What Is an Owner-Occupant?

An owner-occupant is a resident of a property who holds the title to that property. In contrast, an absentee owner carries the title to the property but does not live there. An absentee landlord is a type of absentee owner. 

An owner-occupant owns a property and resides at the same property, while an absentee owner does not live at the owned-property.

How an Owner-Occupant Works

When applying for a mortgage or refinancing, the lender will need to know if the borrower is going to be an owner-occupant or an absentee owner. Some types of loans may only be available to owner-occupants and not to investors. The application will usually state, "The borrower intends to occupy the property as his/her primary residence," or some variation thereof when the borrower will be an owner-occupant. Generally, for a property to be owner-occupied, the owner must move into the residence within 60 days of closing and live there for at least one year.

Buyers purchasing property in the name of a trust, as a vacation or second home, or as the part-time home or for a child or relative do not qualify as owner-occupants. 

Homeowners usually are not required to notify their lender if they are moving out of an owner-occupied home they have lived in it for at least 12 months. The intent when applying for and receiving the loan is significant. If a buyer tells the lender, they plan to live in a home while knowing they intend to rent it, that is considered occupancy fraud. 

Key Takeaways

  • Owner-occupants are residents that own the property that they live at.
  • Some loans are only available to owner-occupants and not absentee owners or investors. 
  •  To be considered owner-occupied, residents usually must move into the home within 60 days of closing and live there for at least a year.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development offers special programs for those that plan to be owner-occupants, such as the Good Neighbor Next Door Program, which offers a discount to first responders that live in a property for at least three years.

Special Considerations

Lenders may offer special programs to buyers who intend to live in a property rather than renovate and sell it or lease it. For proof, such a buyer must sign an Owner-Occupant Certification document. The Owner-Occupant Certification form, also known as HUD-9548D, can be found on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) website. It must be signed by the property's buyer and real estate agent and filed with the sale contract. Any submission of a false Owner-Occupant Certification on property risks hefty fines of up to $250,000 or imprisonment of up to two years.

There is some flexibility in lending guidelines for borrowers who intend to live in the home but need to move out within 12 months of the loan start date. Loan documents may specify minimum residency for some programs. For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development offers a 50% discount on HUD-owned homes to firefighters, law enforcement, teachers, and emergency responders. The Good Neighbor Next Door Program encourages these professionals to move into revitalization areas. The HUD discount connects to a three-year owner-occupancy requirement. Borrowers who leave before the period ends would owe HUD a prorated portion of the discount they received.