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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856 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Robbie

    My husband and I own our WA home, Son 24, moved back home after renting for 2 years . Supposed to be short term, no lease . I was injured on the job, fell behind on Mortgage, home went into foreclosure, house is in poor condition, son refusal to pay citing house condition. With auction approaching, I leased a rental, found a buyer for my home as is, stopped auction sale, mortgage company now lowers mortgage payment instead of accepting short sale offer. Son has changed locks and disabled garage door and assumed tenancy, refusing to pay rent or utilities, and not allowing me entrance back into my home. Husband still resides at our home, is passive. We do not have money to afford both places or make needed repairs. Help!

  • David

    What is the best way to approach a land contract? A good lawyer to make the contract?

    • Jim

      You have answered your own question.

      Unless you have some background in property law, you really do need a lawyer.

      Good luck

  • Kim

    In the boyfriend/girlfriend scenario above, is this situation considered a second tenant?

    Boyfriend rents a bedroom in a single family home with husband and wife.
    Girlfriend rents her own apartment from her landlord.

    They sleep at each other places throughout the week and weekend, usually alternating the days. So boyfriend stays with girlfriend say Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and girlfriend stays with boyfriend on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; they alternate Sundays.

    Boyfriends landlord (wife) asked for a copy of girlfriends drivers license. Does she have to show it? What are the rules with this?
    Thank you!

  • Loren

    I respect your opinions and I totally understand your Perspective and as a veteran I served for your right to share it.
    Perspective and as a veteran I served for your right to share it.

    I just wanted to share my opinion … that this piece was written in the most pompous, rude, and elitist tone.

    I truly never thought that a factual piece regarding rental law would frustrate me to the level that this did. Please take a research and writing course and learn what bias means. Ty :)

  • Tino

    We live in Germany and own a house in California that is currently rented to a family of five. We have friends who are three of the neighbors surrounding our house who have informed us that an older son and his girlfriend have apparently moved in without our knowledge. The big problem is the son and girlfriend are constantly fighting/arguing loudly at all hours of the night. At one point the girlfriend showed up at 7am honking like a crazy person until the son came out at which point she drove off and almost ran him over. My suggestion for my neighbors/friends thus far is to try and talk to my tenants directly and address their concerns if that doesnt work start calling the city/police. Tenenats pay rent on time, with not other problems

    • Ww

      I would write a letter to your tenants stating there have been many complaints to you, as the owners about the noise and domestic disputes in the property and if there are tenants in the house who were not originally tenants when the house was rented they have until the first to to move out. After that you have instructed the people making complaints to use the law enforcement and ask for tickets to be issued for disorderly conduct, trespassing, disturbing the peace or whatever the police think is applicable at the time of complaint. Do you have a relative living in the area / close friend? I would ask one of them( give them a letter) stating they manage this property in your absence and have them take appropriate actions for you.

    • Jim

      Living so far away, you really need to have either a trustworthy property manager or a landlord/tenant attorney. It is amazing how effective it is to have an attorney write a letter to the tenant regarding your present situation. Your tenant is most likely in violation of his lease agreement and grounds for termination of the tenancy if not corrected. You are the owner/landlord of the property. It is YOU who needs to contact your tenants and settle the developing problem. NOT your neighbors. If a letter or phone call from you does not rectify the problem, HIRE AN ATTORNEY and nip this problem before it has a chance to manifest into something more.
      Good luck

  • Michael Orlando

    my girlfriend and i are in a unique situation. Quick version. House burns down, wife ditches me and our kids. i am already living with in laws due to fire. my girlfriend moves in. gets pregnant. the mother is fine and makes plans for us to renovate the garage. she then passes away. the grandmother kicks my girlfriend out stating she better be gone by the time she has the baby. my girlfriend and i regretfully respect that. my girlfriend moves to the mountains and stays with friends. i am stuck in the garage, while they lock the door to the inside and talk bad about me to my children who are inside the house. now after two years the ex pops up starts a fight and serves a verbal 30 day notice for a home that she does not own.. what do i do?

  • allison

    My situation is the opposite. I live next door to a rental property and I reached out to the landlord and she went on and on about how the person I was complaining about was an “unauthorized occupant” and she was going to have him removed. He set off fireworks and caused damage to my car, wont pay for it. He decided to turn a shared driveway into a junk car lot for 5 months in violation of city ordinance. He drove his car on my front lawn daily and I caught them stealing my electric. After I reached out to the landlord I have heard nothing and she is ignoring my calls and messages. To this day the “unauthorized occupant” is still living next door. Even after the landlord told me to inform her if I see him next door. what should i do?

  • Colonel Mason

    I decided to rent out a spare bedroom. It is my house, I figured, if I get the wrong person I will just have ‘em put out. But it was all self-deception. I learned the hard way that when a key is handed over, the homeowner gives up all rights to a sovereign domicile.

    When he abused my property and then became threatening, fearing him and thinking I might be hurt, I phoned police. But police said they have no legal right to remove him, and if I feared harm to just leave. “But it is MY house,” I protested. It did no good. Getting him out took months, and great expense!

    The laws must change in the case of roommates and guests, the homeowner must be protected. I am now trying to work with AARP for a solution. Can you help, Lucas?

  • Nicole Jacaman

    I have let some so called friends “very temporarily” stay with me (i stated 2 weeks – a month no longer). Its now 7 months later and 3 letters to vacate. They don’t pay rent and they keep moving there stuff in not out. What is my next step to making them leave. Do i have to go through the court ?

  • Jim

    Yes, they are now tenants and will require ‘legal’ eviction procedures required by your state and local laws. If the procedures are not handled accurately, you could end up having to pay their legal fees so the best advice I can offer is that you get a Landlord/Tenant attorney to serve the eviction papers and hope that’s enough to get them to move out.

    Tuition costs can be very high. Not only in $ but emotions too. You’re better off offering to pay for a week or two of motel 6 than to let them come into your home. And if you do let them come into your home, a signed agreement is a MUST. SOME FRIENDS???

    Good luck

  • Rob

    The WORST mistake I made was befriending tenants. I never socialized with them but is awkward to make demands on them now.

    That said, Joanne moved into my multi-dwelling property ( where I live in a semi-separate townhouse unit). While it might be argued she is paying the same as what I would charge for 2 people I gave her 1 parking space, not 2, although she is allowed guest parking. She went out and bought a second car for winter and when it isn’t there, her boyfriend’s car is ! Property looks like an AA meeting in progress.

    I now have 2 problems: her boyfriend, who has been there all summer and her profusion of cars. BTW…I pay ALL utilities and starting this month, everything costs $ 126. more a month because of tax, insurance hike.

    • Jim

      Sounds like you need a re-do on your lease terms for housing guests. Our lease sets guests at ‘no more than 7 nights in any 12 month period’. Anything over that is a violation of the lease and they are served a notice of intent to evict if the guest does not file an application to rent that is approved and becomes a signatory on the lease. This requirement is verbally explained at the time of signing the lease.

      Our lease states ‘no guest parking allowed in tenant parking area’. Only off-street parking for guests. Our off-street parking area allows for two medium-sized vehicles per tenant. If they have a truck or large car, that is their limit.

      You have a tenant in the BF. Good luck with that.

      • Rob

        Thank you for taking the time to reply. BTW…after this morning I think they’re unfriended!

        • jim

          Lucky you! Now would be a good time to tighten up your lease agreement.

          • Rob

            Thank you again. Tenant IS moving out and I’m pretty sure this was planned all along in spite of mild confrontation this morning after her bf car was parked for yet another night on property.
            Yes, must get busy with airtight new contract!

  • Juliana Johnson

    Hello!
    The is an elderly man that has lived in my building for 30 years. He is now ill. His “caretaker” is verbally abusive to other tenants. He also uses the old guys credot card for personal use… We haven’t seen the old guy in a few weeks. Now, the “caretaker” is moving things out of the apartment, putting up large flat screen tv, etc. What can my landlord do to keep this guy from taking over the apartment? It’s freaking all of the other tenants out.

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