ensure a smoother tenant improvement process.  

Maximizing Tenant Improvement Value 

To maximize the impact of tenant improvements, prioritize strategic planning and effective communication between landlord and tenant. Begin by thoroughly understanding the tenant’s business needs and how the space can best serve them. For example, it may be helpful to discuss the tenant’s business, their marketing strategy, and how they envision the space serving that strategy’s purpose in attracting customers/clients or facilitating daily operations for staff. A bakery will have different needs than a retail store or a manufacturer.  

Once the tenant has identified the improvements they need, have them describe their plan for implementing them and clarify the timeline for their completion. Tenants should also try to utilize the tenant improvement allowance efficiently to make the most significant enhancements within the allocated budget. 

A reliable tenant will find a way to use the allotted funds to create a workspace that not only meets their needs but also adds value to the property and contributes to your real estate success. 


Tenant improvements in real estate can be a valuable bargaining tool in a commercial lease agreement. They allow tenants to customize exactly the space they want and landlords to ensure that their property maintains its value or even appreciates. The landlord also benefits in that permanent improvements could attract future tenants with similar goals and needs. A strong tenant improvement agreement can ensure that all parties benefit and see increased success and revenue as a result.

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