noun ten·an·cy \ ˈte-nən(t)-sē \
|Updated on: 6 Jul 2018

Definition of tenancy

plural tenancies
1 : a holding of an estate or a mode of holding an estate; specifically : the temporary possession or occupancy of something (such as a house) that belongs to another
2 : the period of a tenant's occupancy or possession

Examples of tenancy in a Sentence

  1. He was granted tenancy of the farm.

  2. During his tenancy, he tried to make as many improvements as he could.

Recent Examples of tenancy from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tenancy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of tenancy


in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Financial Definition of TENANCY

joint tenancy

What It Is

Joint tenancy is an arrangement in which two or more individuals occupy a property. Participating tenants each share equally in the rights and responsibilities related to the property.

How It Works

If multiple individuals rent or purchase a property for work or living, each tenant carries joint and several liability in connection with the property. This means that each tenant potentially carries full responsibility for the property in the absence of his or her cohabitants.

For example, suppose two friends, Bob and Jack, rent an apartment together to reduce living expenses. As joint tenants, Bob and Jack are each responsible for paying rent and applicable utilities for the apartment. If Jack leaves without notice and becomes unreachable, any lapse in payments falls solely on Bob.

Why It Matters

Under joint tenancy, all property rights and responsibilities transfer directly to the remaining tenants in the event that one of the tenants dies or becomes unavailable. If the joint tenants own the property, this transfer occurs without probate.

tenancy at will

What It Is

Tenancy at will is a legal term describing an arrangement whereby a tenant occupies a piece of property with the permission of the property owner.

How It Works

Let's say John Doe is a bachelor trying to make it in Hollywood. He meets Bob Smith, who is a celebrity with a big house. Mr. Smith has a guesthouse that he's willing to let John Doe stay in for "a while." John Doe is a tenant at will, meaning he's there for as long as Mr. Smith lets him stay -- there is no definite rental period or even a regular rent schedule.

If either party wants to change the deal, they can do so, though giving reasonable notice is usually warranted. Though our example is with unrelated parties, tenancy at will commonly occurs among family members.

Tenancy at will usually terminates when the owner of the property dies, the tenant dies or the owner sells the property.

Why It Matters

Landlords can terminate a tenancy at will anytime, which means that tenants are often better served by having a written lease that sets the expectations for how long the tenant can stay and what the rent payment will be, if any.

The advantage of tenancy at will, however, is that both parties have tremendous flexibility to change the arrangement quickly without breaking a contract.

TENANCY Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of tenancy for English Language Learners

  • : the right to use another person's property (such as land, a house, etc.) for a short period of time

  • : the amount of time during which you are allowed to use another person's property

  • : the state or fact of owning property (such as land, a house, etc.)

Law Dictionary


noun ten·an·cy \ ˈte-nən-sē \

legal Definition of tenancy

plural tenancies
1 : the holding of or a mode of holding an estate in property:
a : a form of ownership of property : tenure
b : the temporary possession or occupancy of property that belongs to another
holdover tenancy
: a tenancy that arises when one remains in possession of property after the expiration of the previous tenancy (as one under a lease), that may be established as a tenancy at will by the recognition of the landlord (as by accepting rent), and that may sometimes be statutorily converted to a periodic tenancy for the same or a different term than that of the original tenancy
  • liable for payment of rent in a holdover tenancy
called also tenancy at sufferance
joint tenancy
: a tenancy in which two or more parties hold equal and simultaneously created interests in the same property and in which title to the entire property is usually to remain with the survivors upon the death of one of the parties and so on to the last survivor
  • a right to sever the joint tenancy
— see also tenancy by the entirety in this entry — compare tenancy in common in this entry
life tenancy
: the tenancy of one with a life estate; also : life estate at estate 1
  • created a life tenancy for her husband
periodic tenancy \ˌpir-ē-ˈä-dik-\
: a tenancy that is carried forward by specified time periods (as months) without a lease and that may be terminated by the landlord or tenant after giving proper notice
tenancy at sufferance
: holdover tenancy in this entry
tenancy at will
: a tenancy that is terminable at the will of the landlord or tenant provided that applicable statutory requirements for notice are met
tenancy by the entirety
: a tenancy that is shared by spouses who are considered one person in law and have the right of survivorship and that becomes a tenancy in common in the event of divorce
  • property subject to a tenancy by the entirety cannot be encumbered by one tenant acting alone
  • Mays v. Brighton Bank, 832 S.W.2d 347 (1992)
called also tenancy by the entireties; compare estate by the entirety at estate 1
tenancy for years
: a tenancy that is for a specified period of time — compare tenancy at will in this entry
tenancy in common
: a tenancy in which two or more parties share ownership of property but have no right to each other's interest (as upon the death of another tenant) — compare joint tenancy in this entry
tenancy in partnership
: a tenancy that binds partners to the use of partnership property only for partnership purposes and that does not permit the separate assignment by a partner of his or her right to the property
2 : the period of a tenant's occupancy or possession

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