How to Handle Rogue Tenants and Long-Term Guests

Written on June 21, 2014 by , updated on April 13, 2015

Rogue Tenants

Anyone living in my rental property, who is legally an adult, must be listed on and sign the lease.

It’s a simple rule that I always follow, and it has never steered me wrong.

Rogue Tenants

This is going to sound harsh, but I don’t really care if it’s just a college kid, home for the summer, or an elderly woman who’s moving back in with her daughter. I’ve heard all the excuses in the book, but it all comes downs to liability and my ability to collect rent.

I refer to long-term guests as “rogue tenants.”

Rogue tenants are individuals who have taken up residence in my property without approval or permission, and perhaps even changed their mailing address to receive mail at my rental property.

Liability and Accountability

If they are not on the lease, then they are not subject to the terms and conditions therein, and I cannot hold them accountable for rent. That’s a big problem.

Most of the time, they move-in under the assumption that they are only going to be visiting for a week or two. Before you know it, they have been living there for five months, never having received prior approval. They think of themselves as “long-term guests”.

Unfortunately, the words “long-term” and “guest” are contradictory.

Rogue tenants are not necessarily bad, they just need to be documented and accountable to the terms of the lease. After all, I do want my tenants to be happy. (tweetable?)

Whenever this situation arises, my answer is always the same:

If you are an adult, living in my property, I need to know who you are – which is why you need to fill out an application – and that you will be jointly and severally liable for rent and damages – which is why you sign a lease.

I believe that if I treat my tenants like adults, they will behave as such.

Use of Premises

To accomplish this, I use a rock-solid lease, and stick to it. The moment I deviate from enforcing any part of the lease, I set a precedent that I will waive other lease terms, such as late fees or eviction.

In my lease, I use a clause entitled “Use of Premises” to limit the number of people allowed to occupy the dwelling and to explain the difference between a tenant and a guest.

As you can imagine, some tenants want to hide their guests simply because they don’t want me to raise the rent.

In fact, I rarely ever raise the rent when a college kid comes home, but I want to option to do so, just in case my individual tenant suddenly decides to move in seven extended family members.

Refusal to Sign

If a rogue tenant or long-term guests refuse to sign the lease, I have the option to terminate the lease, based the original tenants violation of the provision listed above.

The main purpose is not to raise the rent, but rather to have everyone accounted for and liable for the rent in case the original tenants abandon the lease.

Most tenants (rogue or otherwise) usually comply with signing the lease, especially if there is no extra expense.

Common Examples of Rogue Tenants

College Kids

  • SITUATION: Empty-nesters often want to downsize, so they sell their house and move into my rental. Then, their youngest either drops out of school and moves back in, or simply comes home for the summer.
  • MY RESPONSE: As long as this does not violate any county occupancy ordinances, or increase utility usage that I pay for, I simply create a lease addendum that adds the additional occupant to the lease, by name, and then I have everyone sign it.

Sick or Elderly Parents

  • SITUATION: An elderly parent takes a bad fall and now needs regular assistance. The children (my tenants) quickly volunteer to take mom in, without considering either the landlord or the lease.
  • MY RESPONSE: Because mom is at higher risk of accidents and injury, I especially want to make sure she signs the lease, not so much for the rent collection aspect, but just so she acknowledges her responsibility to obtain her own renter’s liability and medical insurance. The sad truth is that landlords can be held responsible for the personal injuries of tenants, but some of that risk is mitigated if they sign a lease. Again, as long as this doesn’t violate any county occupancy ordinances, I think family should help each other and stick together.

Single-Income Couple

  • SITUATION: Sometimes a couple will want to rent my unit together, but only one of them has an income. They assume that only the person who is qualifying for the lease needs to be listed.
  • MY RESPONSE: I’m all for true love, but I’m not stupid. Even though the couple might qualify based solely on one income, I still need both individuals to fill out separate applications and sign the lease, because they are both occupants. This protects my rental income if the couple breaks up or gets divorced.

The Perpetual Overnight Boyfriend of Girlfriend

  • SITUATION: Three days after your new tenant moves in, the neighbors call and say “I thought you only had one new tenant?!?” When you approach your tenant, she says, “Oh, that’s just my boyfriend. He was fired from DQ, and doesn’t have any money, so he’s staying with me until he can get on his feet.
  • MY RESPONSE: In response, I simply point to the lease and say, “That’s fine, but if it’s more than two weeks, I’ll need him to fill out an application and sign the lease.

The Forbidden Sublet

  • SITUATION: If subletting is prohibited in the lease, or if there is an extra fee involved, sometimes tenants will try to hide their subletter. Sometimes jobs change, or they need to leave, but they don’t want to pay the early termination fee or the subletting fee.
  • MY RESPONSE: If I learn that a subletter has moved in without my approval, I usually just require them to pay the one-time subletting fee (mentioned in the lease), under threat of a lease violation and subsequent termination. However, if the subletter wants to live there for a while, I might try to release the old tenant, and sign a new lease with the subletter (who then becomes the leasee). Therefore, I sign a longer tenancy, the original tenant is released, the new tenant doesn’t have to hide from me. Everyone is happy.

Share Your Story!

I’d love to hear your stories about long-term guests and rogue tenants. How did you handle them?

Please share in the comments below!

photo credit: Yevy Photography via cc
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592 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Thomas

    Great post! Have nice day ! :) negnz

    • Jenny Massa

      Live here fro 25years and the own want me to move I’m old person what can I do pls help

      • Jim

        Hi Jenny. That’s a very tough situation you are in. There is nothing I’m aware of that can prevent your landlord from evicting you. My only advice would be for you to possibly contact a legal aid office in your area and see if they can perhaps provide you with some assistance. Don’t wait. You need to act swiftly.

        I truly wish you good luck in your dilemma.

  • Joshua

    Question about agreement and adding/removing a tenant:

    Hello. I moved into an apartment and signed a lease along with my significant other a few years back. Since then, I moved out but my partner remained the only tenant. No new agreement was signed at that time, we simply sent a letter stating I moved out. Now I have returned to live with my partner in that apartment and would like to know what is required to ensure I have rights as a tenant. Are we required to sign a new rental agreement even though I am on the lease and no new agreement since the lease was signed to remove me from the lease other than the letter? If we sign a new agreement can the landlord renegotiate our terms and rent? We are month-to-month now.

    Thank you.

  • Jim

    Hi Joshua. First, on a M/M tenancy, the LL can raise your rent with a 60-day notice except in Portland, a 90-day notice.

    Unless your LL acknowledged your notice of vacating the premises and request for release from the lease agreement, he could most likely hold you equally liable under the terms of the lease. Did the LL ever acknowledge your notice and request?

    I would suggest that your best route would be to notify the LL that you have returned to occupy the premises along with your partner and ask that you be considered a legal occupant and ask directly whether the LL would want to have the both of you execute a new lease agreement or would LL still recognize you as a legal occupant/tenant under the old lease.

  • Harry

    My neighbour has a two week guest policy in her tenancy but has had her guest for nine weeks and he is driving me crazy. I have dropped hints and was told she would forge a letter from her landlady stating he cannot stay. No letter, one chain smoking man still there. Help?

    • JIm

      Hi Harry. I would suggest you consider contacting your neighbors landlady and explain the situation.

      • Harry

        I have thought that but I will have to live with her and her family after. I am utterly miserable and damned either way. Thank you for getting back though

        • JIm

          Perhaps an anonymous letter if you’re apprehensive of retaliation? I suppose that in the end, it boils down to how high your tolerance level is?

  • L

    I have a significant other and we spend every night together. Sometimes at his place and sometimes at mine. His landlord wants to increase his rent because I “use their services”. I bring my own overnight supplies from home and only stay from 11pm-8am on days I stay (max 3-4 days a week). I don’t make food or leave any of my stuff in the shared spaces. Does the landlord have a right to do this?

    • Jim

      Assuming a M/M Oregon agreement. If the agreement is less than one year old, LL cannot raise the rent within the first year unless there is a violation of the agreement terms such as having ‘stay over’ guests outside the agreed to terms. If tenancy is greater than one year, then the LL can raise the rent for whatever reason the LL wants so long as it is not in retaliation. Our rental agreement restricts ‘stay over’ guests to no more than 7 nights in any 6 month period without a written approval from the LL and that the LL can raise the rent for any such violation. You must remember that a tenant is renting someone else’ property and that the owner/LL has a wide latitude on the conditions of the use of the rented property.

      • L

        Thanks for replying! I’m actually living in Canada, Nova Scotia. It’s a little different in terms of landlord law but this gives me a good starting point.

      • Samantha

        What are the rights of a tenant in this situation who signed a lease to live with the house owner (27yo male) who’s girlfriend has since completely moved in, sleeps here every night & receives mail here. Does not contribute to rent or expenses— I’ve lived here 3 months and there’s been less than 5 nights she’s not here… curious if I have rights?

  • Michael

    I’m a tenant in a student house in Bath, England and one my house mates has decided that her partner is going to be staying here long term. Its already been over 3 months and shes not on the lease or contract. After reading your article she needs to be on the lease. What legal risk is there if she isn’t? and how would i go about getting her on it? Many thanks

  • Josh Brenner

    I got a question, rented a single house to a single man, he fell behind on rent about 1000.00 . He moved out a week ago. Now a lady showed up saying she had been living there for a couple months with him. Lease is over . She was never on it , I didn’t know of her and she doesn’t want to leave. What are my options? Thanks very much

    • Jim

      Knee-jerk response; get a lawyer.
      Are you willing to rent to the ‘stranger’? If so, get her to sign a new rental agmt. If not, serve her with an eviction notice naming the original tenant and all other occupants. Are you willing to file an unlawful detainer action against the squatter? Do you have the knowledge because failing to do it right will allow the squatter to stay longer. You can always file a small claims action against the tenant that skipped on you. If you can locate the skipper. Otherwise, you get a judgement and no way to collect.

      In the future, when T is late on rent, serve a notice to pay or quit immediately. DO NOT DELAY or they will take advantage of you.

      Good luck

  • Sara blackstone

    I moved in a house with a boyfriend and it’s in his sister name and I been paying for two months now and my mail comes here.do I have any kind of rights to be able to stay here

    • Jim

      Only if the LL allows you to stay. You have NO RIGHT to occupy someone’s property without a valid agreement with the rightful tenant as a subtenant [the sister whose the legal tenant] or the LL. The property does not belong to you, what gives you the idea that you would have a RIGHT to occupy a property that is not yours without a lease agreement? Go to the LL and get your name on the lease and then you would have a RIGHT to occupy the property. Does the LL know you are living there?

      You did not mention whether the sister owns the house or is the legal tenant. It sounds like the sister is the original legal tenant and has moved out and left her brother move in. Not uncommon.

  • Pam

    I am a new landlord and have a provision in my lease that no one but the tenant can live in the property. Unfortunately, I did not know to also define “guest” and the maximum length of time a guest is permitted to visit. My tenant has basically moved her boyfriend into the apartment. He takes her to work and returns to the apartment and spends most nights there. I served her a 21-day notice to quit or cure and according to VA law am able to begin eviction proceedings after 30 days if she does not correct. He didn’t stay for a few days but now they’re back doing the same things. What is my likelihood of prevailing in court if I didn’t define what a “guest” is? BTW, I have a security camera which records all comings and goings. Thx!

    • Jim

      Hi Pam. I don’t know squat about VA L/T law. But, if you have a MM agreement, you should be able to modify the rental agmt at any time and present it to the tenant. Making sure you elucidate your terms regarding guests. Our agmt states no more than 14 nights in any 12 month period without being a named tenant on the rental agmt. As for whether you will prevail in crt? I would think it would depend on the judge you get. Most judges I have come up against, always find for the tenant if there is any doubt. I think it would depend on the judge and how s/he interprets what constitutes “living in the property” means. My experience has been that if the judge finds for T, I go back to square 1 and have to begin all over.

      Good luck

  • MR

    Oregon (not Portland) m/m rental agreement. It’s come to my attention my tenant has been letting her adult son (with extended rap sheet for meth & assault as shown by an online search, so not someone I want to allow to live there, wouldn’t pass the application process to be put on the rental agreement) live with her for the last several months causing issues while she’s at work with neighbors and another tenant. He’s not on the rental agreement, she didn’t ask. Calling the local police dept has shown he’s been removed from her premises for trespassing back 6 months ago also, I’m assuming through her. I thought I could give a 24-hour notice for unlawful occupant,but now I’m not so sure. Recommendations?

    • Jim

      Does the language of your agmt restrict who can live in the home? Does it have a quest clause? I am not offering legal advice but only what I would do in your situation. If you have adequate language restricting who can occupy the premises, then serve a notice for her to correct the breach or quit. We had a tenant with an unacceptable son living with her and told her face to face either the son goes or we serve an eviction notice. The sone disappeared the next day. Our clause provides for no more than 14 overnight guests in any twelve month period without prior written consent of LL.

      My advice, don’t let it linger. The longer it is allowed, the more difficult it becomes to rectify.

  • CHRIS

    Hi, I just moved into a new apartment and signed a lease. It does have the saying that “only the party signing the lease, spouse and children may have use of the premises”. A friend of mine who helped spent the first two nights to help and the LL sent me a text asking when he was going to leave. I told him he was a friend helping me, has his own home and is in no way, living with me. The point is that we are buddies and hang out a lot. I’m planning on having him over this weekend to hang out. My LL tells me that anything more than 3 days is “using the property” and he must be added to the lease and my rent will increase. Can he do this? There’s nothing in the lease detailing “use” of the property or guests. Please help…

  • CHRIS

    Even if there’s no mention of “guests” or duration in the lease?
    I’m reading all kinds of stuff on here and just don’t know how to handle this.
    I will do what I need to, to make life easier even if it means paying more rent. I just didn’t expect this 3 days after finding “the perfect place”.

    • Jim

      Is it a M/M or a lease. The language you stated, “only the party signing the lease, spouse and children may have use of the premises”, is pretty clear. Anyone other than the named legal occupants is self-defined as a ‘guest’. Did your LL mention over what period of time for a three day use? Our clause provides for no more than 14 overnight guests in any twelve month period without prior written consent of LL. I don’t think your LL can prevent you from having ‘guests’ but s/he can make demands for overnight guests. Remember. your LL rented to YOU and based his rent amount on a one-person occupant. LL’s do not want their property to become a ‘flop-house’ with friends congregating on the property. Talk to LL and see if you can’t clear it up

      • CHRIS

        I really don’t understand the issue with an occasional overnight guest but understand that it exists. Always been a homeowner. I just wish, because it’s obviously a big deal, he would have been more upfront and not so generic in his lease regarding this situation. I would have said sorry, it’s not a fit for me and oved on…Thanks for listening!

        • Jim

          Chris, I became a LL almost 50 years ago. Back then my rental agmt consisted of ONE page. Today it consists of 14 pages. Why? mostly because of rogue tenants, court rulings and more LL/T laws. I can understand your feelings but it is because of rogue tenants over the years having little or no respect for the property they rent. We try to screen our tenants carefully enough that we won’t have problems. Yet, just two years ago we got a rogue tenant that ended up costing us over $4000 in repairs. We won the court case and got a judgement but still waiting for the first dollar in satisfaction of the judgement. We have never been slumlords but they do exist. We have always managed out rental properties and try to give our tenants a safe nice hom

          • Jim

            Better than 90% of our tenants get their entire security deposit when they vacate. That is because they have maintained their rented home as if it were their own and not trash it. Many of our ex-tenants still use us for a reference because they know they will receive our highest possible recommendation as an ex-landlord.

            I still suggest you have a sincere talk with your LL and see if you can’t possibly reach a mutually satisfactory agreement on you stay-over guests.

            Also, in the future, when you are looking to rent, I suggest you knock on a couple of neighbors doors before you sign the rental agreement and ask them how the LL is treating them. If you receive too many negative replies’s, look elsewhere.

            Good Luck

  • kriss

    Do you know anything about Ohio law regarding college apt rentals? I’m curious because my BF has stayed with me on and off since moving in. Nothing too long, no more than 4 nights in a row, my agreement states only those on the lease my occupy the premises. Does he staying as a guest cause issues for the mgt company where it could cause me eviction? What constitutes him being a tenant? 3 nights in a row, 12 nights in a year – the lease does not state anything.
    Thank you

  • Nikki

    My mom has been my tenant for 12 years paying below rent market. We have a oral month to month. She wants my niece her granddaughter to move in for a little while to help her out. I told her no. Just found out she moved her in anyway. I made an written lease with a guest clause to increase rent to market value. She refused to sign. What should I do?

    • Jim

      Nikki, you have a tiger by the tail. She’s your Mom. First rule in the rental business= NEVER RENT TO A RELATIVE OR FRIEND. Rent to strangers and use income from the strange tenant to help your Mom with cost of renting from a stranger [to you]. I’m sure you have already answered your own question. You either suck it up and let your niece stay with mom or evict. And NEVER be a guarantor of someone else’s lease!!

      Good luck, you’re going to need it—

  • Daniel Marte

    My girlfriend lives in the building in Oregon, when we moved here the property manager knew we would be living together but only she would sign the lease, the landlords son moved into a property above us and due to a small tiff with my buddy that I invited over(I walked my bud downstairs and then went back to apartment to sleep, bud kid of drunk fell asleep in the lobby!!!!!! I none the wiser) wants me to apply. what happens if im not approved. Can this negatively impact my girlfriend, do they legal grounds to evict her?

    • Jim

      LL does not need legal grounds to evict. A ‘NO CAUSE’ eviction can be served at any time under a month to month agreement. If you do not meet the qualifications it would be up to the LL to allow you to sign on to the agreement or not. Or, the LL could tell the legal tenant that you had to move on or LL could serve an eviction notice and you would both be evicted. In most rental agreements, the legal tenant is responsible for the actions of their guests within the premises and would give rise to a breach of contract for any wrongdoing of guests and allow the LL to serve ‘FOR CAUSE’ eviction notice and demand for payment for any damages caused by the guest.

  • Daniel

    let me know what you think, tahnks

  • Daniel

    let me know what you think, thanks

  • Tanner

    My 37 yrs old son came to stay with me, when he got in some legal trouble. It was NOT supposed to be long term. He’s now decided to become violent and he’s destroyed my property. Including ripping all the wires out of the fuse box so now I have no electric on one side of my house. He is causing me so much stress, I’m physically becoming unhealthy. I just don’t know what to do. If I give him 30 days notice, I am afraid of what he’ll do to me in that time and my home. HELP!

    • Josh

      I suggest you first go to court and get a restraining order and at the same time see a landlord-tenant attorney for a legal eviction.

  • Elsie

    Hello I have a similar situation with my roommate! I am NOT a landlord but I may have to tell her my problem. My roommates BF has been sleeping over every night! its been more then 2 weeks. So would you advise me to tell my landlady? if so how can I approach this without causing a fight with my roommate? any help would be nice!

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