Who is a tenant?

Tenants are individuals with the right to use and occupy a rental property under a rental agreement or lease. In every state, an individual who is a tenant is protected under the law although much of the rules governing the landlord-tenant relationship are outlined in the lease. Learn more about who is a tenant as well as different governing rules in our free legal guide below.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 1, 2021

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A tenant is a person who has the right to use and occupy a rental property in accordance with a rental agreement or lease. The tenant is also referred to as the “lessee” of the premises. The tenant may use and occupy the rental property as long as s/he complies with the terms and conditions of the agreement, including, but not limited to, the payment of rent.

What rules govern landlords and tenants?

In every state, tenants are afforded certain protections under the law. While much of the lease agreement and rules governing the landlord-tenant relationship is set by the negotiated contract the two parties make, these state rules may also apply to provide a tenant with various protections.

Some examples of rules in place to protect tenants include:

  • Rules preventing a tenant from being evicted from a personal property if the landlord goes into foreclosure (In the event of a foreclosure, under federal tenant acts passed in 2009, generally, the tenant will have until the end of his lease or 90 days before he is evicted if his lease is month to month)
  • Rules like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Americans with Disabilities Act that preclude a tenant from being discriminated against when renting an apartment on the basis of his protected status (i.e. being an older person, disabled, or of a particular race, nationality, gender, etc.)
  • State laws mandating that proper eviction procedures are followed, that security deposits are returned within a set period of time with only reasonable deductions taken, and that a landlord maintain a premise that is safe for the tenant to live in.

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What is the difference between tenancy at sufferance vs. tenancy at will?

A tenancy-at-will is a contract between property owners and tenants without writing that can be terminated at any time by either party. Usually, this type of agreement does not specify the time tenant’s rental or the exchange of payment. Tenancies-at-will are effective if there is an oral agreement in place of a written one between the two parties; if there is a written agreement stating either that the tenancy is on a month-to-month basis or there is no specified timeline; or if the tenancy continues after the original lease expires without signing a new one.

A tenancy at sufferance is a situation when tenants stay to live in a rental unit after their lease has expired. Both parties usually sign a contract that allows tenants to live in the house for a set period of time, but sometimes they might stay after this period has expired. This can include the landlord’s right to enter the tenant’s rental with proper notice to show the unit to prospective tenants. The party who wishes to end the tenancy at sufferance must send the other party written 30-day notice to vacate. A notice to quit should be sent via certified mail and explain why the tenant should move out of the estate property.

The landowner can file with the court to formally evict the tenant if the tenant doesn’t move out. The court will notify the tenant of the eviction proceedings.

If you are entering into a landlord-tenant relationship, you should have an attorney look over your case to ensure it is fair. If you are already bound by a rental agreement and you feel your rights are being infringed in any way, you should consult a lawyer for help.

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