As a landlord or property manager, it is essential to understand the difference between the tenant and occupant – they are not necessarily the same. Each term comes with rules and regulations based on your lease agreement.
What’s the difference between a tenant and an occupant?
A tenant or tenants sign your rental lease agreement, a contract containing terms that bind them to certain obligations and responsibilities as a renter. The lease agreement is between the landlord and tenant only.
Occupants are not tenants; they are not named on the lease, but you can authorize them to stay on the property as a landlord. Occupants do not have financial responsibility for the lease and have no specific rights under landlord/tenant law. Occupants might be friends of the tenant, the tenant’s partner or significant other, parents, or any other person not on the lease but living on the property for some period of time.
There are two types of occupants:
- Authorized occupants. An authorized occupant lives in a property with the landlord’s permission. This status is usually put into the lease unless the occupant falls under a particular class that does not need the landlord’s approval, such as a minor child.
- Unauthorized occupants. These could be authorized occupants who overstay the agreement specified on the lease, or they could be individuals illegally living on the premises with the tenants. Either way, the landlord has not approved their presence on the property with the tenant.
How does a lease or rental agreement affect a tenant vs. occupant?
Under landlord/tenant law, tenants are also given rights and responsibilities. The landlord can approve or deny tenants and occupants who stay in their rental property. However, any tenant a landlord approves to live in the property is held to the rules in the lease.
A landlord can permit occupants to stay on the property for a specific time, but they do not have any rights afforded by the lease since they are not contracted tenants. The landlord can legally remove them from the property at any time.
Tenants sign a lease, making them responsible for all of the obligations and responsibilities in the contract. The tenants' responsibilities are to pay rent on time and honor the property rules, such as no pets or smoking.
Any lease violations – by either tenant or other occupants – will affect the tenant.
For example, as a tenant's guest, if the occupant causes damage, the tenant is responsible for payment for the repairs. Occupants do not sign the lease or any other agreements but must follow the lease rules if they stay on the property.
The lease agreement between landlord and tenant obligates the tenant to pay rent to live on the property. Tenants may ask occupants to contribute to rent payments, but occupants are not legally obligated to pay the landlord. For example, if the landlord allows an elderly parent to move in with the tenant, the parent is considered an occupant. They could help pay rent but are not obligated by the landlord. In a case like this, any arrangement to pay part of the rent is strictly between the tenant and occupant.
All rental properties must meet code standards. Tenants have the standing to request and negotiate maintenance and repairs beyond the required minimums. For example, if a tenant wanted to paint a room or install a shelf, they could negotiate with the landlord for the landlord’s approval to do so.
An occupant resides in the property “as-is” for their stay. They have no standing to request any repairs or changes to the unit.
If damages or repairs are needed due to misuse or neglect during tenancy, the landlord can only charge the tenant for the repairs; occupants have no financial responsibility for such repairs.
Most leases require a notice period of 30-60 days before the expiration of the lease term. Occupants have no obligation to provide the landlord notice before moving. Tenants, however, must adhere to the provisions outlined in the lease and law for proper notice.
The landlord must provide specific notice to remove a tenant from the property and follow all locally mandated procedures to conclude the tenancy.
Occupants are treated as monthly tenants and are subject to an abbreviated legal process for removal.
Can a tenant kick out an occupant?
Absolutely! By signing the lease, the tenant is legally the temporary “owner” of the leased property. Even if the landlord has permitted an occupant to stay with the tenant, the landlord can’t stop the tenant from removing any person living in their leased space.
Problems can arise, however, when the occupant refuses to leave.
This situation can lead to a legal battle of tenant vs. occupant, which we won’t address here. If this situation occurs, the landlord's best solution is to evict everyone living in the rental.
Terminating the lease will force all occupants to vacate the property. If feasible, the landlord can start over with the tenant and enter into a new lease agreement. Alternatively, the landlord may agree with the tenant on a temporary termination of the lease.
The only exception to this situation is if the occupant is a minor. A tenant cannot evict a minor occupant.
Do all occupants have to be on the lease?
Landlords typically require that all occupants living in the property be listed on the lease. This helps the landlord keep a more accurate record of the number of people on the property and not exceed the maximum number allowed. State laws do regulate how many people can stay in a rental unit. Typically it is two people per bedroom + one additional person.
Can an occupant become a tenant?
Occupants can become tenants but must apply with the landlord and undergo the landlord’s standard tenant screening process. All regular background, criminal, employment, and income checks apply. If the occupant meets all the requirements, the landlord can decide to add them to the tenant's original lease agreement or terminate the agreement and have both sign a new lease as co-tenants.
If the occupant does not meet all tenancy requirements, the landlord has the discretion to allow them to stay. Every lease agreement should lay out guidelines for all occupants in the property, whether temporary or permanent. The lease may also lay out visiting guidelines that limit how many days a visitor can stay as an occupant before they must apply to be a tenant or move out.
If the occupant is a guest for the night or a weekend or for a more extended period in the case of an emergency, the lease should have a clause that outlines the policy in those situations.
An occupant can become a co-tenant if they enter into a lease with the landlord. Landlords who encourage and practice open communication with tenants will be able to stay on top of occupant vs. tenant situations if they arise.
RentSpree has an all-in-one property management platform to simplify the property management process. The platform allows landlords to set their tenant screening and application criteria and perform background and credit checks to keep their rental business in compliance with all state and federal laws.
Once a tenant or occupant is accepted, they can sign the lease online and pay rent through an online payment processor. The RentSpree property management platform helps landlords keep all their documentation and processes in one place for easy access so they can streamline their rental business.