A tenant is a person or legal entity that rents and occupies a piece of land, an office or a house from another for a period of time, while a resident is described as a person who dwells in a place. The two terms may sound similar or interchangeable, but there is a significant difference when the terms are interpreted under the law.
A tenant, also called a lessee, has an existing legal relationship, or contract, with the property owner, or lessor, to rent the property, while a resident refers to someone who may or may not be renting the property. If a person who dwells at the property is not renting the place, that person is merely a resident, in which case, no legal relationship exists between the resident and the property owner.
A lessee who rents a property from the lessor is obligated under the law to pay the rent at a time and place stipulated in the lessor-lessee agreement. The lessor legally can compel the lessee to pay the rent. A resident who dwells at the property, but who does not rent it, is not required under the law to pay the lessor. For example, Mr. Red (lessee) rents Mr. White's (lessor) house, which is why Mr. Red pays the monthly rent. Mr. Blue, the brother of Mr. Red, is a resident of the same house. Mr. Blue does not need to pay rent.
Ownership of Property
A lessee of a property does not own the property being rented. On the other hand, it is possible for a resident to dwell in a property and own it too. In the above example, Mr. Red (tenant), who rents the house from Mr. White, is not the owner of the house. But Mr. Green (resident), who is Mr. Red's neighbor, owns the house in which he resides.
Period of Occupancy
A tenant or lessee is under contract with the lessor, or property owner, to occupy the property for the period of time stipulated in the lessor-lessee contract. The tenant must surrender the property to the lessor at the end of the lease agreement. A resident who is not renting a dwelling place is not under any legal obligation to surrender the property to a lessor. In the above examples, Mr. Red must vacate the rented property at the end of the lease period. Mr. Green, who is the resident owner of his own house, does not need to vacate the house.
A tenant, or lessee, who rents a property is not liable to pay the taxes on the property. In the U.S., taxes imposed on real estate properties are collected by the government each year, and such taxes are normally shouldered by the property owner. A resident who owns the property where he dwells is obligated to pay taxes on the property.