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What is a Tenant?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A tenant is someone who holds the right to use a piece of land or a structure by agreement with the property owner. For the duration of the tenancy, the tenant has the right to use the land as permitted by the tenancy agreement, along with a number of responsibilities. The landowner also has rights and responsibilities. The terms of the landlord-tenant relationship can vary, depending on the terms of the agreement they have reached and the governing laws in the region.

A classic example of a tenant is a renter who maintains possession of a house or apartment. Renters may sign a leasehold agreement, which entitles them to use for a set period of time, or a tenancy at will agreement, in which landlord or tenant may terminate the agreement at any time with reasonable notice. At will agreements are sometimes known as “week to week” or “month to month” agreements.

Tenants can also lease or rent structures for businesses, ranging from retail stores to warehouses, or land which may be used for farming and other purposes. Business owners tend to sign leasehold agreements, since they provide greater security, and leaseholds may also allow more flexibility in use. A retail store owner, for example, can reconfigure the inside of a storefront to suit his or her purposes, while someone who rents a home cannot start moving walls around at will.

Typically, tenants pay rent to a landlord or reach another agreement, such as a work-exchange or profit sharing contract. The rent may be paid at any number of intervals, depending on the terms of the agreement. Monthly rents are common, but tenants can also pay weekly, quarterly, or yearly. Non-payment of rent is usually grounds for eviction from the premises in the terms of the tenancy agreement, while late rents may incur late fees from the landlord.

The property owner is required to ensure that the premises are habitable, in the case of dwellings, or safe for use, in the case of businesses and land. This includes conforming with regional building and property codes, and it also typically includes responsibility for repairs and replacement of items which come with the building. In other words, if a tenant rents a house with a stove and the stove breaks, the landlord must replace it. However, the landlord is not required to provide a stove. He or she may rent the house “as-is” without a stove, requiring the tenant to purchase a stove if one is desired.

Tenants are expected to maintain the premises in good order, which may include maintaining a garden and performing other maintenance tasks like cleaning gutters. Tenancy agreements account for normal wear and tear on paint, carpeting, and other fixtures, but excessive damages may be grounds for the landlord to seek financial damages from the tenant. Fully detailed listings of rights and responsibilities for both parties are often available from government agencies which supervise housing laws and their enforcement.

Leasehold agreements for commercial property tend to be slightly different. The tenant may be responsible for all repairs and retrofitting, and he or she may also be expected to restore the property to its previous condition when the tenancy ends. If a retailer installs a counter and flooring, for instance, the counter and flooring belong to the tenant unless he or she has reached an agreement with the property owner, and this property is taken when the retailer leaves.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon990534 — On Apr 26, 2015

I want to know if I have to own the house to get cash for keys.

By anon298207 — On Oct 18, 2012

I would like to know if I am technically a "Tenant" in this situation:

I am over 18, and I go to college. I live at home with my mother and her boyfriend. The house is under his name on the lease. I left home for a few years and then I was told to come back to live there to finish my college curriculum.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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