I just came across the fact that Brits call the owners\operators of their pubs landlords, (on the new show "The Reluctant Landlord"). Being from the USA I am only aware of the term landlord being used to refer to the person you pay your rent to if you are renting a house, apartment/flat or shop etc., not a hotel or motel (and I love British humor\television shows and movies). Anyway it got me thinking: why is that?

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    Many pubs function as small hotels, so the owner (or manager) lets out rooms to travellers. Historically, the man in charge of an inn was called the landlord (as in the old drinking song 'Come, landlord, fill the flowing bowl'). Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 9:12
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    That still doesn't make sense though kate. I did know that some pubs are also taverns\hotels, but you don't, well we don't anyway, call hotel owners landlords. That's something that we call the person we are renting the place we actually live, if we get a hotel room for a night, or even longer, we do pay the hotel, obviously, but we wouldn't call that a landlord and tennent relationship. And no Andy it hasn't, over here the only British channel we get is bbc-america, I found it on my regular pirated media site, but it has 2 episodes out as of now not just one, but it's not bad, it's a sitcom. Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 12:59
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    In a certain sense this is true in the US as well. The owner of any building is the "landlord" if he does not occupy the building himself. For example, if the building contains a pub, and the space for the pub is leased from the owner of the building, then that owner is the "landlord".
    – GEdgar
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 13:01
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    @KateBunting I think OP understands that, they're just wondering why. Which, I agree is a bit of a strange question. Language just changes. I dunno.
    – user91988
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 17:36
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    But a "landlord" is the "lord" of the land, not the lord of the building, right?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 22:49

3 Answers 3


A ‘public house’ is a kind of bar in the UK that originated as a ‘house’ that was ‘public’. In other words, it was a house (looong ago!) where the owner had his friends round for drinks and food, and ended up turning it into a business.

These were the original’ taverns’ - houses where you could stop for food and drink, often while travelling, and so they would be adjacent to the newly made straight Roman roads which first connected parts of the UK, way back when. It was literally ‘someone’s house’ - where you could stop - and they gave you food - so you could continue your journey (without starving!)

As well as meaning ‘someone who runs a pub’, a ‘landlord’ in England is also someone who owns the title to land, houses and property. It also refers to someone who rents out such property. You do not, any longer, need to be an actual ‘lord’ or titled person of any kind, to do this.

In 1393 legislation was passed requiring signs to be displayed outside such ‘public houses’ so they could be recognised easily (and I’m sure, taxed). This would be the beginning of legislation to control and tax ‘pubs’ and oversee the quality of ale, etc.

The ‘landlord’ back then, would be the person owning the land on which the public house sits. Way back, this may indeed have been a ‘lord’ but these days, most usually a ‘landlord’ is any person who owns the title to property. It also refers to a person who owns property that one rents.

That person’s permission would have been needed, to run the ‘pub’ on their property. Or they themselves might have been running it. So they would legally be ‘the landlord’ of the pub, and the building it’s running in. The boss, the person in control. ‘Can we stay late? - you’ll have to ask the landlord - he’s over there’.

The name ‘landlord’ has stuck, as the name of the person owning and/or running a pub. In that case he or she may nowadays just be a tennant of the property, or be an employee of a food and beverage company or chain, though some people do still own their own pubs independently.

2 meanings of Landlord:

  • Landlord - owner of property and/or one who rents out property
  • Landlord - person who runs a ‘pub’ in the UK

Question: Can a person be both ‘landlord’ of the pub property (ie they own the property) and ‘landlord’ of the pub? Answer - yes, but they don’t have to be.

History of the public house including it’s origin as a tavern in Roman times: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pub

In the link below you’ll read how, hundreds of years ago, the ‘lord’ owned the ‘land’ and serfs or peasants who worked the land for him would be allowed to farm their own (very little, and not ‘enough’) food from a small strip of land. They also would build their own house on the land and pay him rent for ‘the use of the land’. This system underlies the foundation of our modern day governments, in case you didn’t know.

Origin of Landlord: https://spoa.com/the-concept-of-landlord-a-short-history-from-medieval-times-to-the-present/

  • So what you are saying is the only reason they are called landlords is because they used to be literal Lord's, and not because they rent their property out to others, like someone suggested that they "rent" the barstools and bar space out to the patrons? Commented Nov 10, 2018 at 4:03
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    Long ago - hundreds of years ago, a pub ‘landlord’ might literally be a land-owning ‘lord’. But the meanings of ‘landlord’ (pub owner/manager) and ‘landlord’ (owner/renter of property or land) have diverged. Think of them as now being two different words that sound the same. The landlord does not ‘rent the barstools and space to the patrons’ you have misunderstood that. Rather, the brewery (maker of the beer) owns the building the pub is in. The brewery then rent the building to the Pub Landlord - who is their tenant, in a contract which is tied to selling their particular brand of beer.
    – Jelila
    Commented Nov 11, 2018 at 6:04
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    I like this answer, and how it is explained, it just needs a reference or two at the most, to support it.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 19:48
  • I'm sorry to say that however logical some if it sounds, everything in your Answer seems more like speculation than fact… which I'd be happy to debate here or anywhere. Equally sadly, your "landlord" link contains little more than speculation. Don't be offended when I say that to me it seems you're more likely to be US American than British… and which are you, please? Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 18:44

From https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=landlord Etymononline

lord (n.)

**mid-13c., laverd, loverd, from Old English hlaford "master of a household, [less releavant defintions omitted]". Old English hlaford is a contraction of earlier hlafweard, literally "one who guards the loaves," from hlaf "bread, loaf" (see loaf (n.)) + weard "keeper, guardian" (from PIE root wer- (3) "perceive, watch out for").

landlord (n.)

early 15c. (late 13c. as a surname), owner of a tenement, one who rents land or property to a tenant," from land (n.) + lord (n.).

However, the OED, in agreeing with this for the earliest meaning of "landlord", adds

but the modern word landlord, in the sense of an innkeeper, is a new formation (see quotes of 1724, below.)

The oldest meaning is (OED)

1.a. Originally, a lord or owner of land; in recorded use applied only spec. to the person who lets land to a tenant. Hence (perhaps already in 16th cent.) in widened sense (as the correlative to tenant): A person of whom another person holds any tenement, whether a piece of land, a building or part of a building.

a1000 in Earle Land Charters (1888) 376 Æt ælcum were ðe binnan ðam .xxx. hidan is gebyreð æfre se oðer fisc ðam landhlaforde.

In the late 17th century, this then extended to anyone who let out his own property to lodgers, long or short-term.


2.a. In extended sense: The person in whose house one lodges or boards for payment; one's ‘host’.

1692 N. Luttrell Diary in Brief Hist. Relation State Affairs (1857) II. 411 His landlords daughter testified that [etc.].

It seems that this is the origin of landlord as it is recorded - in the "innkeeper" sense - 30 years later in the early 18th century:

2 b. The master of an inn, an innkeeper.

1724 J. Swift Let. to Shop-keepers of Ireland (new ed.) 7 Suppose you go to an Ale-House with that base Money, and the Landlord gives you a Quart for Four of these Half-Pence.

To understand this further, we have Inn which mean "accommodation"

†1. a. A dwelling-place, habitation, abode, lodging; a house (in relation to its inhabitant).(Edit: archaic or all but obsolete)

c1000 Ælfric Homilies I. 110 Þaða se steorra glad, and þa tungel-witegan gelædde, and him ðæs cildes inn gebicnode.

1657 J. Howell Londinopolis 339 Queen Mary gave this House to Nicholas Heth, Archbishop of York, and his successors for ever, to be their Inne or Lodging for their repair to London.

(Compare "The Inns of court".)

Inn 4.a. A public house kept for the lodging and entertainment of travellers, or of any who wish to use its accommodation; a hostelry or hotel; sometimes, erroneously, a tavern which does not provide lodging.

c1400 Mandeville's Trav. (1839) v. 34 Alleweyes men fynden gode innes and all that hem nedeth of Vytaylle.

1883 Law Times 27 Oct. 432/2 An inn or hotel is an establishment, the proprietor of which undertakes to provide for the entertainment of all comers, especially travellers.

The term "innkeeper" implied that the owner sold beer, wine, etc., offered food and let out rooms. It seems this title was then adopted by or given to alehouse/tavern owners even though their services were more basic.


Sorry I don’t want to go to the trouble of researching this, and to me all of it is almost axiomatic.

This Question necessarily includes both how it is now, and how it was 1,000 years ago. Does that sound like a recipe for confusion?

Broadly, “landlord” makes the assumption that the guy isn’t merely the operator, but the owner; they’re different.

Broadly, anyone can “operate” a pub and whoever does so must be a “licencee”… but the great majority of operators are not owners; they are merely tenants of one or other of the big breweries.

The worst part is that “landlord” and “licencee” just as “tenant” and too many other terms commonly using in what’s generally know as “the licenced trade” mean other things in other circumstances.

So for instance, what you mean by “landlord” could refer to at least three very different things:

It could literally mean the old-fashioned owner of an establishment offering hospitality, whether that was a pub or a restaurant, an inn, or a hotel - except that the hotel is a relatively modern concept; if you like, a supercase of the traditional inn but either way, a much-more modern thing.

It could colloquially mean the more-modern, idiomatic use of the same term, regardless of legal niceties.

It could literally mean not the operator but the owner of the premises, in this case the brewery - but that’s purely about land tenure in general; not the hospitality industry in particular.

I suspect your “pubowners” was merely a typographical error but even Google recognises it as an error. In the context, does the difference between “pubowners” and “pub owners” seem more important?

Going back, Kate Bunting made perfect sense in general to say many pubs function as small hotels but in fact, they function as inns. The difference is that a pub serves only casual drinkers; a hotel (traditionally) serves only residents and an inn serves both. We might add a level of complexity by saying that traditionally inns did and pubs did not serve diners as well as drinkers.

Please accept that “some pubs are also taverns\hotels” stretches a point too far. Strictly, no pubs are also hotels; not even if you could stretch “tavern” to include both “pub” and “inn”.

When you see a landlord as someone renting (out) the place you actually live in, please remember that your history goes back to when? Clearly, not before 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, no? Meanwhile British ideas about pubs and landlords go back hundreds of years before even the Norman Conquest of 1066… 500 years more, at least. Ie, British in particular and European in general had roughly twice as long as US American history to breed confusion.

Consider again, GEdgar’s “the owner of any building is the ‘landlord’ if he does not occupy the building himself.” For example, if the building contains a pub, and the space for the pub is leased from the owner of the building, then that owner is the "landlord”. No; who is the landlord is no more to do with pubs than any other use of the building. Both traditionally and in modern terms, the landlord owns the land and prolly the buildings on it - please, don’t let’s go there. To suggest “the owner of any building is the ‘landlord’ if he does not occupy the building himself” is simple nonsense in any industry.

tmgr quite rightly hi-lights the confusion caused by the legal and hospitality industries using the same term, in related but not identical circumstances, to mean quite different things.

I don’t think Kate Bunting should have given even so much leeway as American/British divergence…

I do think Hot Licks land/building dichotomy is unreal.

Janus Bahs Jacquet is quite right that the existence of a landlord does not necessarily entail the existence of a tenant but only that far.

A landlord is not someone who rents out a building, or part of a building. A landlord is one who owns land, and quite likely but not much relevantly, buildings on that land. Who doesn’t see the difference, please say so now.

Of course it’s true that normally becomes relevant only when there’s a rental agreement but that’s about contract, not ownership.

In the case of hotels, it can't be relevant whether the owner is a corporation or unknown entity; with a pub, one normally doesn't know who the owner is; certainly not because they’re the ones who sign you in… why would anyone “sign you in” to a pub?

"Signing in" is a legal requirement in clubs and hotels but in pubs it's not just irrelevant; it's inconceivable, in Britain as in US America as everywhere else. Just for instance, consider whether any patron in any episode of Cheers would accept being asked to "sign in."

No; when you’re just drinking there, you’re not at all ‘renting’ a space. If you were, they would not be able to evict or ban you except under the conditions of the rental contract.

To give a ridiculous example that’s to say, a publican can tell you to leave simply because he doesn’t like the colour of your shirt; a hotel can tell you to leave only if you infringe a stated regulation.

  • When you rent a flat in London, I can tell you for sure, that the person who rents it to you, is called your ‘landlady’ or ‘landlord’. If you rent through an agent, then the agent will liaise with the landlord or landlady, on your behalf.
    – Jelila
    Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 2:58
  • Yes, Jelila, of course. Who doubts that? If you're posting logic, supported by neither knowledge nor even useful interest, why not say so? Commented Nov 24, 2018 at 17:37
  • I am referring, logically, to your statement ‘a landlord is not someone who rents out a building, or part of a building’ which is incorrect. landlord noun land·​lord | \ˈland-ˌlȯrd \ Definition of landlord 1 : the owner of property (such as land, houses, or apartments) that is leased or rented to another 2 : the master of an inn or lodging house : INNKEEPER Synonyms & Antonyms Example Sentences Learn More about landlord Synonyms lessor, letter, renter Examples of landlord in a Sentence agreed to pay the landlord the rent on the first Monday of each month
    – Jelila
    Commented Nov 26, 2018 at 8:39
  • Oops. I'm sorry, I did put that very badly, did I not? The only thing stopping me from changing my Comment is that it would leave yours looking odd, at best. Again sorry and I meant "is not limited to…" In any case, would you rather play with generic terms in modern English, or think about what "landlord" meant in that context perhaps 1,00 years ago; perhaps more? Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 22:19
  • In English, history has shaped the language. The use of landlord or landlady to mean one who rents out property is still in use today. I have both rented from ‘a landlord’ and been ‘a landlady’ myself, when I rented out my property in London.
    – Jelila
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 8:44

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