Lease vs Rent: Definitional Breakdown + Examples

The difference between buying and renting is obvious, but what exactly is the difference between someone looking to lease vs rent? The two terms do overlap in many respects, but there are important differences to be aware of when entering into a contract with your landlord. When deciding whether to lease vs rent a property, it is crucial to understand these distinctions and weigh the pros and cons of each.

What is the Difference Between Rent vs Lease?

The specific terms and conditions of lease and rental agreements tend to differ, with the most common difference being duration. A lease is generally a long-term fixed agreement, whereas a rental tends to be short-term (less than 6 months) and terms can vary month-to-month. A standard lease agreement is for one year, but the duration can be longer or even as short as 6 months depending on what a landlord chooses to offer.

Lease versus rent comparison chart with illustrations

Is it Better For Tenants to Lease or Rent?

Like with most things in life, there are pros and cons to each. But, it is important to note that what may appear as a positive for one person, may actually be considered a drawback for others. Deciding whether to lease vs rent is very dependent upon an individual’s personal situation and preferences. Some people like commitment and stability while others fear it, which is one reason why some choose to lease while others prefer to rent.

When to Lease

Leasing makes the most sense for someone who is looking for a long-term place to stay: think at least 6 months. Also, if an individual isn’t quite ready to purchase a place, but it is something that they are thinking about, then leasing with an option to buy may be appealing.

This could be ideal for a young family who is relocating for a new job. They may want to ensure the new job will work out long-term before purchasing a home, but also want to avoid having to move again in the relatively near future if the job does stick. It is also relatively easy to renew a lease, which is ideal for individuals who are satisfied with their current situation.

illustration of with suitcases and a calendar showing month-to-month rental is good for short-term stay

When to Rent

Renting is ideal for individuals looking for a short-term stay. Someone who is looking to stay somewhere for less than six months should consider this option as lease contracts are generally for one year. A student, for example, who has a summer internship in a city away from campus or home certainly would not want to sign a year-long lease. Renting gives tenants the flexibility to leave when they need to.

Which is Better for Landlords?

Illustration of New York City covered in snow versus during the summer showing how season impacts price

Like with tenants, there are advantages and disadvantages to leasing vs renting for landlords. A drawback to renting is that a landlord may have to frequently find and evaluate new tenants. However, an advantage is that renting gives landlords the flexibility to raise and lower rent month-to-month. This can be very beneficial in certain areas where rent prices tend to significantly vary by season. For example, the average cost of a 1-bedroom apartment in New York City in December is $2,800, but in July it is $2,939. The reason for this is that people, particularly in New York City, tend to move during the summer and rent prices are largely driven by supply and demand. Essentially, leasing relieves landlords from the extra work of finding and evaluating new tenants, but it does not allow for the flexibility of rent change.

Lease vs Rent FAQ’s

What About Subleasing? 

Subleasing, or subletting, is when the person on a lease finds a new individual to pay the monthly rent. There are many reasons why an individual would not want to or simply cannot stay in the place they are leasing for the full duration of the agreement. Likely, they will want to find someone to take over the monthly payments. It is important to know, however, that the original tenant is ultimately responsible for the new tenant. This is why screening prospective tenants is so important. If a subtenant does not pay rent the landlord will be coming to the original tenant for that payment. 

Not all landlords allow subletting, so be sure to note if this is an option or not in the lease agreement. Subtenants will also want to ensure they are occupying the space legally and are aware of the terms and conditions of the lease agreement. Any new tenant will be required to abide by the same rules as the original tenant.

Can Lease and Rental Agreements Be Made Orally?

Landlords and prospective tenants can make rental and lease agreements orally. Although oral agreements tend to be less complex, simpler is not always better. Although oral agreements are binding and legally enforceable, it is more challenging to enforce an oral agreement than one that is in writing. 

Honest disagreements can occur down the line about the exact terms of the contract. A renter may decide to adopt a dog, but not recall that pets are actually prohibited. Even worse, one party can more easily take advantage of the other when a contract is made orally. For example, if a tenant has to relocate unexpectedly they may try to claim that a lease contract was only for 6 months even though the agreed-upon duration was a year.

In order to avoid these types of issues, it is generally advantageous to put lease and rental agreements in writing. This way the terms are clear to both parties, and it is easier to settle any potential disputes.

In order to decide whether to rent vs lease, an individual should consider their current situation and needs. Landlords that are renting or leasing can find a free standard rental application to offer from TurboTenant.

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