When Does a Guest Become a Tenant?
Every tenant has the right to welcome friends and family members into their home. Whether they’re spending a weekend with an old college friend or inviting their parents over for a family vacation, most tenants will allow guests to stay over at some point during their tenancy.
However, long-term guests can produce a host of legal troubles for landlords. Tenants who are not listed on a lease are not subject to its terms and conditions. As such, it can be difficult to hold signed tenants accountable for any damage the guest causes to the property.
What’s more, accounting for all residents helps protect the tenants themselves, as long-term guests can represent an inconvenience. For example, a small property may feel packed and uncomfortable with a long-term guest, while a guest with a car or a dog may disrupt the tenant’s life and those of surrounding neighbors.
What are the differences between a guest and a tenant?
The primary difference between a tenant and a guest is that the former is listed on a lease, while the latter is not. Tenants are responsible for paying rent on time, preventing property damage, covering utility bills (if applicable), and responding to their landlord when necessary. Guests, on the other hand, are only visitors who want to stay with the tenant for a short period (typically no longer than a week).
Legally, tenants’ rights state that short-term guests are allowed. However, when a guest stays for more than a week or two, their position starts to become a little murky. While they may not be listed on the tenancy agreement, they may start acting like a tenant and could potentially impact the condition of the property.
Examples of tenants and guests
If you’re still a little unsure about the differences between tenants and guests, here are a few illustrative examples:
Friends and significant others
- Tenant: Spends the majority of days and nights at the property for weeks at a time
- Guest: Only visits during the day or only spends occasional nights at the property
- Tenant: Stays for long breaks over summer or has moved back home (provided they are over 18)
- Guest: Visits home for weekends and short breaks between semesters
- Tenant: Moves to their child’s home as they cannot live alone
- Guest: Stays with their child to help look after a grandchild or enjoy a brief vacation
Nannies and other forms of assistance
- Tenant: Lives in the property full-time to look after a child or take care of the home
- Guest: Only attends during the day, with the occasional overnight stay
What are the warning signs of a guest-turned-tenant?
Every tenant has a right to privacy, so it can be difficult to tell whether a guest has overstayed their welcome. However, there are a few warning signs to look out for when assessing the relationship between a tenant and their guest, including:
- The guest has moved furniture, shoes, or clothes into the property: If you discover a lot of new furniture during a property inspection, a guest may have moved in.
- The guest receives mail at the property: People who redirect their mail to the property are unlikely to be short-term guests.
- The guest has started making maintenance requests
- Neighbors have started complaining: Neighbors are often the first people to notice when there’s a new face in town. If your guest is loud and disruptive or parks their car in inappropriate places, it’s worth investigating whether they’ve moved into the property.
What does the law say? A state-by-state guide
Determining precisely when a guest becomes a tenant is a tricky business. Fortunately, there are laws in place to support landlords looking to evict a guest who appears to have moved into a property. Such laws vary from state to state. While some states require landlords to include rules surrounding guests in their lease agreements, others have brought in official cut-off points for the length guests can stay in a property.
States that don’t have official cut-off points and require landlords to specify terms in their tenancy agreements include:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Other states stipulate the following rules:
- Alabama: Guests can stay for up to 30 days
- Arizona: Guests can stay for up to 29 days
- California: Guests become tenants when they stay for over 14 days within six months, or seven nights in a row
- Colorado: Guests become tenants after staying for over 14 days within six months
- Connecticut: Guests become tenants after staying for over 14 days within six months
- Florida: Guests become tenants when they stay for over 14 days within six months, or seven nights in a row
- Georgia: Guests become tenants if they pay some of the rent and contribute to chores and housework.
- Illinois: Guests become tenants when they establish residency without gaining permission from the landlord. For example, they may start receiving mail at the property and adding the property address to official documents.
- Indiana: Guests become tenants after staying for over 14 days within six months
- Kentucky: Guests become tenants after 30 days or as specified in the tenancy agreement
- Maine: Renting without an official lease turns a guest into a ‘tenant at will’. Guests also become tenants after staying for over 14 days within six months
- Maryland: Guests become tenants when they contribute towards rent or provide services to live at the property
- Minnesota: Guests become tenants when they contribute towards rent or provide services to live at the property
- Mississippi: Guests become tenants when they pay rent to inhabit the property
- Missouri: Guests who stay for over 14 days within a year become tenants
- Montana: Landlords should specify the permitted length of stay in the tenancy agreement. If they do not, however, guests become tenants after seven consecutive days at the property
- New York: Guests become tenants after occupying a property for 30 days
- North Carolina: Guests become tenants after occupying a property for 14 days
- Ohio: Guests become tenants after occupying a property for 30 days
- Pennsylvania: Guests become tenants after 30 days or after giving the landlord money to stay at the property
- Tennessee: Guests become tenants after paying rent to occupy the property or as specified in the lease
- Texas: Guests become tenants after contributing to the rent, bills, or other expenses, after using the property as a mailing address, or as specified in the lease
Should I add a long-term guest to the lease?
As mentioned, adult occupants must be listed on a property’s lease. While confronting this sensitive issue can be tricky, asking current tenants to add new roommates to a lease can prevent legal problems further down the line. Landlords may also wish to renegotiate terms and conditions with a new tenant on the lease.
If the tenant or guest objects to alterations to the lease, landlords can serve the original tenant with a lease termination notice as a last resort. To avoid this unfortunate outcome, it’s worth having an honest conversation about the law with tenants and ensuring they’re aware of their obligations at the beginning of the tenancy.
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