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Landlord and Tenant

An association between two individuals arising from an agreement by which one individual occupies the other’s real property with permission, subject to a rental fee.

The term landlord refers to a person who owns property and allows another person to use it for a fee. The person using the property is called a tenant. The agreement between a landlord and a tenant is called a lease or rental agreement.

The landlord and tenant relationship has its roots in Feudalism, a system of land use and ownership that flourished in Europe between the tenth and thirteenth centuries. Under feudalism land was owned and controlled by a military or political sovereign ruler. This ruler gave portions of land he or she owned to another person, called a lord. The lord, in turn, could allow another person, called a vassal, to use smaller portions of the lord’s land. The vassal pledged allegiance and military or other service to the lord in exchange for the right to live and work on the land.

In 1066, the Normans of France conquered England, and William the Conqueror installed himself as king. King William used the feudal framework of land control to retain political power in faraway lands. Feudalism as a means of political control became obsolete by the fourteenth century, but the hierarchical system of land use and ownership remained.

The contemporary landlord and tenant relationship derives from the relationship between the lord and the vassal. However, today the landlord is the owner of the property—not, like the feudal lord, merely the manager. The tenant is similar to the vassal because the tenant does not own the property but is allowed to use it for a fee.

The landlord and tenant relationship usually refers to a living arrangement. In this respect landlord and tenant law differs from the law regarding leases. In a landlord and tenant relationship, the parties are often referred to as lessor (landlord) and lessee (tenant). Indeed, a lease is a contract that creates the same relationship as exists between a landlord and tenant: the lessor owns property and allows the lessee to use it for a fee. However, the law of leases does not necessarily concern itself with living arrangements. A lease agreement may, for example, relate to the use of a good or service. Because living arrangements are vital to human existence, landlord and tenant relationships are treated differently from lease contracts.

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