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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229 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Nicole Owens

    This article explains perfectly how to handle the situation. It is a uncomfortable conversation but one that needs to happen. Awesome article!

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  • Ryan Pollock

    I had an eviction hearing yesterday for my basement tenant. I won the hearing, and she is supposed to move out by the end of March, and will be evicted as of April 1st.

    My problem is, that I found out 4 days before this hearing, that her boyfriend has made my address his permanent address. He has been staying with her almost ever day and night for 7 months. However she has always told me he is just a guest, and has his own place.

    What I’m worried about now, is that even is she gets evicted, will he be allowed to stay? I don’t know how long ago he changed my address to his permanent residence. We’ve never gotten mail for him, either that or they’ve got to the mail, before me or my roommate, so we didn’t see it.

    • Aidris

      During the eviction process, you needed to have a process server serve to the “Does”, so that anyone that you are not aware of living in the premises is included in the eviction process. However, in most States, the Sheriff will have everyone leave the premises during the lock out.

    • Kimberly

      Maybe he had no home, no job and was sick? Why not just add him to the lease? Now there are two homeless people.;(

  • Chelsea

    I’m sooo glad this is here. I was finally able to show my tenant that a guest isn’t supposed to be staying at my residence. This helped my argument tremendously.

  • Melinda Tindell

    I live in a house in Baltimore City. I have my own key, brought my own furniture, brought a cat, pay bills, receive mail, etc. My boyfriend is trying to claim I am a squatter and filed a wrongful detainer action. I believe I am a tenant under Maryland law.

    • Laurie Foster

      *my situation is as followed ; my roomate wrote me a written note stating she wished my family move and gave us 5 days to be out by or she was going to call the police and have me removed

      What was your outcome /conclusion in the end result of your whole situation? I ask because I have a similar situation .
      1. Own person keys 3 #
      °front door && back door same key
      °dead bult to front door
      2. brought own furniture
      3. brought 2 inside dogs
      4. have bills in my fiance / father ; to my 19 month old daughter, name which we pay.
      ° Electricity
      ° Gas
      5. Recieve mail from (Welfare office)
      ° myself
      ° fiance
      ° our daughter lyllah
      6. Recorded documents stating ; residence being our permant address through welfare and our local post offi

  • Angela Jackson

    What I want to know if my friend considered a tenant. My roommate consider him a tenant cause he comes to visit me and leave everyday. Within 2 months he might have stayed the night for 5 nights different times of course

    • Geoffrey T Hawk

      In my lease YES your “friend” has become more than a guest.

      Tenant(s) shall not allow immediate family or transient relatives and friends (guests of Tenants), to use or occupy the premises more than 2 weeks in any 6 month period without first obtaining Landlord’s written consent.

  • Jo Ann Dews

    I received a “no” cause eviction at a pet friendly rental. I’ve been frantically looking for a place w/no luck…I am on a mental health disability and my income is strictly limited. My 60 days are up and now I must appear in court, what’ll happen now?

  • worrywortlandlord

    What happens when a tenant has a different “guest” every night for an extended period of time?
    Technically not the same guest for two weeks straight right? This was a question posed by my tenant who refused to sign anything. Her excuse is her “guest” has the same work schedule every day but may change in the future.

  • Alison

    I own the mobile home which I live in and because my friend,lost his home, I took him in. He does not work or have a job, he does not have a key, unless he made one without my k owledge. He is not on the lease and no contract was established. He does not get mail at my address. I pay for almost everything. He does receive food stamps from another county. Be buys food and I buy food. And when things brake he fixes them…lately he has been saying I have been stealing from him and lying. I have asked him to leave and flat out refused to do so and he threatens me when I say I am going to have the police remove him. He says I will be sorry and he will make sure i will lose everything. Please advise.

    • monique

      Alison… common sense says since you own your own mobile home you can kick your friend out at will. He does not own your place and can never prove it. Absolutely kick him out, end the friendship, call the police if necessary. THIS is why as a homeowner you should NEVER take in ANYONE who has nowhere to go and clearly depend on others for all their needs. I had a male friend who is like yours (no job and have not worked for years) who wanted to move into my house because he was down on his luck and I said no. Best decision I ever made.

      • June

        I wish someone had told me this. I took in a woman that had no place to go and after 2 years with her paying nothing my spouse and I decided it had to end but it took 3 years to get her out. We tried to be nice and work with her pastor to help her. Now we are left feeling used and bitter.

      • June

        I rent a room in my house to help pay mortgage. No lease but I said before agreeing to rent to her No overnight guests. She violated that having a friend stay for several weekends. I discovered it, confronted her, stopped it. She has 2 kids I was told would not be with her. Then she brought her son here for one night because he had to go somewhere early. I said ok but she brought him back saying he had to stay a week till his program started. Now he comes weekends.I feel she takes advantage. She pays 700/mo includes all utilities. Beautiful big room. How much should I start charging extra per night for her weekend son? Showers, laundry, TV. Don’t want anyone else overnight though. Guests should not be left here alone for hours right?

      • Kim

        I think it depends on the person. I won’t apply that to everyone.

  • Phil Tillery

    My wife stays over at our daughter and son-in-law’s rented house 3 days a week to take care of our infant grandchild (job-site day care is used the remaining 2 days) while everyone is at work. She stays overnight because we live 70 miles away. Our daughter told the landlord about the arrangement. He increased the monthly rent 14% ($350), citing the guest clause in the lease. The landlord is operating within the letter of the lease, in my opinion is missing the intent, which is to maintain control over occupancy. The house has 2 bedrooms and 2 baths, so the occupancy load is well within reason. My wife’s presence facilitates our daughter’s ability to work , earn money, and pay rent. Where is the problem?

  • ling

    I am a tenant in California. Me and my landlord had oral agreement that overnight guests are allowed and with no extra charge, before i moved in. But recently he informed me that overnight guests are only allowed max any 2 days in a month, and beyond that, he will charge me 30 dollars a day. In the agreement, he doesn’t mention anything about overnight guest or extra charge. And my boyfriend visits me about 4 days at most per month because we are long distance. I am not comfortable with this change, what should I do? Please advise.

  • Denae

    I live in a rented house with my boyfriend, 2 kids, and my brother. Me and my boyfriend are the lease holders and my brother is an occupant. Recently he has started to have his girlfriend stay overnight at least 4 times a week. Is this going to get us in trouble with our landlord?

  • Jim

    A landlord made a mother add her newborn son to the long term apartment lease. After the son grew up, the mother died, but the son wants to stay in the apartment and continue paying the rent, since his name is also on the lease. The landlord had intended to be rid of the family when the original tenant died, and make a new lease at a higher rent.

  • Megan

    I’ve been staying with my friend on the weekends for more than 2 months now. I bring my dog with me because I stay Friday evening til Sunday evening. Her landlord is now demanding she pays $150 more a month if my pet comes over and says she will have to sign a new lease agreement. Tyson is my pet and does not live at her apartment nor does her current lease agreement say anything about overnight stays by humans much less pets. I’m being told by many he can not demand money for a pet that doesn’t live there but all my searching online has not really given me straight answers. Please help. We live in PA.

    • Rebecca Shafer

      You can stay over nights but if she isnt supposed to have pets your pet being there is a breach in her lease. Some leases state number of days a guest can stay in a 6 month period and the owner should have been specific but no pets means no pets and every weekend overnight is enough with no pet clause to be breaching the lease.

  • Kayla

    I have a house my parents bought for me as an early inheritance gift. have had this arrangement for 7 years. They own the title and its in trust to me. Long story short, Mother doesn’t like my husband and wants us out because I won’t divorce him. There is no written agreement between us, we have maintained the home, paid all the taxes every year on time. Its our main residence. Mother is angry and wants to sell the home. I refuse to be manipulated like this, they gave me this gift and now are trying to take it back because of my Mother’s faulty perceptions of my husband. I am about to say, fine, take me to court and we will let a judge decide on this. hoping the judge will side with me since this was a gift to me. Any opinions?

  • Dixie Modica

    My boyfriend and I have shared a home now for 3 years one of his friends owned so he was the only one who signed the lease. However we are breaking up do I have any legal rights to “our ” home? Everything in the house is mine.

    • Lynn

      My boyfriend of 11 years rented a house large enough for both of us. He is the only one on the lease but told the landlord I would be coming. The landlord said he didn’t need to know his business as long as he paid his rent and was a good tenant. He and his wife have been in the house several times and made comments due to the way I was keeping their house. Now my boyfriend is asking me to leave. I’m not just moving out today; I need to make other living arrangements. This is my address and all my mail comes here. I pay electric bul, cable and more than half the groceries. Can he demand I go immediately or what recourse do I have in NC. Also since I’ve been here the entire year can the landlord add me to the lease on his own. In NC.

  • Allen Younger

    Need info

  • Elaine

    My brother lives in a four bed council house ,a couple of times a week my brothers they stay to help him by taking in turn doing this ,as he lives on his own can my brothers move in permently ,and pay rent if so what would they have to do to be able to move in for good ,would this be aloud and how would it change for my brother who does live there

  • Mike

    My girlfriend just started renting a house. I’ve been helping her move in and get settled . It’s been about 2 weeks since she has moved in. Since she has moved in I have stayed about 5 nights due to working late hours and coming over to help and just sleeping over because either gets late or just flat out tired and not wanting to drive home. Now the landlord is saying it’s a breach of contract and wants her to move out before she is even fully moved in and says that she should have told her about me. My gF didnt feel she had to disclose that because she didn’t ask and because I have my own house with teenage kids that live with me full time so I wouldn’t be living with her. Is this legal? It’s her daughter and elderly Gma on the lease.

  • Jessie Lynn

    I have to say about 3 months ago my boyfriend decided that he no longer wanted to be with me and wanted me and my two children who are minors out of the only home that we have. We’ve been living in this house together for over two and a half years. He tried to sublease me without permission. And now he has gone and had my name taken off the lease as an occupant. We live in Charlotte North Carolina, me and my children still have nowhere to go. I do everything around here from laundry, to making dinner every night, to buying all the food in this house. The list goes on. just wondering, since he is not the landlord what grounds does he really have to throw me out of this house as long as I’m pitching in? I’m willing to pay the landlord my sh


    I’ve lived in the same apartment for 3 years. I am not on the lease and never was. It was under my ex boyfriends and his mother’s name. Well my ex died over a year ago. Now his mother says she’s giving notice on the apartment. Since I’m not on the lease and she is do I have any way to be able to just keep paying rent after she gives notice. Im in los angeles,California.

  • David Z

    What do I do if my tenant has abandon his residency at a location and move back with his girlfriend. However, he has all his belongings where he was staying at?

  • Charlie

    So I need help/advice. I’ve been renting a duplex with my roommate and she has now decided to bring her brother to our place who is legally an adult and not on the lease. I just found out he is living here full time, he would sometimes stay the night as babysitter for roommate. Our lease strictly says anyone over 18 must be on lease. The problem is he won’t be able to pass requirement to be on lease, such as income, bad credit, and no renting history. Is it possible our landlord/realtor company. Will allow me to stay but evict my roommate and her brother? I don’t see it as fair to evict me too when I had no say or clue that he was going to live with us until now. Advice anyone?

  • Betsy

    I offered my home as as a safe haven for an old friend with 2 kids. She had been in a domestic violence situation
    and was homeless after leaving the premises. I told her she could stay until she got on her feet. I even bought an entire apartment of decent Goodwill furniture which is in storage until something turns up. She’s receiving EBT and Medicaid using my address. She tells m DFACS is working on getting daycare set up and an apartment but nothing has happened as yet. They have now been here 4 months and I can’t take it anymore. It has become a burden and very stressful for a retiree. She smokes and drinks beer all day and has stolen wine/beer from me. Even went to a neighbor and asked to borrow beer. I’m at my wits end. What can I do?

    • Monique

      Betsy, your old friend should have been living in your local family shelter (where they take care of battered women and children like her) – and not living with you. And you wasted your own money on furniture for her which may never be used. If she is dragging her feet on getting out of your house, stand up for yourself and tell her she has an x amount of days to find a new place, after that you are out of here regardless. Contact your local family shelter and ask them to take her and her kids in, as its clear she’s not making any effort. If she refuses, call the police and have them move out and direct them to the shelter.

    • William

      I agree with Monique. You made the wrong decision on allowing her and her family live in your home and now they won’t leave. The real safe havens are the local shelters, which can provide resources for your friend and can really motivate her to get back on her feet. Simply tell her she got 14 days to move out, which is a generous deadline since she already overstayed her welcome. If she refuses, get police assistance.

  • Daniel Chavez

    I recently a person from next door call the police because I apparently had put plants and a table on “his property” when he does not in fact live next door. His supposed girlfriend lives next doors and he comes and visits her and sometimes stays the night but consecutively. This person is a guest right?

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