Rental Terms & Expressions You May Need

Renter & Landlord Terms & Definitions

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Don't be at a disadvantage, learn what tenant-landlord terms you need to know to understand your rights and the language used in many tenant landlord correspondence.



In certain states a tenant may have this remedy of moving out of a rental property that is uninhabitable and that the landlord has not repaired within a certain period or reasonable time after receiving notice from the tenant of the problems.

Affordable Housing

Certain types of housing where the rents are below market rate for people who fall within certain income guidelines governed by a federal or state agency.


Features on a property that enhance it’s desirability or value.

Amount of Advance Notice

A tenant must give a landlord notice of a certain number of days before leaving a rental premises. For example, in a month-to-month tenancy, the landlord usually must give the tenant 30 days' advance written notice that the landlord is increasing the amount of the security deposit.


A rental property usually consisting of a room or a number of rooms, with similar units in a larger building to be used as housing.


An appeal is a request to a higher court to review a lower court's decision in a lawsuit. So if you were to lose a lawsuit you may appeal it to a higher court.

Application for Waiver of Court Fees And Costs

Most courts have forms for tenants or any litigant to file with the Court for permission to file legal papers without paying a fee. Income restrictions usually apply.


A way to resolve a dispute instead of going to court by using a neutral third party called an arbitrator. The parties must usually follow the arbitrator's decision unless they have agreed otherwise.


An agreement between the original tenant and a new tenant where the new tenant is assigned or takes over the lease of a rental property. The new tenant then becomes responsible to the landlord for everything that the original tenant was responsible for. If the new tenant doesn't live up to the lease obligations the original tenant is still responsible to the landlord for the terms of the lease.


Someone who receives a commission to buy and sell real estate. Most states have some type of licensing requirements to become a broker.

Department of Fair Housing

The state agency empowered to investigate unlawful discrimination complaints in employment and housing.

Condo / Condominium

A form of housing usually in an apartment like premises where the owners own the specific unit and also have an undivided interest in the ownership of the common elements such as hallways, elevators and exterior areas.

Conventional Housing

Housing that adheres or conforms to the generally acceptable standards of housing in an area.

Coop/Cooperative Apartment

A coop will generally consist of an apartment like premises but is not considered real property. You actually purchase shares in a cooperative.


Someone who will sign a documents in addition to the principal party signer. It is generally used as additional security for a tenant signing a lease because it makes the co-signer also liable for the rent.

Credit Report

This report is provided by the credit reporting agencies and details the amount of credit an individual has, the amount of outstanding debt an individual has and the history on the payments he has been making on his outstanding debt.

Credit Reporting Agency

There are three main credit reporting agencies that collect records of people's credit histories. This information is provided to prospective creditors (including landlords).

Default Judgment

A default judgement is when a tenant or any individual fails to file a response to a complaint by a landlord or some other party and a judgment is issued by the court because they did not respond or appear.


A tenant can file this legal pleading/response or challenge to a lawsuit which tests the legal sufficiency of a claim or cause of action or even defenses made in the landlord's complaint.

Discrimination (Rental)

Rental discrimination is denying renting to someone due to a person's race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, source of income, age, disability, whether the person is married, whether there are children under the age of 18 in the person's household or if someone has a disability.

Duplex (House)

Usually a two-story house having separate apartments for two families with two separate entrances. Basically two homes that are attached but considered two distinct and separate homes.

Equal Housing Opportunity

There are laws that prohibit discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, and familial status which were enacted to create equal housing opportunities for everyone.

Escrow Account

An escrow account is a trust account established by an attorney or broker to hold funds, on behalf of another person, for a transaction. The money is released when the transaction is completed or terminated. In some states a landlord is also required to keep security deposits for tenants in an escrow account.

Eviction/Eviction Notice

An eviction is a process to remove a tenant from a rental premises due to the tenant violating the terms of his or her lease agreement or not vacating the premises after a termination notice (also sometimes called an "unlawful detainer" lawsuit). This process is usually a court-administered or legal process.

Fair Housing Act

This is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, and national origin.

Federal Stay

An order of a federal bankruptcy court that temporarily stops proceedings in a state court, including an eviction proceeding.


A person who does not have any tenancy rights to a property.


Basically requires landlords to maintain their rental units in a condition fit for human tenancy. It also generally provides that a rental premises or unit must substantially comply with housing and building code standards that materially affect tenants' safety and health.

Hap (Housing Assistance Payments) Contract

This used to provide Section 8 tenant based assistance under the housing choice voucher program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Holding Deposit

Some landlords require a prospective tenant to put a deposit down to hold a rental unit until the tenant pays the first month's rent and the security deposit.


A residence or building where people live.

HUD (Housing and Urban Development) –

HUD is a government organization whose mission is to increase homeownership and access to affordable housing and to support community development. HUD is active in all kinds of real estate development and actively fights any type of discrimination in real estate.

Income Levels

These are income limits based on the median household income of the government agency used to provide limits on tax credit and other affordable housing.

Inspection (Initial)

In some states a landlord must perform an initial inspection if the tenant requests it, before they move out, so any damages can be identified. This also provides the tenant a chance to fix damages before they are deducted from the security deposit.


A person or business entity who owns a property with rental units, and who rents or leases the rental unit to someone who is called a tenant.

Lead Based Paint Disclosure

A law that provides tenants with information regarding lead-based paint and potential lead hazards in their homes.


A contract or agreement between a landlord (lessor) and a tenant (lessee) which can be written or oral and transfers the right to possession and the use of the landlord's real property to the lessee for a specified period of time and for monetary consideration (rent). By state law (statute of frauds), leases for longer than a certain period of time (usually one year) must be in writing to be legally enforceable.

Lease Option

A lease where the tenant has the right to purchase the property during the lease term or at its termination (also can be called Rent to Own).

Lease Renewal

A renewal of the lease for a specified period of time usually under its original conditions unless otherwise specified.

Lease Term

The duration or term that is clearly specified in the lease for a tenant or lessee to have possession of real property from a landlord or lessor.

Leasing Agent

A real estate agent or broker who rents (leases) property owned by a landlord to a tenant.

Legal Aid Organizations

Organizations that provide free legal advice, representation, and other legal services in noncriminal cases to economically disadvantaged persons.


A tenant under the terms of a lease (can also be oral) that has the possession of the real property for a specified term and rent.


A landlord under the terms of a lease (can also be oral) that has given possession of their real property for a specified term and rent.

Lock Out

When a landlord trying to terminate a tenancy locks a tenant or lessee out of the rental premises. A lock out is illegal.


The upkeep or care of a property which can include everything from grass cutting, plumbing, general upkeep, etc.

Market Rate

The rate that the current market will bear or pay for a property.


Where a neutral third person provides assistance in a dispute with two parties to come to an agreed upon solution.


Failure to use reasonable or ordinary care that results in injury or damage to another person’s property or person.

Persons With Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects individuals by providing civil rights protections to those with disabilities. Additionally, it provides for equal opportunity for these individuals in employment, transportation, public accommodations, and State and local government services.

Prepaid Rental Listing Services

Lists of available rental units that are sold by businesses.


A piece of real estate or land which includes any attached fixtures that are permanent.

Property Manager

An individual or company who manages real estate for another person. A property manager does everything from collecting rents to maintaining the property.


Expenses that are divided or apportioned between a landlord and tenant when a lease is signed.

Real Estate

Land and everything permanently attached to it.

Real Estate Agent

An individual licensed to be an agent or broker engaged in the sale or lease of real estate.


A predetermined fixed regular payment to a landlord and made by a tenant of a property for use and possession.

Rent Schedule

A statement of proposed or estimated rental rates based on a building's estimated expenses and market supply and demand.

Rent Control Ordinances

Laws that determine how much rent can be charged and how much it can be raised. They can also set rules on how and when a tenant’s lease may be terminated.

Rent to Own

A lease where you would have the option to buy usually at the end of the lease. Under certain circumstances part of your rent may go towards the purchase of the house. (see also Lease Option above)

Rent Withholding

In certain states a tenant has the right of not paying part or all of the rent if the landlord receives notice of defects and does not fix them within a reasonable amount of time.

Rental Agreement

A written or oral agreement which sets the terms of the tenancy between a tenant and a landlord.

Rental Application Form

A form that a tenant may be required to complete to see if they will qualify to rent an apartment. It can include everything from asking for a tenant's address, telephone number, employment history, credit references, etc.

Rental Period

The length of time in a lease agreement.

Rental Unit

An apartment, condominium, house that a landlord rents to a tenant to live in for a period of time.

Renter's Insurance

Insurance that a tenant can purchase protecting them against property losses. This can also protect the tenant against liability for claims or lawsuits filed by others alleging that the tenant acted negligently.

Retaliatory Eviction or Action

Often an illegal action (like raising rent or evicting) by a landlord to punish a tenant for asserting their rights .

Section 8

Allows low income families to pick privately owned rental housing and the housing authority pays the landlord the difference between a set formula that a tenant must pay based on their income.

Security Deposit

A payment almost always required by a landlord for a tenant to rent an apartment. It is held by the landlord during the lease term and may be kept under certain circumstances (owe rent or damage sustained) at the end of the lease.


A legal term for when legal notice/papers are presented to a party usually in person.


When a tenant creates another rental agreement with a new tenant, called a subtenant, who takes over possession and the terms of their lease. The original tenant is still responsible to the landlord under the terms of the original lease.


Housing that is below market rate or where part of the rent is paid by a governmental entity.


See sublease above.


The tenant's exclusive right, created by a rental agreement between the landlord and the tenant, to use and possess the landlord's rental unit.


A person who rents or leases a rental premises from a landlord.

Tenant Damages

Damages to a rental premise done by the tenant that may be grounds to keep a security deposit.

Thirty Day Notice

A written notice from a landlord telling the tenant that the tenancy will end or be terminated in 30 days.


Attached homes usually at least two or a row of a few joined by connecting walls.


A rental unit which is not habitable for occupation or failing to comply with safety and building code standards that affect tenants safety and/or health. Every state has a slight variation in its definition of uninhabitable.

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