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Differences between an Occupant, a Tenant, and a Subtenant

Published by Handy Work on

The differences between an occupant, a tenant, and a subtenant can be found in the terms themselves. While all three terms describe the same type of relationship, they each carry different meanings that could lead to different outcomes.

The following section will discuss each term and how it affects the rights and responsibilities of the parties involved.

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What is an Occupant?

An occupant is a person who is living in a residence or building that is occupied by a person or persons who are lawfully entitled to possession of the premises. The occupant can be a resident, a boarder, a guest, or an invitee.

If there is more than one occupant of the premises, they can be co-occupants, joint tenants, tenants in common, or joint tenants with a right of survivorship.

What is a Tenant?

A tenant is a person who has entered into an agreement to rent or lease property from another party for a fixed period of time.

If the tenancy agreement states that it will continue for a specific period of time and no other arrangements have been made between the parties, then it is considered to be a tenancy at will.

In order for the landlord and tenant to have any rights under the law, they must enter into an agreement that details what rights each party has and what responsibilities each party has to fulfil under the agreement.

What is a Subtenant?

A subtenant is defined as a person who is entitled to occupy a dwelling unit from the tenant but not under the terms of a lease agreement. If the lease agreement has been terminated, then the subtenant is considered to be a tenant at will.

What are the Differences Between an Occupant, a Tenant, and a Subtenant?

Occupancy Rights

When someone enters into a rental agreement, they are considered an occupant. The agreement sets out the terms of their occupancy, such as the number of occupants and whether they are allowed to smoke.

Once all sides set the terms of occupancy, the occupant has the rights to use the rental unit. They may use it for whatever purpose they wish without restrictions. The occupant is free to do whatever they wish in the unit, including removing not previously agreed items.

The landlord may require an occupant to pay rent. When an occupant is not paying rent on time, we know this as being in arrears.

When an occupant fails to pay rent on time, we consider them a tenant in arrears. The landlord may evict them from the rental unit if there is no other arrangement in place for payment of rent or if the tenant continues to be in arrears.

Tenancy Rights

A tenant has rights that are distinct from those of an occupant. For example, a tenant has rights regarding the length of their tenancy and what actions they can take during their tenancy period without affecting their tenancy status (e.g., changing locks or breaking leases).

Tenants may terminate their tenancy agreement early by giving written notice to the landlord. However, if they give notice in bad faith, the landlord may seek to evict them for non-payment of rent.

Tenants also have rights regarding security deposits. Laws require landlords to return all security deposits within a reasonable amount of time (e.g., 30 days). 

Subtenancy Rights

A subtenant has very few rights that are distinct from those of an occupant or tenant. A subtenant has no rights regarding the length of their tenancy or what actions they can take during their tenancy period without affecting their tenancy status (e.g., changing locks or breaking leases).

Subtenants do not have any rights to possession of the rental unit. However, they do have rights with respect to other issues (e.g., sharing utilities and expenses). Subtenants may terminate their tenancy early by giving written notice to the landlord.

Possession Rights

The respective tenancy agreements determine the rights of a tenant and a subtenant to possession of the rental unit. It may require a tenant to vacate the rental unit upon termination of their tenancy.

However, landlords might not require them to vacate if they have provided written notice, and it is within the notice period. In this case, the landlord must provide them with written notice before evicting them from the rental unit.

A subtenant has no right to possession of the rental unit when they are in arrears or when they give notice of termination. An occupant can have full occupancy rights or partial occupancy rights.

Repairs and Maintenance

An occupant is responsible for all repairs to the premises and must pay for all necessary repairs. A tenant may be responsible for some repairs and must pay for all necessary repairs. Subtenants are not responsible for any repairs and do not have any responsibility to pay for repairs.

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