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KINDS OF TENANTS3 Different Kinds of Tenants

As a landlord, you either have rented (or will eventually) rent out a single living space to more than one individual. This is usually not problematic. But — and no matter how seasoned a landlord you are — you still need to be aware at all times about how to define the individuals who are your clients. Their relationship to you could make all the legal difference in the world, especially if the tenancy doesn’t work out.


This refers to a person who has signed a lease or a rental agreement for occupancy of a particular unit. Since he or she has a direct relationship with you as landlord, that person can hold you accountable for all promises stated in the lease or rental agreement. At the same time, you can hold that person responsible for the contents of that same contract.


A co-tenant refers to two or more tenants who rent the same property under the same lease or rental agreement. Each is 100% responsible for carrying out the agreement, including paying the rent in full. Co-tenancy can also occur after you rent out a property and whenever you add someone else to another person’s lease or rental agreement.


A sub-tenant is someone who rents directly from the tenant and not from you as landlord. In effect, the tenant becomes the subtenant’s landlord. The subtenant may take over for a portion of the lease term — for the summer, for example, with the tenant returning in September — or may live there at the same time as the tenant. Sub-­tenants have an indirect relationship with you as the main landlord. They therefore cannot enforce many of the lease or rental agreement terms.


This refers to two or more people living under the same roof and sharing rent and utility expenses. Roommates are usually — but not always — co-tenants. For example, a roommate may instead be a subtenant of the original tenant. Unless you have accepted the presence of the roommate, either by making the person a co-tenant or explicitly or allowing the subtenancy, a roommate has the legal status of a long-term guest, with few if any legal protections.

The reason you need to remember these definitions is that tenancy can get complicated, especially if you are not around to check on the status of a rental living situation. For example, someone who signed a contract as a single tenant may allow a friend or family member to move in…and not tell you. If there are problems between the new roommates that involve damage to the actual rental property, you could be in for some legal wrangling and more headaches than you expected.

At Herman Boswell, we understand that landlording can be difficult, especially if you also happen to work and/or have family obligations. That’s why we’re to help. Our real estate professionals can offer you the management expertise that can give you the peace of mind you deserve. Simplify your life: contact us today!