When Does a Guest Become a Tenant?

Written on June 6, 2016 by , updated on December 9, 2016

Guest becomes a tenant New roommates, visiting family, new boyfriends, and live-in nannies are all common scenarios. But when does a guest become a tenant?

What’s the Difference?

There is a thin line between what defines a guest and a tenant. Guests can be a huge liability if they start acting like tenants.

Some landlords would respond by saying “a tenant is someone who is one lease”. While true, this doesn’t account for guests that have taken up residence in your rental without your permission. Built into the tenant’s right of quiet enjoyment, guests are certainly allowed, but rogue tenants are not.

It’s extremely important for any adult occupant who is living there, to be on the lease. Otherwise, there is no legal accountability for them.

Examples of Tenants vs. Guests

College KidsReturning home for the summer or because they dropped outReturning home for Weekends, Spring/Winter Breaks, but always goes back to school.
Elderly Parents Moving in with children because they can no longer take care of themselvesVisiting children for a brief few weeks, or to help with a new child
Boyfriend, Girlfriend or FriendSpending most days and nights there - for weeks/months at a timeOnly visiting during the day, no matter how frequent
Hired Help, Nanny or Farm HandLiving on the propertyOnly on-site during normal business hours
Au PairLiving on the propertyBy definition, they live with the family, so they will always be a tenant.

Warning signs that a guest has become a tenant:

  • Guests who pay rent
  • Guests are receiving mail at the property
  • Guests that spend every night at the property
  • Guests that have moved-in furniture or pets
  • Guests that make maintenance requests

Other Considerations

  1. State laws are different regarding this issue, so be sure to check out Landlordology’s state guides to research this issue for yourself.
  2. This issue of how long a guest can stay should be addressed in your lease, such as no more than 10-14 days in any six-month period. 14 days should be enough time for any one friend or relative to visit in a six month period.


Should You Add the Guest to the Lease?

Again, it’s extremely important, and an industry best practice, for any adult occupant who is living there, to be on the lease. This is so 1) they are obligated to the lease, and 2) you know who is living there.

Confrontation is Uncomfortable

Most landlords I talk to prefer to ask the current tenant to add the new roommate to the lease. Yes, this is an uncomfortable conversation, but it’s also an opportunity to talk about renewing the lease at a higher rate and for a longer term!

The alternative is to serve the original tenant with a lease violation notice, and threaten to terminate the agreement.

Factors to Consider

Many of the factors that you should consider when trying to convert a guest to a tenant are:

  1. length of stay;
  2. existence of a lease or other “special contract for the room;”
  3. receipt of mail;
  4. access to cooking facilities;
  5. degree of control over the space (such as whether the person has his or her own key);
  6. whether the person has another residence; and
  7. the extent to which the person has made the dwelling his or her home for the time being

At the end of the day, give it the “Duck Test“:

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

Take Preemptive Action

This whole situation of a guest becoming a tenant is fairly easy to avoid if you have a candid conversation with the current tenant explaining what is and is not allowed. The issue should also be addressed in your lease, and you could even ask your tenant to initial beside the lease portion that addresses this issue.

If you accept rent from a guest, you might have initiated a landlord-tenant relationship. If that is true, your new tenant might now have the same rights as any other tenant and will not be easy to remove, as a simple trespasser can.

It’s also a good idea to consult an attorney before the issue actually warrants one. That way, you can proceed with the right course of action as directed by the attorney.

Related: Never Accept Rent from a Non-Tenant

What Others Have to Say

Depending on the individual state laws with respect to the issue, once someone has started receiving mail at an address they have established residency. That can be done without someone actually occupying a property. If the guest spends more than half a month at a place they could also be considered a tenant at that point as well. Our lease forbids more than 14 nights in a month for anyone not named on the lease for this reason.
— Brian Levredge, First Property Management

For us, it’s not a big deal so long as the tenant on the lease still lives there and is current with the rent. We don’t allow our tenants to sublet without written permission which normally involves a new set of paperwork.
— Aaron Kinney Mobile Home Park Owner 

Summary – Prepare, don’t React

This very important issue will probably come up if you are a landlord for any length of time. The time to prepare for this situation is before it happens, not when it is happening.

If you have ever had a guest become a tenant, let me know in the comments how you handled it!

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174 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Mhoggard

    I am not a landlord, but a tenant who was just trying to help a friend out. She needed somewhere to stay for three weeks. That was the worst decision I’ve ever made. She has been here since Dec. 10th. And she has turned into a nightmare for all of us. She is accusing us of abuse. We have done nothing but be nice to her. She is psychotic and paranoid. She even is harassing the neighbors. And we can’t make her leave. We served her with a 30 day notice which is up in 3 days. It doesn’t look like she has made any effort to move. Oh yeah, and our landlord was in a terrible accident and is in a coma. So she can’t exactly help us out. This is so unfair. And I hear that an eviction can cost an arm and a leg.


      Are u on section ,8 if so please respond because I could use a helpful hand and eat iam so frustrated and so very tired I don’t know what to do and I’m scared to say and give to much info.please help if you can #losing my mind !!!!

  • steven J norris

    I own my home . I’m helping out a friend who just got out of jail by giving him a place to stay until he can get his probation transferred to another state. I think he’s already given my address to his probation office. So he could start getting mail here. If he gets mail at my house and stays more than 2 weeks would he have tenant rights?

    • Margie Hoggard

      Yes I believe so. As long as they are getting mail there or have a house key or have been there more than a week.

    • Rob Boudrie

      Buy a gun.

      NOT to use against this person. If you are not schooled in the manual of arms, do not buy ammo and, in any case, keep this fully secured and away from your “friend”.

      Next, notify the parole officer you have done this. Stress it is solely for your personal use in target practice; it is locked away from the convict; and that you are not in any fear from him.

      Now comes the fun part – In many jurisdictions, living in a gun-free residence is an absolute, non-negotiable, requirement for parole. Partly to keep the convict away from guns, and partly to deprive the convict of the “not mine” defense if the gun is found on a random search (often a requirement for parole). The parole officer will take care of making him move :)

  • Diane

    I have a friend that spends a lot of time with me that has his own address, my neighbour thinks he lives with me but he does not . How do I prove this to my land lord. Or should I have to ?

    • Rebecca

      I am going through the same thing. My boyfriend visits my apartment on a regular basis but does not live with me. I have a vehicle he doesn’t so I pick him up a lot when he needs to use my car. so my landlord sees him almost on a daily basis but he doesn’t live here. they are trying to tell me I need to add him to my my lease. he visits during the day but goes home at night. he won’t let me add him to my lease since he doesn’t live here, I don’t feel my landlord has the right to tell me I have to add him to my lease or he can’t be on the property anymore. so I can no longer have my boyfriend visit as a guest on a daily basis? I don’t know if they can do that?

    • Lee

      It can’t hurt to have proper documents with you for proof that he is only visiting, not residing but you are not required to report to the landlord UNLESS local law and/or your lease contract says so.

      Having some kind of proper documentation for the proof that he doesn’t live at your place will be handy to have just in case the landlord come to inspect what is going on because it will be hard to prove that he doesn’t live there when neighbors say otherwise.

  • Trish

    I am a landlord, i rented my house to my daughter and her fiance they are on the lease. He moved in his mom and sister in because their house 8s being renovated and they have 2 dogs. The lease specifically states no dogs, but they say that the mom and sister dont live there so it doesnt apply. How can I fix this problem.

    • Lee

      I highly recommend checking with a lawyer and looking up local laws (and take a copy of the leasing contract with you if you plan to talk to a lawyer). However, if your lease specifically says no pet and they have “visitors” with the pets, unless the lease and/or local law states otherwise, they are violating their leasing contract. They are responsible for what their “visitors” do including having the pet when lease does not allow them to have any pet on your property which you are leasing to them.

      ***Always check with local laws and consult with lawyers before taking any actions in order to avoid trouble.

  • Vee

    My neice and child stay with me and my husband in our home. What rights does she have? She won’t leave. She said I can’t put her out. She pays no bills.

    • Lee

      I recommend looking up local laws but in all honesty, she has no legal rights to remain in your house without permission. If she is over 18, then she is legally responsible for her actions and under the assumption that your house is under your name (or both you and your husband), you will likely be able to move her out legally.

      Still, I recommend seeking legal advice before doing anything (yes it will cost money to talk to lawyer BUT in the long run, it is cheaper and they will answer your questions and give you legal advice). Make sure to take extra measures to ensure safety.

  • Scott

    After breaking up after living together a couple if months, my girlfriend decided she wasn’t going to leave. Even with eviction, she had no income and could delay the process for months by way of pauper’s bond, which prohibits actual eviction even with a court order.
    In Texas, after 30 days, a guest becomes a tenant and obtains those rights automatically. Be careful

  • Kitae chae

    I have an older brother that does not pay rent nor is he on the lease. He stays with me because of my mother. I have asked him to help out with rent/bills. But he does not. Secondly he often brings home his girlfriend and her dog. I have asked her not to come back and have asked him not to bring her back. And she keeps coming back. When she is not here she throws stuff at the window and starts a yelling 3 or 4 in the morning….

  • Yobona

    My childrens father comes over almost everyday to visit and care for our children while I work however he doesnt stay there but he does use my address as a mailing address. My apartments assume he is a resident now and want me to provide his lease agreement in order to avoid a eviction. Can they request his personal information? (The said a lease is my only option)

  • Misty Behunin

    My friend owns his own mobile home but is renting a lot in this trailor park so doea his landlord have a right to evict him if he has someone come to stay for a few weeks til they get their apartment when theyre barely there and dont do anything illegal

  • B Van Horn

    A younger brother has lived with my elderly parents most of his life. He is 47 now. My father passed 2 years ago , my mother has struggled with the loss. My brother has had and has issues that are considered elder abuse and caused her to leave her home.
    He was not told he could stay or had to leave. She terminated the utilities gave me POA and had to distance herself. Now he has a female staying there, it was made very clear, no body is to stay there. I understand his rights and have filed for a 60day eviction.
    Do I have any recourse now that he accepted money from her for housing. He is charging rent for a home that is not his, he is not welcome and she wants him out now.
    Does the new female guest have any rights.

  • Stephanie varges

    Hi. I let my friend with her boyfriend and 8 year old son stay at my place she been here for 2 months now and she just enroll her son to school and use my address. Then when I addressed the issue of her using my address for the enrollment of the school she told that all she need is 30 days but she never said why she need 30 more days. She has mail coming in also. I don’t want to loose my apartment I’m not sure what she is planning but should I write a 30 day eviction notice for her and have her sign then Have it Notarize ?

  • Sierra Punzel

    I got into a place with a good friend of mine, and we are both on the lease and her mom put money down on the place. I had my boyfriend living with me at my old place and my friend asked if he was moving in and I said yes. Her mom then said he was always welcomed. It’s been two weeks and now they want him out. He did not do anything wrong, but technically doesn’t he get a 30day notice?

  • Ellie

    I have a question: I’m renting an apartment for my son using his 529 money while he is in college. He has been allowing a friend to stay there, rent free, without my permission. The friend was supposed to get a job and move out but, of course, that has not happened. Now weeks have turned into months and we can’t get him out. Do you have any suggestions for me? We are in California. Thank you.

  • Ellie

    I have a question: I’m renting an apartment for my son using his 529 money while he is in college. He has been allowing a friend to stay there, rent free, without my permission. The friend was supposed to get a job and move out but, of course, that has not happened. Now weeks have turned into months and we can’t get him out. Do you have any suggestions for me? We are in California. Thank you.

  • Sergeant C

    Please read the landlord tenant handbook from your states and stop getting advice from people who can’t tell your where the information came from. Here are the rules from California landlord tenant handbook regarding a single roommate in a private residence (page 4)and a dead-beat gratuitous guess. Single lodger in a private residence gets a hand written 30 notice to move that all. Gratuitous Guest – In situations where a person is in temporary possession of a dwelling unit with the owner simply because of the good will of the owner and is not doing or providing anything in return for room and board, the occupancy of such guest can be terminated at will, without notice, or legal proceedings of any kind. Just call the police & get them out

  • Rashawn

    Any guest staying in the property more than 2 weeks in any 6 month period will be considered a tenant. Which Law is that?

  • P

    My boyfriend is moving to the U.S. for his MBA. He’s leaving for 2 years and we were thinking I visit him 3-4 times a year for an entire month each time.

    We just realized that I HAVE to be added as an occupant to his lease in order for that to happen. Can I do that? He has a student visa but I will be visiting as a tourist. Can I even be on the application and lease?

    If I do appear in the application (and then lease) as an occupant, what are my responsibilities? He will be the one paying the rent so moneywise am I responsible for anything? What if I don’t want to be an occupant anymore? can I be easily removed with no consequences?

  • Lisa Dee

    A close relative is asking to have mail delivered to our house, while they’re “in between” places. This individual is shady and I don’t trust them. We live in New Jersey, would allowing them to receive mail at my address let them claim residency in my home?


    In London Ont.
    I am a landlord to 5 girls -all students on a 12 month lease which terminates at the end of May. One of the girls has had her boyfriend live in her room for the past month and now his male friend for just over a week now- sleeping on the couch. The girls pay per room with wifi and utilities included. Can I evict the boyfriend? I am paying for unseen costs eg. hydro etc plus it’s a five bedroom room with shared access to kitchen, bathroom and sitting area. Some of the students have vacated the property prior to lease ending. I went in today to collect some things and noticed the boys. I am now charged with entering the unit without prior 24 notice even though I agreed with the tenant who vacated. What are my options?

  • Kay Marie

    So my brother would stay in the morning and leave for work at night leaving his dog here for us to puppy sit but now he stays here all the time, never pays for a thing, let’s his dog do their business on the carpets and chew up our belongings, never cleans up after himself, and disrespects us. He won’t leave now saying we need to give him a 30 day notice but we are moving when the rent is due in a few days. I don’t know if we should just put up with it until we leave or what. He is not on the lease by the way and this is in Pennsylvania

  • Elizabeth lopez

    My inlaw recently allowed us to stay at her place due to us not having somewhere to stay I have 2 kids and one on the way she lives in a 2 bedroom with her dad and daughter recently her landlord has told me I have to leave the apartment due to being to much people. I have no were else to stay :( he told me if I wanna stay temporarily I’d have to pay him 22.50 a day till I leave does he have a right to do that or not .

  • Tim Mccue

    In early 2000 my companion of 20 years his mother needed he and I closer to her so she purchased a house for us and moved us from another state to Northern Cal. He and I lived in the house until his unexpected death in 2011. 5 minutes after his death she evicted me. Is this legal or illegal

    • Lynn

      Not in NC. I’m not certain about California. The only legal way to get you out here is to file for Summary Judgement (eviction). Here once paperwork is filed and fees paid to the court it takes 2-3 weeks to get a court appearance and then once the judgement is granted you are given another 14-30 days ( depending on circumstance and the magistrate/judge, to pack and move out without harassment. Now when you say “evicted “ did she follow this path or just ask you to leave?

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