Who is a tenant?
A tenant is an
adult who has signed a lease
or rental agreement (or has an oral rental agreement) with a landlord to rent property, such as an apartment,
condo, or house. The tenant has a legal relationship with the landlord that
creates various responsibilities for both parties. For example, the tenant must
the rent on time, comply with
landlord pet rules, and give proper notice before ending
a lease or rental agreement. Under most state laws, tenants have specified
rights if the landlord fails to meet responsibilities to provide habitable
rental housing, return
security deposits, respect tenant’s
privacy, and comply with other legal requirements.
A person can gain the
status of a tenant even if he or she has not signed a lease or rental
agreement, if the landlord has accepted the person’s presence on the rental
property or has accepted rent from the person.
The term cotenants
refers to two or more tenants who rent the same property under the lease or
rental agreement. Cotenants share the same legal rights and responsibilities for
the rent and other terms of the lease or rental agreement. In addition, each
cotenant is legally responsible for complying with the terms of the agreement,
including being obligated to pay the entire rent if others fail to pay their
share (the legal name for this is “jointly
and severally liable”). Cotenants may not terminate another cotenant’s
tenancy (with a few exceptions, such as San Francisco’s “master tenant,”
only landlords can terminate or evict a tenant).
Landlords may limit the number of tenants who live in a
rental unit, as long as their occupancy policy is tied to health and safety
needs or is driven by a legitimate business reason or necessity, such as the
capacities of the plumbing system.
Occupancy policies that don’t meet these criteria may result in a charge
Some related terms include:
For a comprehensive 50-state guide to rights and
responsibilities of tenants, see Nolo’s book Every Tenant’s Legal Guide (or, California Tenants’ Rights, if you rent
property in California).
by: Marcia Stewart