What is a Residential Lease and What are the Different Types?

A residential lease is typically an agreement whereby the landlord or owner of the property contracts to grant exclusive possession of the real property to the tenant. A lease can also apply to personal property, but different rules apply so we will focus on residential and household leases. In a residential lease the landlord retains a reversionary interest in the property meaning at the end of the lease term, the property returns to his possession.

How Long is a Typical Lease?

A lease can be for 6 months, 1 year or an indefinite period of time. When it comes to the length of a lease there are four types of tenancies and they are more or less defined by their lengths.

The Four Types of Residential Leases

  1. Term for years
  2. Periodic Tenancy
  3. Tenancy at Will
  4. Tenancy at Sufferance

Term for Years

A term for years is a tenancy that ends after a defined period of time. For example, you can have one end after a day, week, month, or year.  An important feature of the term for years is that the tenant need not give notice to the landlord before vacating. So absence an agreement otherwise a tenant can simply vacate the premises at the end of the term

Periodic Tenancy

This is a tenancy where the tenant possesses the property indefinitely and in which a periodic rent has been reserved to the landlord.  The rent can be paid weekly, monthly, or yearly as per any agreement. If the lease does not state the length then the tenancy length will conform to the frequency of the rent payments.

Tenancy at Will

This is a relationship where the tenancy only endures as long as the parties agree it will. This is often the case when a friend stays at another friend’s house and it is a very informal relationship.  This tenancy can be terminated by either party according to their agreement and it will rarely be construed as a periodic tenancy.

Tenancy at Sufferance

A tenancy at sufferance is created when a tenant stays past the lease term of one of the previous three estates. This means the continued possession of the tenant is wrongful and the landlord can evict and recover damages or consent to the tenant’s continued possession and hold him liable for a similar term to the previous one.


A residential lease is one in which the landlord grants exclusive right to possession of real property to a tenant for a defined period of time. There are four different types of residential leases and each one has its own rules and uses. For any questions regarding the types of residential leases available, please contact a local attorney.[1]

[1] Barlow Burke and Joseph Snoe, Examples and Explanations: Property, 257-261, Aspen Publishers (Third Edition 2008).