tenant vs occupant

Landlords must distinguish between tenants, who sign leases and bear financial responsibilities, and occupants, who reside without these obligations. This understanding is crucial for effective property management and avoiding legal complications.

Key Takeaways:

  • Tenants are lease signatories with financial obligations and rights, while occupants reside in the leased space without these responsibilities.
  • Tenants handle rent and repairs, can evict occupants, and receive move-out notices.
  • Occupants’ status can change at the landlord’s discretion.
  • Understanding the tenant-occupant distinction is crucial for landlords to manage properties effectively.

Renting property is highly lucrative, but knowing your clients ensures success and helps you avoid pitfalls.

Many landlords use the terms “tenant” and “occupant” to refer to the same person(s), yet that shouldn’t be the case. So, what’s the deal with the tenant vs occupant labels? And how does it impact your enterprise?

A Table Of Contents For The Differences Between A Tenant And Occupant

What’s The Difference Between Tenant And Occupant?

What’s The Difference Between Tenant And Occupant?

A tenant is an individual who has signed a lease agreement and is legally responsible for rent and property maintenance. On the other hand, an occupant lives in the property without being part of the lease agreement and does not have the same financial obligations or legal rights as a tenant. This distinction is essential for landlords to manage their properties effectively.

A tenant or tenants are those who sign a lease contract with you. They carry the associated financial obligations, such as rent payments and repairs. Conversely, they also enjoy the privileges and concessions you provide, including waivers.

An occupant, on the other hand, resides in the tenant’s leased space with your permission. These could be family members, a friend, or their significant other. They don’t pay the rent, are not necessarily on the lease, and are not entitled to tenant’s rights under the law.

An ‘approved occupant’ refers to an individual who resides in the leased property with the landlord’s permission without being a signatory on the lease agreement. Approval of an occupant is a formal acknowledgment by the landlord, allowing someone other than the tenant to reside in the property. This status often requires the landlord to consider various factors, such as the occupant’s relationship to the tenant and their impact on the property. Being an approved occupant means living in the rental space under certain conditions set forth by the landlord, which may include limits on the duration of stay and adherence to property rules.

Who Is Considered To Be An Occupant?

Who you consider an occupant is entirely at your discretion. However, children and minor dependents are occupants by default because the law doesn’t recognize their agreement to a contract as legal and binding.

As the landlord, you can deny anyone of legal age (18 years and older) an occupant status. You may designate them as tenants subject to the same screening process as the primary contract signatory. This designation automatically makes them equally responsible for a tenant’s obligations and the advantages of the status.

Occupants should be aware that their rights can vary based on local laws and the specific terms of the lease agreement with the tenant. While occupants are not primary lease signatories and don’t bear the same financial responsibilities as tenants, they have certain protections. These may include the right to a habitable living environment, privacy, and protection against unlawful eviction.

Who Pays The Rent?

The tenant. Even if occupants in their space pay rent to them, only the tenant is obliged to pay the rent directly to you, the landlord.

This type of subleasing arrangement is commonplace, and the tenant is not obligated to disclose such deals to you. Your authority is limited to accepting and rejecting someone living on your property. So, you may not run background checks on prospective and existing occupants.

What About Repairs?

From the pre-occupancy inspection to maintenance repairs to the replacement of damaged property, the tenant holds sole accountability. And yes, this rule stays even when neglect or misuse is on the occupant’s part.

Of course, you can assume minimal fixes, but negotiations beyond those should be only with the tenant. These include peripheral agreements like keeping pets, performing alterations, and hosting parties in the leased space.

These provisions must be spelled out clearly in your contracts with your tenants if only to avoid future misunderstandings that could lead to its untimely ending. Remember, it’s easier and cheaper to maintain old tenants than to get new ones (most of the time).

Can A Leaseholder Kick An Occupant Out?

Can A Leaseholder Kick An Occupant Out?

Absolutely! As the leaseholder, the tenant is legally the temporary “owner” of the property leased. Just as you have permitted an occupant to stay in the tenant’s space, you can’t stop your tenant from evicting anyone living in their leased space.

However, a caveat exists: when the occupant doesn’t want to leave. Many states protect the right of occupants to remain in a leased space even if you didn’t consent to their stay, especially when they’ve been living there for a while.

This messy state of affairs can lead to a legal battle of leaseholder vs occupant. You may even be embroiled in it if the tenant enlists your help evicting the problematic occupant.

As the landlord, your best solution in a legal occupant vs tenant conflict is to evict everyone living in your rental. Alternatively, you may agree with the tenant to prematurely terminate your contract, forcing all occupants to vacate the premises. And if you’re still interested in taking in the tenant again, you can draw a new lease.

Another important exception: A tenant cannot evict a minor occupant.

Is A Family Member Considered A Tenant?

If you allow your elderly parent or adult child, sibling, or any relative to live in your property free of charge, they are considered an occupant.

Sometimes, a tenant shoulders all obligations but doesn’t take up residence in your property. Instead, it’s their family member who lives there. This situation usually happens with students whose parents rent an apartment for them. In such cases, the resident is an occupant, not a tenant.

Who Is Served The Notice Of Moving Out?

Usually, a lease agreement requires both parties to notify the other ahead of time if they wish to sever the contract earlier than the expiration date of the lease term. This task relies only on the tenant. An occupant may move out any time they want.

You’re duty-bound to remind your tenant 30 to 60 days before their lease expires. If they’re not the ones living on your property, you should send out a notification by registered mail.

Differences Between Tenant And Occupant FAQs

Landlords, tenants, and occupants have asked us about their privileges and obligations regarding a rental. Below are some of them, so check them out. You might learn something valuable to your business.

What Happens When A Minor Occupant Turns 18 Before The Lease Term Expires?

Typically, you don’t need to change the occupant’s status to a tenant even if they’ve already reached legal age. This is because the common lease term is 12 months, a relatively short time to warrant the extra work required to revise a contract.

Also, an 18-year-old occupant may only stay put for a short time. They could go to college in a different place or pursue independence from their parents.

If you believe liability could be a possible issue soon, you can draft a co-tenant addendum to your tenant’s lease. Keep in mind, though, that this needs the consent of all parties involved.

What Is the Difference Between an Occupier and a Tenant?

The tenant is the person who signs the lease contract with you. If they live in the rental, they are the “occupier.” But if someone else resides in the space, the tenant is not the occupier.

Remember that an “occupier” differs from an “occupant.”

Simply put, the occupant physically occupies the property, while the occupier has the right to occupy it – whether they live there or not. Technically, a tenant can be an occupier but not an occupant. On the other hand, an occupier and occupant could be the same person, but neither is the tenant unless they signed the lease.

Can An Occupant Change Status To Tenant?

Yes, but it is entirely up to you. Of course, your primary concern should be your legal protection and your property’s welfare.

The best way to do it is to treat the occupant as a new lease applicant. They should undergo the same process as the current tenant, and you must conduct the same background checks.

If they pass your standards and tests, you have two options for the next step:

  1. Modify the original agreement by adding the occupant as a named tenant. Terminate the current agreement and create a new one with both tenants as co-signatories.

A word of caution: Should the occupant not meet your standards, and you refuse their request to be a co-tenant, you must prepare for possible unpleasant consequences.

It could be as mild as your current tenant dogging or arguing with you or as messy as making your life difficult through late payments and, eventually, deciding to terminate the lease prematurely.

Where Does The Security Deposit Go?

If you and your tenant mutually decide to enter into a new contract, you can carry the security deposit over to the new lease.

However, if your tenant doesn’t wish to renew their lease, you must abide by the terms stated in your contract and state and country laws. Often, this money covers unpaid utility bills and property damage due to abuse or neglect.

Your tenant can settle their bills and repair damages in exchange for getting their security deposit in full. Otherwise, you need to list these items in detail with their corresponding costs.

The total will then be subtracted from the security deposit, and the remainder should be returned to your tenant. The occupant isn’t entitled to any amount in this deposit, even if they claim to have shelled out a portion.

Important note: If your tenant opts for renewal and wishes to add the occupant as a co-tenant, you must consider the other person as a new tenant. They will undergo the application process, and you will conduct a background check.

In this case, you need to spell out the security deposit terms. Will it be returned to the original tenant? If so, how will the co-tenants share the payment for the security deposit in the new lease? Or do they agree to transfer it to the new contract? If so, what happens to it when the lease term expires?

How Does A Tenant’s Death Or Abandonment Affect The Occupant?

A property is considered abandoned when the tenant leaves without paying rent. Depending on your area, this abandonment period is determined differently, so you should consult a lawyer on what applies to you.

In this case, you can terminate the lease and rent the space to a new tenant. As for the occupants, they have no choice but to vacate the premises unless they want to take over the lease. Note that the law requires you to give them ample time to prepare for the move.

The same goes for when the tenant dies before their lease expires. While the process is more complicated in this case, it has more to do with the tenant and their possessions than with the occupant.

As with abandonment, you may offer a new lease to the occupant. If they refuse, you have no contractual responsibility or liability to them. Thus, you can serve them a notice to vacate the property.

Should The Landlord Get Involved In Tenant-Occupant Fights?

Disagreements are inevitable, even within families or among friends living in the same apartment. You can prevent escalations to full-blown altercations by giving each tenant printed-out guidelines on appropriate behavior in your building or compound.

But what do you do when a fight still occurs?

If it’s a one-time thing, and no one was hurt or no property was damaged, you can let it go.

However, if it becomes a habit, you can talk to your tenant and explain how their actions affect the neighborhood. If something else is needed, serve them written notices to improve their conduct.

If this solution is still ineffective, you may serve them an eviction notice. The letters you send them will be your supporting documents.

So, Do You Have A Tenant Or An Occupant?

Your lease agreement with each tenant must clearly state the occupants in the property, whether temporary or permanent. Aside from your mandate to accept or deny their presence, you can also offer visiting privileges within a period, say, 10 to 15 days.

Occasionally, your tenant would have someone staying for the night or over a weekend due to an emergency or unforeseen circumstance. You may include a clause in your agreement that outlines your policies in such situations.

Taking these precautions may require extra effort but could save you many headaches later.

So does open communication. It pays to establish a good relationship with your tenants from day one. This way, they’ll be confident and comfortable telling you everything that concerns you about their residence. After all, it still is your property.