What is a Tenant?
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A tenant, also called a lessee or a renter, is a person who temporarily occupies someone else’s land or property for payment, called rent. The owner of a property who allows a tenant to occupy and use that property in exchange for rent is called a landlord.
When a tenant rents property, that tenant enters into a leasehold estate arrangement. Leasehold arrangements grant the tenant exclusive rights to use the property for a specified amount of time, but the landlord retains the right to regain possession from the tenant.
There are different types of tenant arrangements.
Tenancy for years
A tenancy for years is a misnomer of sorts since it doesn’t necessarily involve years. It means a tenancy for a definite period of time, which is defined in the lease. The time period doesn’t matter as long as there is a start and end date; the lease term could be five years, five months, or five days. Another condition of a tenancy for years is that it does not automatically renew. When the lease ends, the tenant can simply leave. If the tenant wishes to stay longer than the lease term, a new arrangement must be worked out with the landlord.
Tenancy at will
A tenancy at will occurs when there is no lease or when the lease expires but the landlord continues to accept rent from the tenant without drawing up a new lease. The most common example of a tenancy at will is a month-to-month tenancy. The tenant’s term automatically renews unless the landlord or the tenant gives proper notice to vacate. The “proper notice” is defined differently from state to state. Thirty days’ notice is typical, but some states require more notice, and some require less. How much notice to give can also differ for landlords and tenants.
Tenancy at sufferance
A tenancy at sufferance happens when a tenant stops paying rent yet continues to stay in the rental property after the lease is up or stops paying rent as a tenant at will. The tenancy at sufferance continues as long as the tenant stays in the property without paying rent. The landlord might need to evict a tenant at sufferance who will not leave on his or her own.
Tenants have certain rights, some at the federal level, and some at the state level. If a tenant’s rights have been violated, tenants can take the landlord to court. At the federal level, tenants are protected by the following:
Fair Housing Act: This makes it illegal for landlords to reject a tenant based on the protected classes of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.
Warranty of Habitability: This requires landlords to provide a safe and livable space, namely to provide heat, water, and plumbing and to ensure the property’s basic structure is intact.
Quiet Enjoyment: This promises the tenant can peacefully live in the property without fear of anyone interfering with the tenant’s right to use and enjoy the premises.
The following landlord-tenant matters are typically governed by states:
Security Deposit: States can set caps on how much of a security deposit a landlord can charge, how long a landlord has to return the security deposit after move out, and rules landlords need to follow for keeping all or part of the security deposit.
Evictions: Landlords cannot resort to self-help evictions to remove a tenant for breaking a lease term. They must follow the rules that pertain to their state when filing for eviction.
The tenant, in a tenancy for years arrangement, is responsible for the total rent for the entire lease term. For example, if the rent is $1,500 a month and the term is one year, the tenant owes the landlord at the time of lease signing $18,000, broken into 12 monthly payments. If the tenant leaves early, breaking the lease, the tenant is still responsible for the rent until the lease period ends. The landlord typically needs to try to find a replacement tenant, and if that happens, the original tenant will no longer be responsible for the remainder of the rent due as soon as the new tenant takes over paying the rent.
Tenants must abide by the terms of the tenancy; otherwise they could be evicted.
Tenants must fix any damage they caused or be prepared to pay for any damages that were their fault, typically with the security deposit.