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

 
TENANT
GUEST
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.

Related: 

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

  • Logan

    I pay rent (cash) I receive mail have my own keys and receive mail and I’m being asked to leave for no reason what’s my rights?

    • Joni James

      I receive mail have a key, dont pay rent but do odd jobs and run errands for this elderly disabled lady….she even refers to spare bedroom as mine. Her daughterand grandson are coming from texas and she wants me to leave….what are my rights

    • Stacy Clermont

      I was invited to come live with my Mother and after 2 days , she became hostile and was telling me to get out for no apparent reason. What are my rights?
      I have been here 10 days.

    • Patti

      I have been staying at a friends apartment for 14 months .i get mail here and pay rent . The apartment complex told him today that I had to fill out the application and pay $51 for a background check . I know I have bad credit . Can the Apartment complex make me leave? What are my rights?
      Thank you

    • john paul Castellano

      I’m going thru the same thing what was the outcome of your situation?

    • Karen Ranta

      I am a girlfriend and do not pay rent but have lived at his place for over a year can he kick me out in the winter no written notice?

    • Sharon Michaud

      I Have To Remove SOMEBODY S Email Account That Has Been Entered On My PHONE Without My Permission !!!? What Can I Do To Remove it Forever

  • Micheal dodson

    I have been here for over 2 months and they know my truck is broke down and parts will be here in 10 days or less. I have already changed my address and use their p.o. box also this is in waldport oregon.
    Now i had recently been in a relationship with the kady that owns the houses best freind.. things soured a bit we broke up due to shes just a plain out mean person.. she wanted to barrow money for her rent so i handed her 200 bucks after the owner said i stated i would so after that she supisedly was sleepung and i was crying to the owner ny exes best freind and next things shes up kicking me hiting me and yells at her freind tskes her money as well leaves and niw the next day i get told i got to go. Ni wheels weather and i kniw noone here

  • Micheal

    I moved here over 2 months ago and they know my truck is broke down and parts will be here in 10 days or less. I have already changed my address and use their p.o. box also this is in waldport oregon.
    Now i had recently been in a relationship with the kady that owns the houses best freind.. things soured a bit we broke up due to shes just a plain out mean person.. she wanted to barrow money for her rent so i handed her 200 bucks after the owner said i stated i would so after that she supisedly was sleepung and i was crying to the owner ny exes best freind and next things shes up kicking me hiting me and yells at her freind tskes her money as well leaves and niw the next day i get told i got to go. Ni wheels weather and i kniw noone here

  • Terri Orozco

    A friend said I could live at her house while I got on my feet my brokedown vsn is in her backyard she told me to leave after two weeks

    • Ramon

      My son and daughter in law asked me to come to stay with them and wrote me a letter to submit to welfare that I can stay till I get on my feet if I help with food, clean house, and yard work. After 4 months and don’t have the means to leave they asked me to leave. I’ve complied with the initial request to help with food and clean as well as yard work. I’m being asked to leave for no good reason.

  • Joy

    In your example, when you say: “The Premises shall be used and occupied by Tenant(s), for no more than FIVE (5) persons exclusively, as a private individual dwelling…”

    does that mean that if there are two tenants permanently living in the unit, they can have up to 3 guests? Or is 5 the number of tenants?

    Would you clarify, please?

    Thank you!

  • Hannah

    I’m currently living in an apartment and my boyfriend comes to the place often to hangout or go eat. He will stay sometimes and now my apartment is telling me i need to add him to the lease which doesn’t sound fair at all. It also states that even babysitters have to be added to the lease? That’s crazy. If anyone is there 10 consecutive days or 20 days IN A YEAR they have to be added to the lease….. what are my rights please help!!

    • willem r flattery

      its after 14 days your friend or boyfriend will have to sign the lease if he stay with u for more than 14days if he was their for 20 days then he has to be put on the lease

  • Glenda Popken

    I live with my boyfriend’s mom for over 3 years I’m terminally ill with cancer I pay rent for to room my son is my caretaker and now all the sudden she wants to say we can’t have company he can’t be here and we’ve never had any heat since we’ve lived here what do I do

  • Ramon

    My son and daughter in law asked me to come to stay with them and wrote me a letter to submit to welfare that I can stay till I get on my feet if I help with food, clean house, and yard work. After 4 months and don’t have the means to leave they asked me to leave. I’ve complied with the initial request to help with food and clean as well as yard work. I’m being asked to leave for no good reason.

  • JK

    I’m am renting out a room in my house to a friend, with a verbal at-will agreement. For the last several months her girlfriend has spent almost every night at the house, eats every meal, and takes every shower there, but does not contribute to any utilities. This SO has her own apartment in the same town. I requested that the girlfriend not be at the house when my roommate is not home, and my roommate responded that as a ‘guest’ the girlfriend can be there as long, and as often as she pleases. As this is a verbal agreement, and as the owner of the house, what are my options?

  • RLP

    Our current tenant has had her boyfriend staying the night for the past 10 nights. He leaves during the day but comes every night. She was asked if he was moving in and she said no. Her lease states any guest that will be here longer than 48 hours must have lanlord consent. She agreed and signed the lease. Now she is saying it’s not considered that he is here more than 48 hours because he is just spending the night. Is this considered breach of the lease?

  • Sheila

    The tenant gave us notice that she was going to move out by the end of this month and that we would receive the keys and possession of the house on December 28. She is out of town but left us the keys. When we went to inspect the property, we found that her nephew is still there along with a bunch of junk that she left behind. We told him that his relative’s rental agreement has ended and that he has to vacate the property. He said that no one told him anything and that he needs a little time to get out.

    Do we start an eviction process against the tenant, et al., since obviously she gave this man access to our property? Or is he solely now our problem and we need to just go after him?

  • Anonymous

    My elderly father moved in my home with myself & wife. He had stopped driving due to age and many wrecks. My wife has made it very comfortable for him to have his private room with access to bathroom, bedroom & kitchen. He doesn’t require care from us but he needs to be driven to church, grocery, Dr appts etc…He pays for Direct TV & his groceries but no rent. Please advise me how to approach him on paying rent. Our utilities have increased since TV, air/heat lights are on around the clock. Help!

    • Anon

      The best way to approach him is directly: Sweet FIL, we love having you here, and are glad you feel at home. Our expenses have gone up with having you here; would you be able to contribute $xxx for rent? Of course, this SHOULD come from your wife. And if she’s not onboard? Then drop it. Because the small increase in utilities is not worth the marital strife.

  • Je

    When I was asked to move in, sign a lease, split the rent & utilities I did not know that I was being lied to. I moved into a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house with a garage. One room is suppose to be an office. My roommate has a pitt bull dog that has 4 beds plus a chair & ottoman. I was asked to move in split the rent & utilities. I would have the upstairs bedroom w/bathroom & my roommate would have the downstairs bedroom & bathroom & we would split the rest of house, garage, outside grounds, & 2 car driveway. My rent is $700 per month plus half the bills. Before agreeing to move in we made some verbal agreements. None have stood. Found out he pays $500. Him & his dog Utilizes all the space except for my room. He moved ex girlfriend in 10 mths ago

  • Stephanie

    Hello,

    I currently live with my boyfriend, our newborn and another roommate. I have lived there since July, paying rent every month. I would like to be on the lease, but his roommate won’t allow it for personal reasons. Can I contact the landlord myself, since I am technically a tenant?

  • Vivian Siddell

    My Grandson is living with me for 6 months can landlord charge fee?

  • Jen

    We have a friend that moved in with us a few weeks ago…had a replacement social security sent to our address for his new job (only piece of mail). He has not paid rent in 3 weeks and drinks my husbands wine and helps himself to everything!!! We are fed up so I told him he needs to leave in 7 days. He has no lease…but he threw in my face that since he got mail he can stay 30 days??? Please help so I know my rights

  • Lillian Santiago-Rolon

    My situetion is this, I am living in a rent apt. for 30 years. In my first lease we were a family of 3, My husband my son and me. My son leave after finish college and mary. My son has to come back to live with us.He has been living with us for the month of January. The landlord want to reace our rent because he came back, and give us a new lease. My son is temporary until he solve his problems. I have 2 questions: Does the old lease are valid or It doesn’t count by law?Second, because is temporary, Should we sing a new lease and stick with the rent increase? There is nothing that can protect the tenant from this

  • Travis faul

    I ended up living with my girlfriend almost wife now and I was asked to help with Bill’s due to them struggling with their own now i recieve my mail have been there for a year and pay an average of 270 in just electric and constantly something goes wrong like the girlfriends parents throws dirty trash all over my car when they get mad at me due to the amount I put out in Bill’s it’s been a struggle to save up and get out but at the same time I dont wanna be inconvieneced with being thrown out with that in mind would I’d have to recieve a eviction notice if they wanted me out by now?

  • Brandie

    Are newborn babies considered unathorized occupants.

  • William johnson

    I had a friend who was moving to another state they offered me there furniture if they could stay until they left In a week I agreed next thing they got mail coming in there name people coming over and had a bill taken out my name and put in there’s how do I go about getting them out

  • Kimberly Lovellette

    I am 100% disabled. My landlord changed agreement for me to buy what I live in mid term. I have a witness. He tried to charge me a pet deposit. I showed him letter from doctor saying dog is required for medical reasons. Now because code enforcement has been on him for 6 year’s he tells me I have to go. Electric is in my name that shows his address. Established residency

  • Kimberly Lovellette

    I am 100% disabled. My landlord changed agreement for me to buy what I live in mid term. I have a witness. He tried to charge me a pet deposit. I showed him letter from doctor saying dog is required for medical reasons. Now because code enforcement has been on him for 6 year’s he tells me I have to go. Electric is in my name that shows his address/Established residency

  • Cathy

    My 2nd flr tenant dates the chic next door. 6 months ago it was obvious she and her 4 kids were living upstairs. We gave him an eviction notice, said you can stay, they have to go home. He stayed. They went home briefly. They eat here, they sleep here, she has her own keys, her kids come over here after school when the tenant isn’t home. They leave from this house in the morning. I texted him when I heard one of the kids yell “get out of my room”, which led to him asking if he could add 3 of them onto the lease. I told him no, we rent to 1 guy for a reason, no noise. We’ve lived here 15 years and our 9 yr old sons are best buds, which makes everything more awkward. I need a lease agreement to eliminate these issues. HELP!

  • Sharon Michaud

    I Have To Remove SOMEBODY S Email Account That Has Been Entered On My PHONE Without My Permission !!!? What Can I Do To Remove it Forever

  • Ashley Roggow

    Can a landlord say that I cannot have my ex husband watch his kids at my apt? He has court ordered visitation on Wednesday’s and sometimes on Tuesdays and Thursdays I have evening meetings for my work. Not all the time. Just like once a month. But my landlord says he nor anyone is allowed to “babysit” my kids at my apt. They are his kids. How is this ok?

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