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What’s the Difference Between a Tenant and an Occupant?

When it comes to rental housing, tenants and occupants aren’t necessarily the same. For instance, tenants sign a legally binding contract with the landlord and are responsible for paying rent and following lease terms. However, an occupant is simply authorized to live in a rental with the landlord’s permission. As such, they sometimes have different responsibilities or protections than tenants. In today’s article, we’ll go over the difference between a tenant and an occupant and the importance of differentiating the two. 


Contents of This Article: 

Difference Between a Tenant and an Occupant

The terms “tenant” and “occupant” describe individuals living in a rental property. However, knowing the difference between a tenant and an occupant is important. Knowing the definitions of each can help rental owners and Philadelphia property managers understand their legal rights and obligations while dealing with tenants and occupants. 

What Is a Tenant?

A tenant is someone with a legal agreement, like a lease or rental contract, with the property owner or landlord. The lease or contract outlines the terms and conditions of the tenancy, including the duration, rental rate, and rights and responsibilities of the tenant. 


Tenants with a legal contract with the landlord are entitled to certain protections and rights according to the agreement and applicable laws. For instance, they have the right to live in the property for the duration of the lease term. They are responsible for paying rent, maintaining the property, and adhering to other lease obligations. 

What Is an Occupant? 

An occupant is anyone who physically resides in a property, regardless of whether they have a legal agreement with the owner. Occupants can include tenants or other individuals who may live on the property without a formal lease or rental agreement. For instance, occupants may include family members, friends, or subtenants. 

Unlike tenants, occupants don’t have a contractual relationship with the landlord. As such, they may not have the same legal rights and responsibilities as tenants. That said, their occupancy is generally based on permission or arrangement with the current tenant, as opposed to a legally binding contract with the owner. 

Unauthorized vs. Authorized Occupants

Whether you’re a tenant, property manager, or rental owner, it’s important to recognize the differences between unauthorized and authorized occupants. For instance, tenants in a rental property are authorized occupants and are listed on a legally binding lease agreement. On the other hand, unauthorized occupants are not listed on the lease and don’t have a legal right to the property. Here are some of the main differences between unauthorized and authorized occupants in a rental. 

Unauthorized Occupants

Unauthorized occupants are individuals living or staying in a property without the owner’s or landlord’s permission or approval. For instance, unauthorized occupants may include:


  • Individuals who move in without signing a lease.
  • Subtenants whom the landlord doesn’t approve.
  • Individuals who occupy the property after the lease has expired or been terminated.

That said, unauthorized occupants typically don’t have legal rights to occupy the rental and can be subject to eviction. 

Authorized Occupants

Authorized occupants are individuals who have the explicit permission and approval of the landlord or rental owner to stay in a property. Typically, they have a legal agreement with the landlord or rental owner, like a lease or rental agreement. Or, they have permission to stay by the tenant, who has a valid agreement with the owner. That said, authorized occupants have legal rights and protections as defined by the lease agreement terms and applicable laws. Additionally, unlike unauthorized occupants, their occupancy is lawful. 

How to Avoid Unauthorized Occupants

Reducing and avoiding unauthorized occupants living in your rental property is important. After all, unauthorized occupants can cause damage or live in a property without paying rent, as the lease is unenforceable. Luckily, landlords can take a few steps to prevent unauthorized occupants, including the following measures. 

  • Thorough Tenant Screening- Conducting a comprehensive screening process for prospective tenants, including background checks, credit checks, employment verification, and reference checks, is essential. This helps ensure you select reliable and trustworthy tenants.
  • Clear Lease Agreement- You’ll want to draft a lease agreement explicitly stating who can occupy the property. For instance, include specific clauses regarding subleasing, guests, and unauthorized occupants.
  • Regular Property Inspections- Conduct periodic inspections of the property to ensure that only authorized individuals live there. Remember to add scheduled inspections to your lease agreement and give tenants proper notice before entering the property.
  • Open Communication- Maintain open lines of communication with your tenants. For instance, encourage them to inform you if any changes occur in their occupancy or if they have concerns about unauthorized occupants. Then, ensure you address issues promptly and professionally.
  • Security Measures- Implement security measures like key control or security cameras to avoid unauthorized occupants. These security measures can help monitor and control access to the property, which can deter unauthorized occupants from moving in unnoticed.

Tenants vs. Occupants Rights and Responsibilities

Both tenants and occupants have certain rights and responsibilities, although the extent of their obligations may vary. Additionally, the rights and responsibilities can vary based on the lease agreement terms and local laws. So, here’s the difference between a tenant’s and an occupant’s general responsibilities in a rental home. 

Tenant Rights and Responsibilities

  • Right to Occupy- Tenants have the right to occupy the rental property during the lease term, as per their lease agreement.
  • Payment of Rent- Tenants are responsible for paying rent on time, as the lease agreement outlines. tenant-rights-and-responsibilities
  • Property Maintenance- Tenants are responsible for keeping the rental unit clean and in good condition, adhering to maintenance obligations specified in the lease agreement.
  • Privacy- Tenants have the right to privacy, so landlords must provide reasonable notice before entering the unit, except in emergencies.
  • Repairs and Maintenance- Landlords are legally responsible for maintaining the property in a habitable condition. However, tenants must promptly request repairs for issues that affect the unit’s habitability.

Occupant Rights and Responsibilities

  • Compliance With Rules- Occupants must comply with the rules and guidelines set by the property owner and the tenant they reside with.
  • Property Care- Occupants are responsible for taking reasonable care of the property and avoiding causing any damage to the unit.
  • Cooperation With Tenant- Occupants must cooperate with the property’s tenant and follow their instructions regarding property use and responsibilities.
  • Limited Rights- Occupants generally have fewer legal rights and protections compared to tenants, as they don’t have a direct contractual relationship with the landlord.
  • Lease Agreement- Occupants aren’t generally connected to the lease agreement; their occupancy is based on permission or arrangement with the tenant or rental owner.

The rights and responsibilities of tenants and occupants vary based on local laws and lease terms. As such, you’ll want to consult the lease agreement and applicable regulations in your area to better understand each party’s respective rights and responsibilities. 

Find the Best Tenants for Your Properties

Knowing the difference between a tenant and an occupant can help landlords and property managers enforce necessary rules and agreements for individuals living in a rental. Additionally, it can help tenants and occupants understand their responsibilities while living in a rental home. 

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That said, rental owners must find responsible tenants who will respect and care for the property for the entire tenancy. As such, having a comprehensive property management team with a thorough screening process is a must to ensure top-notch tenants.  

Bay Property Management Group is a full-service rental management company that helps owners find excellent tenants, maintain rentals, and maximize profits. We can help whether you need help marketing rentals, screening tenants, collecting payments, performing maintenance, and more! Contact BMG today to learn more about our services near Baltimore, Philadelphia, Northern Virginia, and Washington, DC.