Are You an Owner or a Tenant?

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Are you an OWNER or a TENANT? Is there a difference?

Ask Black's Law, THE authoritative source for all legal definitions used in American Jurisprudence.

Black's Law, 1st Edition:

"Owner" The person in whom is vested the ownership, dominion, or title of property; proprietor.

He who has dominion of a thing, real or personal, corporeal or incorporeal, which he has a right to enjoy and do with as he pleases, even to spoil or destroy it, as far as the law permits, unless he be prevented by some agreement or covenant which restrains his right.

"Tenant" In the broadest sense, one who holds or possesses lands or tenements by any kind of right or title, whether in fee, for life, for years, at will, or otherwise. 

In a more restricted sense, one who holds lands of another; one who has the temporary use and occupation of real property owned by another person, (called the "landlord,") the duration and terms of his tenancy being usually fixed by an instrument called a "lease."

The word "tenant" conveys a much more comprehensive idea in the language of the law than it does in its popular sense. In popular language it is used more particularly as opposed to the word "landlord," and always seems to imply that the land or property is not the tenant's own, but belongs to some other person, of whom he immediately holds it. But, in the language of the law, every possessor of landed property is called a "tenant" with reference to such property, and this, whether such landed property is absolutely his own, or whether he merely holds it under a lease for a certain number of years.

In feudal law. One who holds of another (called "lord" or "superior") by some service; as fealty or rent.

One who has actual possession of lands claimed in suit by another; the defendant in a real action. The correlative of "demandant".

Strictly speaking, a "tenant" is a person who holds land; but the term is also applied by analogy to personality. Thus we speak of a person being tenant for life, or tenant in common, of stock.

Black's Law, 9th Edition:

"allodial" Held in absolute ownership; pertaining to an allodium. - Also spelled alodial.

"The term 'alodial' originally had no necessary reference to the mode in which the ownership of land had been conferred; it simply meant land held in absolute ownership, not in dependence upon any other body or person in whom the proprietary rights were supposed to reside, or to whom the possessor of land was bound to render service. It would thus properly apply to the land which in the original settlement had been allotted to individuals, while bookland was primarily applicable to land the title to which rested on a formal grant. Before long, however, the words appear to have been used synonymously to express land held in absolute ownership, the subject of free disposition intervivos or by will." Kenelm E. Digby, An Introduction to the History of the Law ofReal Property 11-12 (5th ed. 1897).

"allodium" An estate held in fee simple absolute. - Also spelled alodium. Also termed alod; alode.

"In this country. one who has full ownership of land is said to own it allodially that is, free of feudal services and incidents." Thomas F. Bergin & Paul G. Haskell, Preface to Estates in Land and Future Inteyests 18 (2d ed. 1984).

"Owner" One who has the right to possess, use, and convey something; a person in whom one or more interests are vested. An owner may have complete property in the thing or may have parted with some interests in it (as by granting an easement or making a lease).

"Tenant" One who holds or possesses lands or tenements by any kind of right or title.

"Tenant in common" One of two or more tenants who hold the same land by unity of possession but by separate and distinct titles, with each person having an equal right to possess the whole property but no right of survivorship.

"fee simple" An interest in land that, being the broadest property interest allowed by law, endures until the current holder dies without heirs; esp., a fee simple absolute. - Often shortened to fee. - Also termed estate in fee simple; tenancy in fee; fee-Simple title; exclusive ownership; feudum simplex. See AND HIS HEIRS.

"[Fee simple] is a term not likely to be found in modern conversation between laymen, who would in all probability find it quite unintelligible, Yet to a layman of the 14th century the term would have been perfectly intelligible, for it refers to the elementary social relationship of feudal, ism with which he was fully familiar: the words 'fee' and 'feudal' are closely related ..., The estate in fee simple is the largest estate known to the law, ownership of such an estate being the nearest approach to ownership of the land itself which is consonant with the feudal principle of tenure, It is 'the most comprehensive estate in land which the law recognises'; it is the 'most extensive in quantum, and the most absolute in respect to the rights which it confers, of all estates known to the law', Traditionally, the fee simple has two distinguishing features: first, the owner ('tenant' in fee simple) has the power to dispose of the fee simple, either inter vivos or by Will; second, on intestacy the fee simple descends, in the absence of lineal heirs, to collateral heirs to a brother, for example, if there is no issue," Peter Butt, Land Law 35 (2d ed. 1988).

"Fee simple. Originally this was an estate which endured for as long as the original tenant or any of his heirs survived. 'Heirs' comprised any blood relations, although originally ancestors were excluded; not until the Inheritance Act 1833 could a person be the heir of one of his descendants. Thus at first a fee simple would terminate if the original tenant died without leaving any descendants or collateral blood relations (e.g., brothers or cousins), even if before his death the land had been conveyed to another tenant who was still alive, But by 1306 it was settled that where a tenant in fee simple alienated the land, the fee simple would continue as long as there were heirs of the new tenant and so on, irrespective of any failure of the original tenant's heirs, Thenceforward a fee simple was Virtually eternal." Robert E. Megarry & M.P. Thompson, A Manual of the Law of Real Property 24-25 (6th ed. 1993),

"fee simple absolute" An estate of indefinite or potentially infinite duration (e.g., "to Albert and his heirs"). - Often shortened to fee simple or fee. - Also termed fee simple absolute in possession.

"Tenant in fee" The owner of land held in fee. - Also termed tenant in fee simple.

"A tenant in fee simple is [one who owns] lands, tenements, or hereditaments, to hold to him and his heirs forever; generally, absolutely, and simply, without mentioning what heirs, but referring that to his own pleasure, of to the disposition of the law. An estate in fee simple is an estate of inheritance without condition, belonging to the owner, and alienable by him or transmissible to his heirs absolutely and simply; it is an estate or interest in land of one holding absolute and exclUSive control and dominion over it, no matter how acquired." 31 c.j.S. Estates § 11, at 27 (1996).


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