When Does a Guest Become a Tenant?

ByVladana Donevski
March 01,2022

Renting out property can be a great source of income, but it isn’t always smooth sailing for the landlord. Aside from rent collection and potential disputes over maintenance costs, there are a few other scenarios that can complicate the landlord-tenant relationship. One of these is guests overstaying their welcome.    

These are individuals who stay at a property for an extended period of time without the landlord’s explicit permission. That’s why it’s important to answer the fundamental question: when does a guest become a tenant?  

Everyone has friends that need a place to stay while they’re between jobs or family members that fall on hard times. But the lease should always reflect the presence of individuals who are living at your property for several months. After all, these long-term guests are a liability for both the tenant and the landlord. Keep reading to learn how to identify and deal with these situations. 

Guest vs. Tenant - Is There a Difference?

Tenants typically have a lease or at least a verbal agreement with the landlord, which obliges them to pay rent and permits them to make maintenance requests. Guests don’t. A guest visits occasionally and doesn't have any financial or legal obligations. Depending on their agreement, tenants can welcome guests and allow them to stay over for a certain period of time without the landlord’s approval. 

The lines get blurry when the term “occupant” comes into play. While some see occupants as anyone staying the night, the main difference between a tenant and an occupant is that the latter might reside at a property, but the obligations of the lease still fall exclusively on the tenant. 

Occupants are most commonly children. You aren’t under any legal obligation to add them to the lease, and they cannot be treated as tenants. Whatsmore, everyone is clear about the fact that they are covered by the tenant’s rent.     

Guests, on the other hand, can overstay their welcome, especially if the costs of them living on the property start piling up. So whether you want your partner or an old college buddy to stay at your place for a while, it’s important to ask: how long can a tenant have a guest?

Here, it’s important to make a distinction between a few scenarios that may cause confusion. For instance, if a college student comes back home every winter/summer break but always returns to school when the vacation is over, he is just a guest. However, if someone moves in because they’re no longer in school, that person becomes a tenant. Also, anybody visiting their children or helping out with a newborn is a guest. That’s not the same thing as an elderly person moving in with relatives because they’re incapable of living on their own. 

How Many Days Can a Tenant Have a Guest Visiting in the Home?

The answer to this question usually depends on the agreement between the landlord and the tenant. The rules should be outlined in the guest policy section of the lease. Most landlords don’t allow guests for more than 14 days during a six-month period. However, landlords can have stricter rules, and it’s within their right to put them in writing.

And while most property owners will request permission to conduct a thorough screening of their tenants, this isn’t an option with guests due to existing legal constraints. That’s another reason why communication with the landlord is essential. Tenants who plan to host someone for a longer period of time should get prior approval from the landlord.

How and When Does a Guest Become a Tenant?  

The most common way for a guest to become a tenant is by adding their name to the lease. However, in practice, the courts can recognize many different circumstances as proof that a guest is actually a tenant. For example,  if a landlord accepts money or another kind of compensation from a guest for their stay, the guest automatically earns the rights of a tenant.

Additionally, if someone enters into a verbal agreement with the tenant and is covering part of the rent, they can be considered tenants. In some states, any guest who stays for longer than two weeks is considered a tenant by default. 

Can a Landlord Prohibit Guests?

Technically, landlords can’t prohibit their tenants from having guests over. However, they can add sections to the lease that cover the tenant’s rights concerning visitors. But there are a few other factors to consider. For example, federal occupancy laws tell the landlord how many people are allowed to stay in each bedroom, while zoning laws can even limit the type of relationships that those renting in certain areas can have. 

That said, most landlords don’t really care how many guests the tenant has as long as they don’t receive noise complaints from neighbors and there isn’t any illegal activity going on like drug use. If any of these guests are thinking about establishing residency in a home, the landlord needs to be notified, and the lease agreement needs to be updated.   

Talk to the Tenant 

Every situation is different, and the landlord needs to be open to the tenant’s side of the story. The guest can be a family member or a friend who needs a place to stay until they get back on their feet. It could be someone trying to escape an abusive relationship or a special somebody who wants to move things to the next level, but the tenant isn’t sure about adding such an occupant to a lease yet. After talking to the tenant, the landlord can do a number of things depending on the situation:

Add the Guest to the Lease

If the tenant is willing to allow the guest to stay on the property, then the best course of action would be to add the guest to the lease. It’s vital to integrate long-term guests into the agreement so that all those living in the property are liable for what happens there. The lease agreement protects all the parties.

If the guest is having mail delivered to the tenant’s address, bringing in their furniture, or parking the car in the unit’s parking spot, it’s time to add them to the lease and increase the rent to cover an additional person living on the premises.  This isn’t a violation of the tenants rights to have guests. It’s just a way of binding people living on the property to the terms of the lease.

If the tenant shares the landlord’s concerns about their guest’s long-term stay, they may decide to take on the role of the landlord and evict the guest themselves. Of course, if the tenant doesn’t want to agree to any of the aforementioned options, he is effectively breaching the terms of his lease, which is grounds for eviction.

Evicting the Tenant

If tenants continually host occupants who are not on the lease and who aren’t covered under the terms of the original agreement, landlords have little option but to evict them. 

Landlords can serve their tenants with an eviction notice for breach of lease because of unauthorized guests, though this can be hard to prove in court. The best course of action is to serve the tenant with a notice of non-renewal, which tells them that you won’t be renewing the lease. If the tenant is paying rent on a monthly basis, you could have them out before the start of the new month.

All in All

Communication is usually the key. However, if the landlord and tenant can’t come to an agreement, the landlord should consult with a lawyer. Considering the fact that each state has its own laws on tenancy, legal advice may be necessary in order for the landlord to resolve the situation. In some cases, the best solution may be to come to a temporary house guest agreement that benefits all parties.

What is considered a long-term guest?

Anyone staying longer than is permitted under the terms of the agreement between the landlord and tenant is considered a long-term guest. Most landlords allow guests to stay up to 14 days within a six-month period. 

What’s the difference between a tenant and a guest?

The main difference between a tenant and a guest is that the latter isn’t paying rent and doesn’t have any legal obligations. Tenants, on the other hand, are subject to the terms of the lease and can be held liable for their guest’s actions. And while landlords mustn’t infringe on the tenant’s rights to have guests, they can outline certain terms in the lease.

How long before a guest becomes a resident?

If the guest stays longer than the lease permits, the landlord should approach the tenant to have the guest added to the lease or thrown out. If the courts get involved, everything boils down to one simple question: when does a guest become a tenant? If someone is sleeping at your place every night, they have a key, or they’re paying some of the rent, they’re a tenant.

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