What Is the Legal Difference Between a Tenant & a Resident?

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There is a big different between renting a place and living in a place, and the terms used for these two concepts are quite different. Tenant is the term used in the law to describe someone who has a contractual relationship giving her the right to use or to occupy a particular premises. Resident simply means someone who lives in a place. Each word is associated with different issues in the law, rather than being contrasted one with the other.

Most tenant issues are found in the context of landlord-tenant laws or contract law, while legal matters involving residents are found in immigration law or establishing the right to certain state or local benefits.

Tenant Rights in Landlord-Tenant Laws

A tenant is someone who enters into a contract with the owner of real property. The landlord-tenant agreement gives the tenant the legal right to use the premises, either to live there or to use it for a business or other activity. In exchange, a tenant pays the landlord rent and agrees to certain rules of behavior.

Each state has its own landlord-tenant laws that regulate the relationship between these parties. Generally, a tenant either leases the premises for a set period of time, like a year, in exchange for a monthly payment, or he rents it periodically, by the week or month, paying for that period in advance. Failure to pay rent can result in the tenant's eviction.

Legal Issues Involving Tenancy

Some of the legal issues that commonly arise in landlord-tenant law include how rent is calculated and whether it can be raised at will, how a tenancy is terminated, when and how a landlord can evict a tenant, as well as issues involving the amount of security deposits, what they can be used for and the procedure and timing for returning them.

In many areas of the country, a landlord is allowed to raise rent to whatever the market will bear and to end a periodic tenancy without giving a reason, as long as proper notice is provided to the tenant. However, some states and cities have enacted rent control laws that prevent no-cause evictions and limit the amount of annual rent increases.

Status as a Resident

The term resident comes from the verb reside, meaning to live somewhere. A tenant who lives in rented or leased premises is also a resident of those promises, in that he lives there. But anyone else who lives in a place can be called a resident, whether or not they are tenants. For example:

  • Owners of property who reside in the property are residents.
  • Longterm guests or family members of property owners are residents.
  • Longterm guests or family members of tenants can also be called residents.
  • In certain circumstances, those who live in a premises without permission are also termed residents.

The common legal issues that involve residents don't arise in the context of landlord-tenant law, but rather in immigration law. In this area of the law, a legal resident of a country, such as a person with a green card in the United States, is contrasted with a citizen, a person who has various additional rights, like the right to vote in elections.

Legal Questions Involving Residency

Legal questions involving residency can also arise in the context of a person's rights to state or municipal services or benefits. For example, California residents pay less to attend California universities than nonresidents, and San Francisco residents can visit the city's botanical gardens for free, while nonresidents must pay a fee.

Likewise, divorces are only available in some states to those who have established residency there. The definition of residency in these areas differs according to the laws of the state, county or city.