What's the difference between a resident and an occupant when renting?
January 10, 2023
*This is a general overview of how contracts often work, and should not be used as a substitute for legal or professional advice. If you are still apartment hunting, our expert apartment finders are licensed real estate agents and can help you with any questions about finding an apartment when you work with us to find your next place.
Residents vs. Occupants: What's the Difference?
First-time and experienced renters alike can often find themselves confused and asking themselves “What is the difference between an apartment resident and an apartment occupant?” The difference, while seemingly small, can make a huge difference.
Simply put, a resident has signed the lease and is legally obligated to pay the rent and follow the terms of the lease, while an occupant is someone living in an apartment without necessarily signing or being added to the lease. Often, tenant and resident are used interchangeably, but might mean different things in the eyes of the landlord or are defined differently in the lease terms. If you’re unsure, you should always seek to clarify with your landlord before you sign any agreement. An occupant is someone who lives there, regardless of whether the occupant is on the lease.
Occupants are not always responsible for making lease payments or keeping the terms of the lease. This is the reason it's important to consider the implications of anyone living in an apartment over the age of 18 not being on the lease and to be sure you both understand the risks and obligations of living together.
The distinction between resident and occupant is not only important for the people living there; it is also vital for the owner of the property and the property manager. Residents are entitled to certain rights and protections under the law, while occupants are not. Tenant rights are not the same as occupant rights, and often rental agreements provide additional rights for the leaseholder vs. the occupant.
Residents are generally defined as those with a long-term lease or tenancy agreement with the apartment complex or landlord. The term "tenant" is often used interchangeably with "resident," but there are some differences between the two terms. "Tenant" has certain legal implications. For example, a tenant sometimes doesn't even live at the property- they might just be the person responsible for meeting the terms of the lease agreement on behalf of the occupants. Even the eviction process for a tenant vs. occupant is vastly different.
Know your status as a resident or occupant - as well as the status of your roommates.
To highlight the importance and implications of being a resident vs. an occupant in an apartment, here are a few real-life examples of when it can be important:
When the tenant rents the entire apartment and shares it with a roommate, the roommate does not have the same obligations as the roommate whose name is on the lease. The tenant must inform the landlord about the presence of the roommate. Tenants are responsible for paying rent and all other obligations to the landlord. Remember: Even the best of intentions and sincere verbal commitments aren't a replacement for a roommate being in a lease agreement. When you're about to sign a new lease, adding someone to the lease you know will live there is a great way to make sure everyone shares the legal responsibility. Anyone not on the lease (or other written agreement) has no obligation to pay rent or any other obligation to the landlord.
At the end of the day, the names on the agreement are the names who have entered into an agreement, and is the key difference between an occupant vs. a resident.
The second example is when both of them are tenants sharing a single apartment together. In this case, both of them must inform the landlord about their presence and share responsibility for paying rent and other obligations to him or her. If one person does not pay rent on time, then both will be held responsible for paying late fees and any other fees that may be charged by your landlord for not paying on time.
Figuring out who you want on the lease can be a tricky process, especially when it comes to having roommates. Are you both able to commit to the same length of the lease? Do you both have an understanding of their mutual obligations to their living situation? Make sure you establish these expectations on the front end. With a little bit of planning and a lot of communication, having a roommate can be a breeze.
If you are looking for more information on how to find your perfect roommate situation, check out our other resources, where we cover everything you might need to have a successful cohabitation. Make the most of having a roommate and make it the perfect situation for your apartment!