Have you ever wondered what to do when your tenant has a guest come to visit them, but they wind up staying for months? At that point, are they a tenant? Should they be paying rent?
This can be a tricky issue for landlords to solve. On the one hand, a tenant’s rights are protected by the “covenant of quiet enjoyment.” Therefore, you can’t harass or disturb them unnecessarily. But, on the other hand, someone staying most of the time in the rental unit should be on the lease agreement and be accountable for rent.
Typically, all adult occupants living in the rental unit should be listed on the lease agreement. This way, they have a legal right to live there. However, it also makes tenants accountable for what they do. They must pay rent every month, look after the home, and not breach the lease terms. While the “unexpected tenant” may not be viewed as a squatter, they don’t have a right to live there permanently.
What are the differences between a tenant and an unauthorized guest? And, when does a guest become a tenant? Read on to find out.
Tenant vs. Guests
Tenants are named on the lease agreement. They pay rent, respect the rental agreement terms, and are legally responsible during the lease period. Consequently, tenants have rights and obligations as stated in federal and state landlord-tenant laws.
Short-term guests are visitors who are not responsible to the landlord, unlike tenants. If a guest causes damage to the property, the tenant takes responsibility. Of course, there is typically never an issue when tenants invite their friends or family over. The problem arises when guests overstay their welcome and become long-term guests or rogue tenants.
The timeline after which a guest is considered to have overstayed is not stipulated in landlord-tenant law. Therefore, it is good to include a “guest clause” in the lease agreement so that the tenant understands your stance on guests.
4 Signs That a Guest is Becoming a Tenant
There are many different scenarios for when a guest turns into a tenant. For example, long-term guests could be romantic partners, aging parents, college children, or friends in need of help. So how can you determine if it’s time to resolve the matter of a guest becoming an illegal tenant?
A guest could be considered a tenant when there is clear evidence of occupancy. This could be any of the following:
- The guest is considered a tenant when they stay overnight at the apartment consecutively for a period, usually exceeding a month, except otherwise stated in the lease agreement.
- When guests move their belongings to the apartment, they can be considered tenants. Whether by parking their cars in the lot or moving their clothing or pets to the apartment, this is a glaring sign they are now tenants and should be paying rent.
- Does the house guest use the unit as their mailing address? When your tenant’s guest starts receiving mail using the apartment’s address, they would now be considered a tenant.
- Does the guest pay the tenant something toward rent? In that case, they could be considered an unauthorized tenant.
Steps to Prevent and Resolve a Guest-Turned-Tenant Situation
In many cases, a tenant may not know that their guest has become a rogue tenant. However, whatever the reason for the extended stay, it’s vital to address the issue with your tenant.
Several scenarios can help us understand the exact point a guest becomes a tenant. As a result, each situation deserves a different approach to solving it.
Let’s look at some of the various steps to prevent or manage situations where guests overstay their welcome.
1. Include a guest clause in the lease agreement
A landlord can include a clause in the rental agreement regarding guests. This could stipulate various factors when the guest would be considered a tenant. It would be best to mention how you intend to handle any issues with unauthorized tenants. For example, will they be part of the lease agreement? Or will they have to vacate the unit? This proactive measure ensures that the tenant doesn’t violate the clause.
You must ensure the tenant understands the clause before they sign the agreement. This way, even if the tenant breaches the regulations, you still have legal backing to take the actions stated in the contract.
The guest clause in the agreement could contain information like:
- The number of guests allowed to stay overnight in the apartment. For example, state laws often have an occupancy limit on the number of guests allowed to stay for an extended period in an apartment.
- How many nights a guest can spend in the apartment within a particular time frame. For example, two weeks in six months is commonly accepted for guest allowance.
- The type of guests the tenant can have spend the night without the landlord’s permission. This may include family relatives.
- The consequences if the guest overstays the stated period. The agreement will present what action you will take for a lease violation.
Adding the guest clause to the lease agreement ensures you can take action against the tenant should they breach the agreement.
2. Communicate with the tenant and guest
If you suspect that a guest is freeloading in your rental unit, you should communicate with the tenant and guest. If there is no guest policy, you may not be able to take immediate action. So, it’s best to open the conversation and clarify the situation.
Of course, this discussion may be awkward, especially if family members are non-paying tenants. But, on the other hand, the guest could be going through a financial crisis and have nowhere else to stay. In such scenarios, it’s crucial to be patient and try to reason with the tenant and their guest. Sometimes, tenants may not know they are violating laws.
However, it is crucial to decide on the way forward.
3. Make a decision
Suppose the communication step is successful and the tenant admits to a violation. In that case, both you and the tenant should agree on a decision and put it in writing. For example, it could be adding the guest to the lease agreement with an increase in monthly rent. Or you could agree to a timeline by which the guest must leave the apartment.
Suppose the conversation does not produce the expected results. In that case, you may have to take legal action against the tenant and their guest. This usually involves serving a “cure or quit” notice for a lease violation and starting the eviction process. However, it’s always best to seek legal advice before evicting a non-paying tenant—even if they live there illegally.
As a word of warning: Never accept rent from guests or even agree to accept a payment. In that case, you enter into an informal landlord-tenant agreement. They become a tenant with a verbal agreement, and they have all the rights a paying tenant can enjoy.
Determining when a guest becomes a tenant can be challenging. However, there are usually signs of occupancy where it’s clear a guest is a more permanent resident. In that case, it’s vital to communicate with the tenant about the situation to resolve it. Otherwise, you could be held legally responsible for the actions of a non-paying tenant in your rental property.
When Does a Guest Become a Tenant? 4 Signs That They’ve Overstayed is written by Remen Okoruwa for www.biggerpockets.com