Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Center for Law and Economic Studies


Leasing may be the most important legal institution that has received virtually no systematic scholarly attention. Real property leasing is familiar in the context of residential tenancies. But it is also widely used in commercial contexts, including office buildings and shopping centers. Personal property leasing, which was rarely encountered before World War II, has more recently exploded on a world-wide basis, with everything from autos to farm equipment to airplanes being leased. This article seeks to develop a composite picture of the defining features of leases and why leasing is such a widespread and highly successful economic institution.

The reasons fall under three general headings. (i) Leasing is an attractive method of financing the acquisition of assets, especially for persons who have limited capital or would like to conserve their capital and cash flows for other purposes. (ii) Leasing is a device for minimizing the risks that either lessees or lessors associate with owning assets; although leasing also creates risks, various lease modifications have been developed to manage these derivative risks. (iii) By dividing the rights to an asset between lessor and lessee, leasing permits the parties to specialize in different functions and to solve various impediments to contracting that would be difficult to overcome among separate owners. Understanding the economic advantages of leasing is an important first step in considering possible legal reforms of leasing.