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Landlord Terminology

Below you will find definitions for a number of common words and phrases that can arise in the context of the landlord-tenant relationship. Those terms contained within quotes, i.e. “termination date of lease,” are defined as they might be found in a clause or provision of a typical residential lease or rental agreement.

Abandonment: A tenant’s conduct that demonstrates his or her intent to give up the right to reside in the rental property, without the landlord’s authorization or agreement. For example, if the tenant hires a moving company, removes all of his or her personal property from the rental unit, and has not been seen on the premises for two weeks, the tenant can be said to have abandoned the rental property.   

Constructive Eviction: A process through which a landlord’s actions (or failure to act) interfere with a tenant’s possession of rental property to such an extent that the property is made unfit for reasonable occupation by the tenant. 

Eviction: A court-based process through which a landlord may remove a tenant from rental property, with good cause and after following a number of procedural requirements.  The eviction process is also called “unlawful detainer” in some states.

Fixture: In the residential rental context, a fixture is personal property owned by the tenant, but made a permanent part of the rental property so that removal would be impossible or impractical. For example, a tenant’s installation of custom double-paned windows would amount to a fixture. Ordinarily, a fixture remains in the rental property upon termination of the lease or rental agreement, although landlord and tenant may agree to some form of compensation. 

Landlord: An owner of real property who, through a lease or rental agreement, promises to rent all or a portion of the property to another person (a “tenant”) for his or her exclusive use — usually for a set period of time and in exchange for an agreed-upon amount of money.

Lease: A written agreement entered into between a landlord and tenant, through which the tenant is granted the right to exclusive use and occupation of the landlord’s residential property for a specified amount of time, and in exchange for an agreed-upon sum of money. Also called a “rental agreement.”

“Property”:  A lease or rental agreement should give a full description of the property being leased.  This description should include the street address, city, state, and zip code.  It should also include the number of square feet in the space and the means by which the square footage is measured.

Quiet Enjoyment: A tenant’s implied right to the enjoyment and use of rental property without obstruction or intrusion from other building residents, the landlord, or other persons.

Renewal: An option for the tenant upon termination of a lease or rental agreement, giving he or she the choice to renew the agreement during a certain window of time.

Rent:  The payment of a specified amount of money for the right to exclusive enjoyment of residential property, usually via periodic (i.e. monthly) payments.A residential lease or rental agreement should state the amount of rent, and when and how the rent is to be paid.

Rent control: Found mostly in urban areas, rent control laws limit the amount of rent that a landlord may charge tenants, subject to certain restrictions. Most rent control laws allow annual rent increases in a certain amount, i.e. 2.5%.

Right of entry: A landlord’s (very limited) right to enter premises that have been leased to a tenant, usually only in emergency situations, to show the unit to a prospective tenant, or make repairs (in the latter two situations proper notice to the tenant is required).

Security deposit:  Refundable money paid by a new tenant to the landlord at or before the move-in date, to guarantee the tenant’s performance of lease obligations, i.e. no damage to the property beyond wear and tear, and payment of rent. Most states have set limits on the amount of money a landlord may demand for a security deposit. A lease or rental agreement should state the amount of the security deposit, and should also state what the security deposit will be used for, where it will be held, and whether it will earn interest.

“Subletting or assignment”: Gives the tenant the right to sublease or assign the property if the tenant cannot fill out the term of the lease or wants to rent part of its space to someone else.  This clause will specify under what conditions the tenant can avail itself of this right.  Under a sublet, the original tenant is still responsible for honoring the provisions in the lease. In an assignment, the original tenant is out of the picture and has no further liability under the lease.

Tenant: A person who has been given the right to use and occupy rental property owned by another person, usually through a lease or rental agreement. The tenant’s right to exclusive enjoyment of the property is typically granted in exchange for an agreed-upon amount of money, and is limited to a fixed time period (usually set forth in the lease).

“Tenant improvements”: Indicates whether the tenant has the right to make improvements to the property and the extent to which the landlord will allow such improvements.

“Termination”:  Imposes an obligation on the tenant to return the property in a certain condition at the end of the lease.

“Termination date of lease”:  Specifies the lease’s ending date.

“Term of the lease”:  Identifies in months or years the duration of the lease.  It should also state when the tenant is entitled to possession.

“Use of premises”:  Specifies any restrictions on the use of the premises.

Warranty of habitability: A residential landlord’s obligation to provide his or her tenant with a rental unit that is reasonably fit for human occupation, including as to basic living conditions and the performance of timely repairs. What is “reasonable” in one area may not be so in another, however. For example, a California landlord’s failure to properly insulate pipes may not violate the warranty of habitability, but a Minnesota landlord’s failure to do so may result in liability if the pipes are constantly freezing overnight.