What’s the Difference Between Occupants Vs Tenants When Renting?

What's the Difference Between Occupant Vs Tenant

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In real estate, renting a property can be confusing due to the different terminology used. Two terms often confusing are “occupant” and “tenant.” While they sound similar, there are major differences between them. Both property owners and renters need to understand those differences. In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between occupants and tenants, helping you to make informed decisions whether you’re a property owner or someone looking to rent a place.

What Does Occupant Mean?

An occupant is an individual temporarily residing in a property without a rental contract with the landlord. They can be family members, relatives, partners, or friends living with a tenant, so they do not have a direct legal relationship with the landlord. Their permission to live in the rental unit depends on the tenant who holds the lease, allowing them to stay there. For example, Jane Smith is John Doe’s sister. She moves into John’s apartment for a few months but doesn’t sign the lease agreement. Jane is an occupant.

Since occupants are not on the lease, they are not financially responsible for the rent, repairs, and maintenance of the property. As well, they do not have the same legal rights and responsibilities compared to tenants. Occupants can also be people living in a property without the landlord’s permission, such as squatters.

Some common situations where one can be considered an occupant include:

  • Family members informally cohabit with the lease-holding tenant.
  • Guests temporarily residing in the rental.
  • Subtenants renting without a sublease contract.
  • Unauthorized persons living in the unit without the landlord’s consent.

Breakdown of Unauthorized and Authorized Occupants

Occupants can be categorized into two types, i.e., unauthorized and authorized. So, it’s crucial to understand the relationship between unauthorized and authorized occupants when renting a property.

Unauthorized Occupants: Unauthorized occupants live on the property without the landlord’s knowledge or permission. This could include a friend staying for an extended period without the landlord’s consent or subletting the property without permission. Unauthorized occupants can lead to legal and financial complications for both the tenant and the landlord.

For instance, if John Doe allows his friend, Bob, to live in his apartment without informing the landlord, Bob becomes an unauthorized occupant.

Authorized Occupants: Authorized occupants have the landlord’s approval to live in the property. They could be family members, roommates, or anyone else listed on the lease agreement or added to it with the landlord’s consent. Authorized occupants share the same rights and responsibilities as the tenant.

If John Doe informs his landlord about his sister, Jane, and the landlord agrees to her living in the apartment, Jane becomes an authorized occupant.

What’s a Tenant?

A tenant is a legal occupant who has a formal rental agreement with the property owner to rent the property. This agreement, commonly known as a lease, is a binding contract that specifies the terms and conditions of the tenancy, including the rent amount, lease term, and tenant’s rights and responsibilities under local landlord-tenant laws. For example, John Doe signs a one-year lease agreement for an apartment and agrees to pay $1,000 monthly rent. This makes John a tenant.

Tenants are financially responsible for paying rent and have the legal right to live in the property without interference from the landlord. They also have the right to maintain the property in a habitable condition. In case of evicting a tenant and terminating the tenancy, landlords must follow proper procedures.

Some factors that make someone a legal tenant include:

  • Being a party named on a valid written lease agreement.
  • Paying rent directly to the property owner.
  • Having documented consent from the landlord to live on the premises.
  • Having rights and responsibilities defined under landlord-tenant laws.
  • Being able to be removed with appropriate notice.

What’s The Difference Between Occupant and Tenant?

While occupants and tenants both live on the rental premises, there are some important differences between occupants and tenants:

What's The Difference Between Occupant and Tenant

Formal Legal Status: The main difference between occupants and tenants is their legal status. Tenants possess legal standing under the lease agreement and statutory rights/protections under landlord-tenant laws. At the same time, occupants lack a formal rental contract and have no legal renting status associated with tenants. They cannot claim these rights.

Rights and Protections: Tenants are protected under landlord-tenant laws covering evictions, discrimination, privacy, habitability standards, etc. Occupants lack these statutory rights. They are subject to the rules and regulations set by the tenant or rental owner, as they do not have a formal agreement directly with the landlord.

Payment of Rent: Tenants pay rent directly to the landlord as required under their lease agreement. Failure to make timely rent payments can lead to eviction proceedings. While occupants pay rent to the tenant (if at all) since they have no direct contractual relationship with the landlord. The financial obligations of occupants depend on the agreement with the tenant.

Liability for Property Damage: Tenants are financially liable for any property damages they or their guests cause under the terms of the rental contract. Occupants don’t carry this same liability to the landlord directly, so that the tenant would be responsible for property damages. Their responsibilities are generally limited to their own personal belongings and living space.

Landlord Approval: Tenants are approved to rent by the landlord and given legal access. But occupants live there without the landlord agreeing to it. So, while tenants have a formal legal relationship and clearly defined rights, occupants live in the property without proper screening or approval by the tenant rather than the landlord.

Eviction Process: Evicting an occupant is easy. The landlord needs the tenant to revoke permission for them to stay. In case of evicting a tenant, the landlord must follow the legal eviction process defined in their lease agreement and local laws.

Duration of Stay: Tenants establish a defined rental period in the lease agreement, such as 6-12 months, providing stability and a predictable living arrangement. Occupants, however, can technically stay for indefinite periods as they do not have a formal contract stipulating a term of residence.

Security Deposits: Tenants generally pay security deposits to the landlord when signing the lease agreement. Occupants do not pay deposits to the landlord, though the tenant can charge them separately.

Rights and Responsibilities of Occupants vs Tenants

The rights and responsibilities of occupants vs tenants differ, so it is important to be familiar with their respective rights and duties according to state laws when renting a property. This will help to have a positive and productive landlord-resident relationship.

Occupant Rights and Responsibilities

Although occupants are not bound by formal lease agreements, they still have certain rights and responsibilities, and the landlord must respect them.

Respecting Property Rules: Occupants must follow the rules and regulations made by the property owner or management, such as noise restrictions, pet policies, and maintenance guidelines.

Paying Rent: In certain cases where the occupant is not the tenant, they may be required to contribute to rent payments as per the arrangement with the tenant.

Vacating the Property: Occupants who are not named on the lease must vacate the property if the tenant terminates the lease agreement, regardless of whether the occupant has paid rent directly to the landlord.

Non-Discrimination: As provided by fair housing laws, tenants are protected from discrimination based on their race, gender, religion, disability, or family status. The landlord cannot refuse to rent to you or evict you because of one of these protected characteristics.

Privacy: Occupants have the right to privacy within their rented or leased space. Landlords must respect their privacy and not enter the property without proper notice or valid reason, except in emergencies.

Avoiding Property Damage: Occupants must be careful when using the property and report any damage to the landlord immediately. They are responsible for avoiding damage to the property.

Tenant Rights and Responsibilities

Tenants have more defined rights and responsibilities due to their formal lease agreements. If tenants have a problem with their landlord, try to resolve it directly with them first. If it fails to fix the problem, contacting a tenant advocacy organization or local housing authority is beneficial. Here are some tenant rights and responsibilities:

Payment of Rent: This is the tenant’s most important responsibility. They are legally obligated to pay rent on time and in full accordance with the terms outlined in the lease agreement. If they fail to pay their rent on time, they can be evicted.

Maintenance and Repairs: If the property needs repairs, the landlord is responsible for making them quickly. Tenants can report any necessary repairs to the landlord promptly. While minor maintenance tasks come under the tenant’s responsibility.

Security of Tenure: Landlords cannot evict tenants without a valid reason and must follow the proper legal procedures. This process usually involves giving the tenant notice to vacate and then filing a lawsuit in court if the tenant does not leave.

Compliance with Lease Terms: Tenants must comply with all the terms and conditions outlined in the lease agreement, including restrictions on subletting, alterations to the property, and the number of occupants allowed. Breach of contract can create legal action.

Security Deposits: Generally, tenants pay a security deposit at the beginning of the lease. This deposit is refundable, provided the tenant adheres to the lease terms and leaves the property in habitable condition upon moving out.

Quiet and Peaceful Enjoyment: This means that tenants have the right to live in their homes without being disturbed by excessive noise or other nuisances from the landlord or other tenants. Thus, tenant’s peace must be considered a top priority.

When Does an Occupant Become a Tenant?

An occupant can become a tenant when a formal rental agreement or lease is established between the occupant and the landlord. In some cases, occupants also become tenants by operation of law, such as if they have lived in the property for a certain period without being evicted. In Oklahoma, if an occupant stays for more than 5 consecutive days or pays rent, they are considered a tenant and must be added to the lease agreement.

Once the lease is signed, the occupant becomes a legal tenant of the property. This gives them the rights, protections, and obligations under landlord-tenant laws. The lease also protects the landlord by making the tenant equally obligated for upholding terms like paying rent on time, property damages, habitation standards, etc., and everything is documented in writing.

Do all occupants have to be on the lease?

In most rental agreements, all occupants living in the property should be listed on the lease to avoid legal issues. This ensures that the terms and conditions of the lease agreement legally bind everyone living in the unit. Additionally, it helps the landlord know who is responsible for rent payments and who is allowed to occupy the property.

If a person is not listed on the lease but is living in the rental unit, they have no legal rights to the property under landlord/tenant law and could potentially be asked to leave by the landlord. It is important to read through the lease to see what the landlord’s rules are about extended guest stays or unauthorized roommates.

If you are considering adding or removing an occupant from a lease, it is recommended to consult with a local landlord-tenant attorney.

How Can Landlords Avoid Unauthorized Occupants?

Once unauthorized occupants are established, removing them legally becomes far more difficult for landlords. Thus, landlords should take several precautions to prevent unauthorized occupants from residing in their rental properties. Here are some tips to help landlords on how to avoid issues with unauthorized occupants:

How Can Landlords Avoid Unauthorized Occupants?

Develop a Thorough Screening Process: Verify identity by conducting background checks, credit checks, employment verification, and contacting references of potential tenants planning to reside in the rental unit. Landlords should also require the applicant to provide references from previous landlords. This can help you identify reliable tenants and reduce the risk of unauthorized occupants.

Create a Well-Written Lease Agreement: The lease agreement should clearly state that only the tenants named in the lease can live in the property. Make sure that tenants understand all the terms of the lease and are aware of the consequences of having unauthorized occupants, such as eviction.

Conduct Regular Inspections: The periodic inspections will give you a chance to check for unauthorized occupants and to identify any potential problems with the property. However, be respectful of the tenant’s privacy rights and provide proper notice before inspections, as required by local laws.

Communication: Maintain open communication with your tenants. Encourage them to report any concerns about unauthorized occupants so you can take appropriate action. A good landlord-tenant relationship can lead to tenants being more proactive in informing you about potential issues.

Security Measures: Change the locks on the property after each tenant moves out and install security cameras or other security systems that can deter unauthorized occupants from moving into the property. This makes it easier to identify them if they do move in.

Differences Between Tenant And Occupant Conclusion

Differentiating between occupants vs tenants when renting is important for managing expectations and potential issues around occupancy. Tenants are the primary leaseholders with a legally binding agreement with the landlord and enjoy the full suite of tenant protections. Occupants, on the other hand, reside in the property with the tenant’s permission and may have limited legal protections. To ensure a smooth rental experience, landlords and tenants should clearly document and communicate occupancy arrangements from the outset.

FAQs About Occupants vs Tenants

Do occupants have any legal rights?

Occupants generally have limited legal rights since they lack a formal lease. However, occupants may take on certain implied rights if they stay long enough with the landlord’s consent, such as requiring legal eviction processes to remove them. State laws vary in terms of occupant rights.

Can occupants be removed without notice?

In most cases, occupants lacking formal rental agreements can be removed without following standard eviction notice procedures required for tenants. However, self-help evictions are prohibited, so occupants still cannot be forcibly removed without going through court processes.

Is an occupant's duration of stay limited?

Without a lease, an occupant’s stay is technically unlimited, though the landlord or tenant can ask them to leave at any time. To prevent open-ended occupancy, landlords often define limits on the duration of stay for occupants in the primary tenant’s lease, such as no more than 14 consecutive days per visit.

Do occupants pay rent to the landlord?

Occupants do not pay rent directly to the landlord unless the landlord agrees to formally add them to the existing lease. Any rent payments are usually made to the tenant who holds the lease. However, the tenant is still responsible for covering the full rental amount due to the landlord as outlined in their agreement.

Can occupants be added to an existing lease?

Landlords can add occupants to the lease through an addendum, converting them to legal tenant status. This may occur if an occupant plans to stay long term, like a significant other moving in with their partner who holds the original lease.

Does landlord insurance cover occupants?

Each policy differs, but landlord insurance usually only covers tenants named on the lease. Adding occupants formally onto the policy as additional insured individuals may require an incremental fee. Tenants should check their renter's insurance regarding coverage for unnamed occupants.

Can an occupant be evicted by the property owner?

Property owners can ask occupants to leave without formal eviction proceedings since they are not bound by a lease agreement. However, they must provide reasonable notice.

scott nachatilo


Scott Nachatilo is an investor, property manager and owner of OKC Home Realty Services – one of the best property management companies in Oklahoma City. His mission is to help landlords and real estate investors to manage their property in Oklahoma.