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Letter from SEC Chief Accountant to Robert J. Kueppers, Chairman, Center for Public Company Audit Firms - February 7, 2005

May 12, 2017

Robert J. Kueppers
Center for Public Company Audit Firms
American Institute of Certified Public Accountants
Harborside Financial Center
201 Plaza Three
Jersey City, NJ 07311-3881

February 7, 2005

Dear Mr. Kueppers:

In recent weeks, a number of public companies have issued press releases announcing restatements of their financial statements relating to lease accounting. You requested that the Office of the Chief Accountant clarify the staff's interpretation of certain accounting issues and their application under generally accepted accounting principles relating to operating leases. Of specific concern is the appropriate accounting for: (1) the amortization of leasehold improvements by a lessee in an operating lease with lease renewals, (2) the pattern of recognition of rent when the lease term in an operating lease contains a period where there are free or reduced rents (commonly referred to as "rent holidays"), and (3) incentives related to leasehold improvements provided by a landlord/lessor to a tenant/lessee in an operating lease. It should be noted that the Commission has neither reviewed this letter nor approved the staff's positions expressed herein. In addition, the staff's positions may be affected or changed by particular facts or conditions. Finally, this letter does not purport to express any legal conclusion on the questions presented.

The staff's views on these issues are as follows:

  1. Amortization of Leasehold Improvements - The staff believes that leasehold improvements in an operating lease should be amortized by the lessee over the shorter of their economic lives or the lease term, as defined in paragraph 5(f) of FASB Statement 13 ("SFAS 13"), Accounting for Leases, as amended. The staff believes amortizing leasehold improvements over a term that includes assumption of lease renewals is appropriate only when the renewals have been determined to be "reasonably assured," as that term is contemplated by SFAS 13.
  2. Rent Holidays - The staff believes that pursuant to the response in paragraph 2 of FASB Technical Bulletin 85-3 ("FTB 85-3"), Accounting for Operating Leases with Scheduled Rent Increases, rent holidays in an operating lease should be recognized by the lessee on a straight-line basis over the lease term (including any rent holiday period) unless another systematic and rational allocation is more representative of the time pattern in which leased property is physically employed.
  3. Landlord/Tenant Incentives - The staff believes that: (a) leasehold improvements made by a lessee that are funded by landlord incentives or allowances under an operating lease should be recorded by the lessee as leasehold improvement assets and amortized over a term consistent with the guidance in item 1 above; (b) the incentives should be recorded as deferred rent and amortized as reductions to lease expense over the lease term in accordance with paragraph 15 of SFAS 13 and the response to Question 2 of FASB Technical Bulletin 88-1 ("FTB 88-1"), Issues Relating to Accounting for Leases, and therefore, the staff believes it is inappropriate to net the deferred rent against the leasehold improvements; and (c) a registrant's statement of cash flows should reflect cash received from the lessor that is accounted for as a lease incentive within operating activities and the acquisition of leasehold improvements for cash within investing activities. The staff recognizes that evaluating when improvements should be recorded as assets of the lessor or assets of the lessee may require significant judgment and factors in making that evaluation are not the subject of this letter.

To the extent that SEC registrants have deviated from the lease accounting standards and related interpretations set forth by the FASB, those registrants, in consultation with their independent auditors, should assess the impact of the resulting errors on their financial statements to determine whether restatement is required. The SEC staff believes that the positions noted above are based upon existing accounting literature and registrants who determine their prior accounting to be in error should state that the restatement results from the correction of errors or, if restatement was determined by management to be unnecessary, state that the errors were immaterial to prior periods.

Registrants should ensure that the disclosures regarding both operating and capital leases clearly and concisely address the material terms of and accounting for leases. Registrants should provide basic descriptive information about material leases, usual contract terms, and specific provisions in leases relating to rent increases, rent holidays, contingent rents, and leasehold incentives. The accounting for leases should be clearly described in the notes to the financial statements and in the discussion of critical accounting policies in MD&A if appropriate. Known likely trends or uncertainties in future rent or amortization expense that could materially affect operating results or cash flows should be addressed in MD&A. The disclosures should address the following:

  1. Material lease agreements or arrangements.
  2. The essential provisions of material leases, including the original term, renewal periods, reasonably assured rent escalations, rent holidays, contingent rent, rent concessions, leasehold improvement incentives, and unusual provisions or conditions.
  3. The accounting policies for leases, including the treatment of each of the above components of lease agreements.
  4. The basis on which contingent rental payments are determined with specificity, not generality.
  5. The amortization period of material leasehold improvements made either at the inception of the lease or during the lease term, and how the amortization period relates to the initial lease term.

As you know, the SEC staff is continuing to consider these and related matters and may have further discussions on lease accounting with registrants and their independent auditors.

We appreciate your inquiry and further questions about these matters can be directed to Tony Lopez, Associate Chief Accountant in the Office of the Chief Accountant (202-942-7104) or Louise Dorsey, Associate Chief Accountant in the Division of Corporation Finance (202-942-2960).


Donald T. Nicolaisen
Chief Accountant


Carol Stacey, Chief Accountant, Division of Corporation Finance
Robert Herz, Chairman, Financial Accounting Standards Board
AICPA SEC Regulations Committee

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