Who is a tenant?

Tenants are individuals with the right to use and occupy a rental property under a rental agreement or lease. In every state, an individual who is a tenant is protected under the law. Many of the rules governing the landlord-tenant relationship are outlined in the lease. Learn more about who is a Tenant as well as different governing rules in our free legal guide below.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Sep 26, 2021

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You may have heard you’re in a “landlord state” or a “tenant state.” It’s a short way of indicating who has the upper hand in terms of contractual obligations and when something goes wrong. Additionally, when it comes to differentiating between homeowners and renters insurance, knowing who is the tenant is of paramount importance.

A tenant is a person who has the right to use and occupy a rental property in accordance with a rental agreement or lease.

The tenant is also referred to as the “lessee” of the premises. The tenant may use and occupy the rental property as long as s/he complies with the terms and conditions of the agreement, including, but not limited to, the payment of monthly rent.

The landlord is typically the property owner, though some property management companies act in the place of the property owner.

What rules govern landlords and tenants?

In every state, tenants are afforded certain protections under the law, even if they aren’t formally listed in the tenancy agreements. If certain things are not specified in your contract, each state decides what is automatically assumed.

For example, state law may dictate how long you have to move out at the end of a contract or how much notice the tenant has to give if the contract does not. While much of the lease agreement and rules governing the landlord-tenant relationship is set by the negotiated contract the two parties make, these state rules may also apply to provide a tenant with various protections.

Some examples of rules in place to protect tenants include:

  • Rules preventing a tenant from being evicted from a personal property if the landlord goes into foreclosure. In the event of a foreclosure, under federal tenant acts passed in 2009, generally, the tenant will have until the end of their lease period or 90 days before they are evicted if the lease is month to month
  • Rules like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Americans with Disabilities Act that preclude a tenant from being discriminated against when renting an apartment on the basis of protected status (i.e. being an older person, disabled, or of a particular race, nationality, gender, etc.)
  • State laws mandating that proper eviction procedures are followed, that security deposits are returned within a set period of time with only reasonable deductions taken, and that a landlord should maintain a premise that is safe for the tenant to live in.

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What is the difference between tenancy at sufferance vs. tenancy at will?

A tenancy-at-will is a contract between property owners and tenants that can be terminated at any time by either party. Usually, this type of agreement does not specify the lease term or the exchange of payment. Tenancies-at-will are effective if there is an oral or written agreement between the two parties. This could include situations such as

  • A written agreement stating either that the tenancy is on a month-to-month basis
  • A contract with no specified timeline
  • If the tenancy continues after the original lease expires without signing a new one

A tenancy at sufferance is a situation in which tenants continue to live in a rental unit after their lease has expired. This type of tenancy may come with different agreements. This could include the landlord’s right to enter the tenant’s rental with proper notice to show the unit to prospective tenants. If a property owner wishes to end the tenancy at sufferance, they must generally send the other party a written 30-day notice to vacate. A notice to quit should be sent via certified mail and explain why the tenant should move out of the estate property if the tenant wans to terminate the agreement.

The landowner can file with the court to formally evict the tenant if the tenant doesn’t move out after an agreed upon term. The court will notify the tenant of the eviction proceedings. Especially if the renter is making all rental payments, this could be a drawn out process.

What Should You Do If You Need Help with a Real Property Transaction?

Whether you’re a tenant or property owner, you’re most likely bound by a current lease or rental agreement. Many conflicts can be resolved by referring to the contract or your state’s laws.

If you have questions or concerns about a serious conflict, reputable publishers can provide some general advice. But you should always talk to a real estate attorney who is licensed in your state. They can look at your unique case and advise on next steps. This is true whether you’re a tenant trying to recover a security deposit or a property owner trying to terminate a lease with a renter who isn’t paying their collectible rent.

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