A lease is a contractual arrangement calling for the lessee (user) to pay the lessor (owner) for use of an asset. Property, buildings and vehicles are common assets that are leased. Industrial or business equipment is also leased.
Broadly put, a lease agreement is a contract between two parties, the lessor and the lessee. The lessor is the legal owner of the asset; the lessee obtains the right to use the asset in return for regular rental payments. The lessee also agrees to abide by various conditions regarding their use of the property or equipment. For example, a person leasing a car may agree that the car will only be used for personal use.
The narrower term rental agreement can be used to describe a lease in which the asset is tangible property. Language used is that the user rents the land or goods let out or rented out by the owner. The verb to lease is less precise because it can refer to either of these actions. Examples of a lease for intangible property are use of a computer program (similar to a license, but with different provisions), or use of a radio frequency (such as a contract with a cell-phone provider).
The narrower term 'tenancy' describes a lease in which the tangible property is land (including at any vertical section such as airspace, storey of building or mine). A premium is an amount paid by the tenant for the lease to be granted or to secure the former tenant's lease, often in order to secure a low rent, in long leases termed a ground rent. For parts of buildings it is most common for users to pay also by collateral contract, or by the same contract, a service charge which is normally an express list of services in a lease to minimize disputes over service charges. A gross lease or tenancy stipulates a rent that is for the global amount due including all service charges.
A cancelable lease (UK: determinable/breakable lease) is a lease that may be terminated (formally determined) solely by the lessee or solely by the lessor without penalty. A mutually determinable lease can be determined by either. A non-cancelable lease is a lease that cannot be so terminated. Commonly, “lease” may imply a non-cancelable lease, whereas “rental agreement” may connote a cancelable lease.
Over the centuries, leases have served many purposes and the nature of legal regulation has varied according to those purposes and the social and economic conditions of the times. Leases, for example, were mainly used for agricultural purposes until the late 18th century and early 19th century when the growth of cities in industrialized countries made leases an important form of landholding in urban areas.
The modern law of landlord and tenant in common law jurisdictions retains the influence of the common law and, particularly, the laissez-faire philosophy that dominated the law of contract and property law in the 19th century. With the growth of consumerism, consumer protection legislation recognised that common law principles, which assume equal bargaining power between the contracting parties, create hardships when that assumption is inaccurate. Consequently, reformers have emphasised the need to assess residential tenancy laws in terms of protection they provide to tenants. Legislation to protect tenants is now common.