Lessee vs Lessor: Understanding Leasing Roles and Responsibilities

What is a Lessor and Lessee?

A lessor is the owner of an asset that is leased or rented out to another party. The lessee is the party that obtains the right to use the leased asset from the lessor for a specified period of time in exchange for periodic rental payments.

The fundamental roles of the lessor and lessee are:


  • Owns the asset being leased
  • Grants the right to use the asset to the lessee 
  • Receives rental income from the lessee
  • Responsible for maintaining the leased asset


  • Obtains the right to use the leased asset
  • Makes periodic rental payments to the lessor
  • Can use the asset for business operations or personal use
  • Is responsible for maintaining the asset per the lease terms

The lessor-lessee relationship is governed by a lease agreement that outlines the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of each party over the lease term.

Responsibilities of Lessors

As the legal owner of the leased asset, the lessor has several key responsibilities:

Ownership and Maintenance of the Leased Asset

The lessor is responsible for maintaining ownership of the asset throughout the lease term. This includes handling any necessary repairs, maintenance, and upkeep to ensure the asset remains in good working condition. The lessor may pass through certain maintenance costs to the lessee per the lease agreement terms.

Granting Right to Use the Asset to the Lessee

The fundamental responsibility of the lessor is to grant the lessee the right to use the leased asset for the contracted period and specified purposes outlined in the lease agreement. The lessee obtains control over the asset's use but not ownership.

The lessor must ensure the lease transaction and agreement terms comply with all applicable laws and regulations. This includes tax regulations, accounting standards, consumer protection laws, and any industry-specific rules governing the leased asset class. The lessor is typically responsible for reporting and paying associated taxes.

Responsibilities of Lessees

As the party obtaining the right to use a leased asset, lessees have several key responsibilities:

Proper Usage and Maintenance of the Leased Asset

Lessees must use the leased asset responsibly and per the terms outlined in the lease agreement. This includes adhering to any usage restrictions, performing routine maintenance and repairs, and ensuring the asset is not misused or damaged through negligence.

Adhering to Terms of the Lease Agreement

The lessee is obligated to follow all terms specified in the lease contract. This may include making timely lease payments, maintaining required insurance coverage, allowing lessor inspections, and restricting modifications or alterations to the leased asset without approval.

Return of the Asset at Lease End

When the lease term expires, lessees are typically required to return the leased asset to the lessor in an acceptable condition, subject to normal wear and tear. The asset must be returned per the terms outlined, such as cleaning, repair or restoration requirements to avoid penalties.

Ownership and Usage Rights

The fundamental difference between a lessor and lessee lies in the ownership and usage rights of the leased asset. The lessor retains ownership of the asset being leased, while the lessee obtains the right to use and possess that asset for the duration specified in the lease agreement.

As the legal owner, the lessor holds title to the leased asset on their balance sheet. However, by entering into a lease contract, the lessor grants the lessee the right to use and operate that asset in exchange for periodic rental payments over the lease term.

The lessee, on the other hand, does not own the asset but gains control over its usage for the contracted period. They obtain the rights to deploy, maintain, and benefit from the leased asset as if they were the owner, albeit temporarily and within the terms outlined in the lease agreement.

It's important to note that while the lessee gains possession and usage rights, they cannot claim ownership or sell the leased asset without the lessor's consent. At the end of the lease term, the lessee must return the asset to the lessor or exercise any options specified in the contract, such as extending the lease or purchasing the asset.

Accounting Treatment for Lessors

As the owner of the leased asset, lessors follow specific accounting guidelines to properly record and report lease transactions. The primary accounting treatment for lessors involves recognizing the leased asset on their balance sheet and recording lease income over the duration of the lease term.

Under the lessor accounting model, the leased asset remains on the lessor's books as they retain legal ownership. This asset is typically classified as an investment property or a finance lease receivable, depending on the nature of the lease agreement. The initial value of the asset is equal to the net investment in the lease, which comprises the present value of future lease payments and any unguaranteed residual value.

Throughout the lease term, lessors systematically recognize a portion of the lease income in their income statement. The lease income represents the finance or interest income earned from the net investment in the lease. This income recognition pattern is designed to reflect a constant periodic rate of return on the lessor's net investment.

Lessors must also assess the leased asset for potential impairment and make necessary adjustments to the carrying value if required. Additionally, they are responsible for properly depreciating the leased asset over its useful life, unless the lease transfers ownership to the lessee by the end of the lease term.

Overall, the lessor's accounting treatment aims to accurately reflect the economic substance of the lease transaction, ensuring that the leased asset and the associated lease income are appropriately recognized and reported in their financial statements.

Accounting Treatment for Lessees

Under the current lease accounting standards, lessees are required to recognize most leases on their balance sheets. This is a significant change from the previous standards, where operating leases were kept off the balance sheet.

For lessees, the primary impact is the recognition of a right-of-use (ROU) asset and a corresponding lease liability on the balance sheet. The ROU asset represents the lessee's right to use the underlying asset over the lease term, while the lease liability represents the obligation to make future lease payments.

The initial measurement of the ROU asset and lease liability is based on the present value of the lease payments over the lease term, discounted using the rate implicit in the lease, or if that rate is not readily determinable, the lessee's incremental borrowing rate.

Subsequent to initial recognition, the lessee accounts for the ROU asset similarly to other non-financial assets, such as property, plant, and equipment, by recognizing depreciation expense over the asset's useful life or the lease term, whichever is shorter.

The lease liability is treated similarly to a financial liability, with interest expense recognized using the effective interest method over the lease term. The lease payments are allocated between a reduction of the lease liability and interest expense.

For income statement purposes, lessees recognize a single lease expense, typically on a straight-line basis over the lease term. This expense includes the interest expense on the lease liability and the depreciation expense on the ROU asset.

Overall, the new lease accounting standards aim to provide greater transparency and comparability by recognizing lease assets and liabilities on the balance sheet, which better reflects the economic reality of leasing transactions.

Operating Leases vs. Capital Leases

Operating Leases

An operating lease is a type of lease agreement where the lessor retains the risks and rewards associated with ownership of the leased asset. The lessee only obtains the right to use the asset for a specified period of time in exchange for periodic rental payments. 

Operating leases are generally short-term, and the leased asset is expected to have a useful economic life that extends beyond the lease term. At the end of the lease, the lessee returns the asset to the lessor.

Capital Leases

A capital lease, also known as a finance lease, is a type of lease agreement that transfers substantially all the risks and rewards of ownership to the lessee. The lessee is treated as the economic owner of the leased asset for accounting purposes, even though legal ownership remains with the lessor.

Capital leases are typically long-term, and the lease term covers a significant portion of the asset's useful economic life. The lessee has the option to purchase the asset at the end of the lease term for a bargain price.

Key Differences

Accounting Treatment

  • For operating leases, lessors record the leased asset on their balance sheet and recognize lease income over the lease term. Lessees record lease expenses as they are incurred.
  • For capital leases, lessors record a lease receivable and derecognize the leased asset. Lessees record both a leased asset and a lease liability on their balance sheet.

Risks and Rewards

  • In an operating lease, the lessor bears the risks and rewards of ownership, including maintenance, insurance, and obsolescence.
  • In a capital lease, the lessee assumes most of the risks and rewards of ownership, similar to owning the asset outright.

Lease Term

  • Operating leases are typically short-term, while capital leases are long-term, often covering a significant portion of the asset's useful life.

Purchase Option

  • Operating leases generally do not include a purchase option for the lessee.
  • Capital leases often include a bargain purchase option for the lessee at the end of the lease term.

The classification of a lease as operating or capital has significant accounting implications for both lessors and lessees, affecting their financial statements and tax treatment.

Tax Implications

For lessors, leasing out assets provides opportunities for tax deductions. They can deduct depreciation expenses on the leased assets as well as any associated costs like maintenance, insurance, and property taxes. However, lessors must report the lease income received from lessees as taxable income.

Lessees, on the other hand, cannot deduct depreciation on leased assets since they don't own them. However, they can deduct the lease payments made to lessors as a business expense. For capital leases where the lessee assumes ownership risks, they may be able to deduct depreciation-like expenses called "rental depreciation."

The tax treatment differs based on the type of lease (operating vs capital) and the specifics of the lease contract. Lessors and lessees should carefully review the tax regulations and implications of different lease structures when evaluating the after-tax costs and benefits of leasing transactions.

Both lessors and lessees have certain legal rights and protections under lease agreements. As the owner of the leased asset, lessors have the right to receive timely lease payments from lessees. If lessees fail to pay, lessors can pursue legal remedies such as sending demand letters, terminating the lease, or filing lawsuits for damages.

Lessors also have the right to inspect the leased property, as long as proper notice is given to lessees. This allows lessors to ensure lessees are properly maintaining the asset. If lessees breach the lease terms by misusing or neglecting the asset, lessors can take action.

Upon lease termination, lessors have the right to regain possession of their asset. If lessees refuse to return the property, lessors can obtain court orders for repossession. Lessors may also have claims against lessees for unpaid rent, repair costs for damages, or losses from an early termination.

On the other hand, lessees have rights to the peaceful enjoyment and undisturbed use of the leased asset, as long as they comply with the lease terms. If lessors interfere with this right, lessees can potentially terminate the lease or seek damages.

Lessees also have the right to make certain modifications or alterations to the leased asset, depending on the lease agreement. Some leases allow lessees to customize the property to suit their needs. Upon termination, lessees may have the right to remove any additions or be compensated for their improvements.

Both parties should thoroughly understand their rights and obligations in the lease contract. Consulting legal counsel can help protect their interests and avoid potential disputes down the road.

End of Lease Term

At the end of a lease term, both the lessor and lessee have several options to consider. The lessee may have the choice to renew the lease for an additional term, often at a predetermined rate specified in the original lease agreement. Alternatively, the lessee could opt to return the leased asset to the lessor in accordance with the contract terms.

If the lease agreement includes a purchase option, the lessee may choose to buy the asset outright at the end of the lease term. The purchase price is typically set at the asset's expected fair market value or a predetermined amount stated in the contract.

For the lessee, returning the leased asset requires adhering to any restoration or return requirements outlined in the lease. These may include cleaning, repairing any damage beyond normal wear and tear, or restoring the asset to its original condition. Failure to meet these requirements could result in financial penalties or fees charged by the lessor.

The lessor's main responsibility at the end of a lease term is to inspect the returned asset and ensure it meets the agreed-upon condition. If the asset requires further maintenance or repairs due to excess wear and tear, the lessor may charge the lessee accordingly or deduct fees from any security deposit.

Leasing vs. Buying

Deciding whether to lease or buy an asset is a significant financial decision that involves weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each option. The choice depends on various factors, including the nature of the asset, the intended use, and the company's financial situation.

Advantages of Leasing

1. Lower Upfront Costs: 

Leasing typically requires a smaller initial outlay compared to purchasing an asset outright. This can be advantageous for businesses with limited capital or those that prefer to preserve their cash flow for other purposes.

2. Flexibility: 

Leases often have shorter terms than the useful life of an asset, allowing businesses to upgrade or replace the asset more frequently as their needs change or as new technology becomes available.

3. Tax Benefits: 

In many cases, lease payments can be deducted as operating expenses, providing potential tax advantages.

4. Off-Balance Sheet Financing: 

Depending on the type of lease, the leased asset and associated liabilities may not appear on the company's balance sheet, potentially improving financial ratios.

Advantages of Buying

1. Ownership: 

By purchasing an asset, the company gains full ownership and control over its use and disposal.

2. Long-Term Cost Savings: 

Over the long run, buying an asset can be more cost-effective than leasing, especially if the asset has a long useful life and the company plans to use it for an extended period.

3. Equity Building: 

As the asset is paid off, the company builds equity, which can be leveraged for future financing or sold if no longer needed.

4. Tax Benefits: 

Purchased assets may qualify for depreciation deductions, which can provide tax savings.

Financial Considerations

To determine whether leasing or buying is the better financial option, businesses should consider the following factors:

1. Cash Flow: 

Leasing typically requires smaller periodic payments, which can be beneficial for companies with limited cash flow. Buying, on the other hand, may require a larger upfront payment but potentially lower long-term costs.

2. Residual Value: 

If the asset is expected to have significant residual value at the end of its useful life, buying may be more advantageous as the company can capture that value.

3. Interest Rates: 

The cost of financing a purchase or the implicit interest rate in a lease agreement can significantly impact the overall cost of each option.

4. Obsolescence Risk: 

If the asset is likely to become obsolete quickly, leasing may be preferable to avoid being stuck with an outdated asset.

5. Tax Implications: 

The tax treatment of lease payments versus depreciation deductions can influence the decision, depending on the company's specific tax situation.

Ultimately, the decision to lease or buy should be based on a thorough analysis of the company's financial objectives, operational requirements, and the specific circumstances surrounding the asset acquisition.

Types of Lease Agreements

There are several types of lease agreements that lessors and lessees can enter into, each with its own unique features and implications.

Operating Leases

An operating lease is a short-term rental agreement where the lessor retains ownership of the asset. The lessee has the right to use the asset for a specified period but does not assume the risks and rewards of ownership. Operating leases are commonly used for equipment, vehicles, and property rentals. The lease payments are treated as operating expenses by the lessee and rental income by the lessor.

Finance Leases (Capital Leases)

A finance or capital lease is a long-term agreement that transfers most of the risks and rewards associated with ownership to the lessee. The lessee is responsible for maintaining and insuring the asset, and at the end of the lease term, they may have the option to purchase the asset at a predetermined residual value. Finance leases are often used for high-value assets like machinery, equipment, and real estate. The leased asset is capitalized on the lessee's balance sheet, and the lease payments are treated as a combination of interest expense and principal reduction.

Sale and Leaseback

In a sale and leaseback arrangement, the owner of an asset (the lessee) sells the asset to a lessor and then leases it back, typically through a long-term finance lease. This transaction allows the lessee to generate cash from the sale while retaining the use of the asset. Sale and leasebacks are commonly used for real estate and equipment, providing the lessee with liquidity and the lessor with a long-term investment opportunity.

Leveraged Leases

A leveraged lease involves a third party, such as a lender or investor, who provides a portion of the financing for the leased asset. The lessor makes a small equity investment, while the lender provides the majority of the funding. Leveraged leases are complex transactions that offer tax benefits and potential for higher returns for the lessor and lender.

Hire Purchase Agreements

A hire purchase agreement is a type of finance lease where the lessee has the option to purchase the asset at the end of the lease term. During the lease period, the lessee makes regular payments that cover a portion of the asset's value, and at the end, they can exercise the option to purchase the asset by paying the remaining balance or returning the asset to the lessor.

These are the main types of lease agreements, each with its own advantages, disadvantages, and accounting implications for lessors and lessees. The choice of lease type depends on factors such as the nature of the asset, the intended use, financial considerations, and the preferences of the parties involved.

Lease Contract Terms and Clauses

When entering into a lease agreement, both lessors and lessees need to carefully review and negotiate the terms and clauses. Some key areas to focus on include:

Rent and Escalations:

The base rent amount and any provisions for rent increases over the lease term should be clearly specified. Pay close attention to how rent escalations are calculated.

Term and Renewal Options: 

The start and end dates of the initial lease term as well as any renewal option periods and the process to exercise renewals.

Permitted Use:

Ensure the permitted use clause allows your intended property usage and doesn't overly restrict operations.

Operating Expenses:

Provisions allocating responsibility for taxes, insurance, maintenance, and other operating expenses between the parties.  

Improvement Allowances: 

If the lessor is providing any funds for tenant improvements, the amount and disbursement process should be detailed.

Assignment and Subletting:

The ability to assign or sublet the premises, including any restrictions or consent requirements from the lessor.

Defaults and Remedies:

Clearly defined events of default, remedies for the non-defaulting party, notice requirements, and any dispute resolution procedures.

Restoration and Surrender:

Requirements for returning the premises in a specified condition upon lease termination.

Negotiating appropriate terms is crucial, as is ensuring the contract language accurately reflects the agreed-upon deal points. Best practices include involving legal counsel, closely reviewing all terms, and negotiating protections for your interests as a lessor or lessee.

Dispute Resolution and Risk Mitigation

Common disputes between lessors and lessees often arise due to ambiguities in the lease contract, differing interpretations of clauses, failure to comply with obligations, or unforeseen circumstances. Disputes may involve payment issues, usage violations, maintenance responsibilities, or end-of-term disagreements.

To mitigate risks, lessors should ensure lease agreements have clear and comprehensive terms, conduct thorough due diligence on potential lessees, and implement rigorous asset management and monitoring processes. Lessees, on the other hand, should carefully review contracts, maintain open communication with lessors, adequately insure leased assets, and have contingency plans.  

Engaging experienced legal counsel during contract negotiation and dispute resolution can protect both parties' interests. Alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation or arbitration may help resolve conflicts more efficiently than litigation. Ultimately, fostering a collaborative lessor-lessee relationship based on transparency and mutual understanding is crucial for avoiding and resolving disputes effectively.


Understanding the roles and responsibilities of lessors and lessees is essential for anyone involved in leasing transactions. The lessor, as the asset owner, grants usage rights to the lessee in exchange for periodic rental payments. The lessee, on the other hand, obtains the right to use the asset while adhering to the lease terms and maintaining the asset as agreed.

The lessor-lessee relationship is governed by a lease agreement that outlines the rights, responsibilities, and obligations of each party over the lease term. Lessors must ensure the asset is maintained and compliant with legal standards, while lessees must use the asset responsibly and make timely rental payments. Both parties benefit from understanding their respective roles and adhering to the terms of the lease agreement to ensure a smooth and mutually beneficial leasing experience.

For lessors, proper maintenance, clear communication, and legal compliance are key to successful asset management. For lessees, adhering to lease terms, maintaining the asset, and fulfilling financial obligations are crucial for maintaining good standing and potentially leveraging future leasing opportunities.

Whether dealing with operating leases, finance leases, or other types of leasing arrangements, both lessors and lessees should carefully consider the financial, legal, and operational implications. Consulting with legal and financial professionals can help both parties navigate the complexities of lease agreements and avoid potential disputes, ensuring a productive and compliant leasing relationship.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is a lessor and a lessee?

A lessor is the owner of an asset that is leased or rented out to another party, while a lessee is the party that obtains the right to use the leased asset from the lessor for a specified period in exchange for periodic rental payments.

Is the lessor the owner?

Yes, the lessor is the owner of the asset that is being leased. The lessor retains ownership of the asset and grants the lessee the right to use it for a specified term.

Is a lessee another name for a landlord?

No, a lessee is not another name for a landlord. The lessee is the tenant who rents or leases the asset. The landlord, also known as the lessor, is the owner who rents out the property to the lessee.

Is the lessor the buyer or seller?

In a lease agreement, the lessor is neither the buyer nor the seller. The lessor is the owner of the asset who leases it out to the lessee. However, in the context of a lease-purchase agreement, the lessor could be considered the seller if the lessee has the option to buy the asset at the end of the lease term.

What is another word for lessor?

Another word for lessor is "landlord." Both terms refer to the party that owns and rents out property or assets to a lessee or tenant.

What do you call someone who rents out property?

Someone who rents out property is called a "lessor" or "landlord." They are responsible for leasing the property to a tenant (lessee) in exchange for periodic rental payments.

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