A tenant is a person who occupies rental property owned by a landlord.

What is a Tenant?

An Essential Property Management Term

A tenant is a person who occupies rental property owned by a landlord. Whether the rental property in question is an apartment, townhouse, single-family home, or multifamily home, the tenant is the dweller and leaseholder in a rental agreement.

In exchange for living at a landlord’s property, a tenant typically pays monthly rent and a security deposit, and if a property allows pets they may also be required to pay a monthly pet fee. At the end of the term of a lease agreement, the tenant can either renew their lease with the property owner or move out and find a new home. If a rental property has multiple inhabitants and they each pay rent to a landlord, then each person would be considered a tenant.

The History of the Word Tenant

Tenant as a word has been in use for a long time; the early 14th century is the first time it was recorded. Its etymology can be traced to the Anglo-French tenaunt, then further back to Old French, and even further back to the Latin tenēre, which means “hold, keep, or grasp.” The root ten- can be translated as “to stretch.” Make of that what you will!

Through the centuries, the term has essentially always meant the same thing: a person who occupies land or a dwelling by title or by lease.

The Modern Tenant

Today, tenants are typically the lessees in a relationship with a landlord, who would be the lessor. The tenant occupies real estate owned by someone else, and most of them have a signed rental agreement that defines the terms of their tenancy.

The Tenancy Agreement

The terms defined in a typical lease agreement include but aren’t limited to:

  • The names of the property owner and the tenant
  • The address of the rental property
  • The period of time the tenant may rent the property, typically on month-to-month or annual terms
  • The amount of monthly rent owed, when it’s due, and how to make payment of rent
  • Definitions of tenant rights such as subleasing and possible eviction proceedings

Other Terms for Tenant

You don’t need a thesaurus to know that a person renting property can have many different names. There are countless synonyms for tenant, but the most common ones in the world of property management are renter and resident.

Tenant vs. Renter

A renter is a person who rents something from someone else, most commonly a rental property or car. While the term renter can certainly mean someone occupying an apartment, it can also refer to someone renting an electric scooter or renting a movie from Redbox. Those are very different renters than the kind that would sign a rental agreement for real estate.

To make matters even more confusing, the term renter from a legal standpoint is defined as “one who owns or controls property and rents that property to another.” In this legal sense, a renter would be the landlord or homeowner while the tenant would be the one that’s renting the property.

For this reason, tenant is the preferred term for someone who leases rental property from a landlord.

Tenant vs. Resident

A resident is a person who lives somewhere either permanently or on a long-term basis. How you define “long-term basis” is a bit up to interpretation, but a month or two would likely not qualify. Most homeowners would be considered a resident of their house, and many people born in America would be considered residents of America.

Contrasted with tenant, a resident is in the same home for a long period of time. If a property is for rent over a long stretch of time and there’s a healthy landlord-tenant relationship, then a tenant could absolutely stay in their rental unit for a long period of time, thus making them a resident.

According to a recent study by ResidentRated, the average tenant stays in their rental property for 27.5 months. By staying just over two years in a rental on average, some people would not consider a tenant to be a resident. On the other hand, some tenants stay a decade or more in the same rental property, which would absolutely qualify them as a resident.

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