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When do Guests become Tenants?

by Sky

Posted on Sunday March 14, 2021 at 02:19PM in General

When do Guests become Tenants?

When does a visitor become a tenant?  Use Landlord Software to help stop rent payments you don't want.

Your renters will inevitably have people visiting their rental including family, nannies, partners, and roommates. But when does a visitor become a tenant?

It is important to protect your property, your other tenants, and your legal rights by making sure guests don't become tenants without your approval.  Here is a real-life example from one of our owners showing how this can easily occur.

"We had an older woman that lived in one of our units.  She was having a few medical issues and her son was coming over occasionally to help her out.  Over a period of multiple months, he needed to come over more often and occasionally started spending the night.  We wanted to be supportive since the tenant was having health issues and didn't take any actions.  As the months went on, the son slowly moved in and his wife and son also moved in.  Once again, we were trying to be supportive since the tenant was having medical issues and needed a support system. We then started to receive complaints from other tenants about the couple yelling and fighting and disturbing other residents.  A few days later, the police had to come out because there was report of a gunshot.  At this point, we realized our situation had gotten out of control and had the couple each submit an application and background check.  We were horrified to discover a long list of evictions and violent issues in their past."  This is just one example illustrating the need to know who is living in your rental and to make sure you find out right away even when nothing looks wrong.

The difference between a tenant and a guest

Most landlords consider a tenant as a person who is on the lease. That is usually a good definition, but it doesn’t account for guests living in the property without the permission of the landlord. Tenants on the lease are responsible for paying their rent on time and not damaging your property. Guests who begin to act like tenants become a liability and you can’t legally account for them. Tenant’s rights allow guests in a tenant’s rental, but rogue tenants are not allowed and cause legal issues. It is very important for adult occupants who are living at the property to be on the lease.

Examples of guests vs tenants

It can be difficult to determine if someone living on the property is acting like a guest or a tenant who needs to be added to the lease. For college students, if they are returning to the unit for weekends or school breaks and will go back to school they are considered guests. If they are home for the summer or have stopped attending school, then they would be considered a tenant. For elderly parents, if they are visiting for a few weeks or helping their children out they would be a guest, but if they are moving in with your renters because they can’t take care of themselves, then they are considered tenants. For hired help (such as nannies), if they are spending normal business hours at the property, they are considered guests. If they begin to live at the property full time, then they would be considered tenants. For friends or romantic partners, if they visit during the day or spend a couple nights at the unit they are considered guests, but if they spend most days and nights for weeks or months, then they are considered tenants.

Helpful signs guests are becoming tenants

Guests can start to become tenants if they begin to spend most of their time at the property as given in the examples above. Some other signs are that they are paying rent, moving in pets or furniture, making maintenance requests, receiving mail at the property, and spending every night at the unit.

Know the laws

State laws vary on the issue of tenants vs guests on your property. It is important to know what the specific laws for your state are. It is important to address how long a guest is allowed to stay in the unit, before they are considered a tenant. For example, it could simply state that guests can stay no more than 10 to 14 days in any 6 month period.

When should you add a guest to the lease?

The best practice in this situation is to add any adult that is occupying the property to the lease. Once they are added, they become accountable for the terms of the lease. This is an important step to clarify who is living at your property.

The conversation with your tenant about adding a roommate to the lease can be uncomfortable, but it is necessary. Most landlords ask their current tenant to simply add their roommate to the lease, and this provides the landlord with an opportunity to discuss renewing the lease with new terms if necessary. The alternate to this approach is the serve your tenant a lease violation notice and threaten to terminate your lease agreement. Most tenants would rather add their roommate to the lease than risk lease termination.

Preemptive steps

There are easy ways to avoid the situation of a guest turned tenant. It is important to specifically mention guests in your lease and when a guest becomes a tenant. If you are upfront with your tenant about what the rules regarding guests are, then they will likely be more compliant with them. You can also consider having a conversation with your tenants regarding guests and explain to them what’s allowed.

In some cases, if you as a landlord accept rent from a guest, it might initiate a landlord-tenant relationship. This puts you at risk for legal issues, and you should only accept rent from people on the lease. In this situation, the guest might have the same rights as any of your other tenants. If you use Landlord Software like Schedule My Rent, you can document a clear history of who is paying on the lease.  You also have the ability to immediately stop all or specific roommates from making payments which is very important if you are trying to move a tenant out or are in an eviction process. You can learn about additional options in our Rental Property Management Software Guide.  It is also important to consult an attorney before you consider evicting a tenant because of guests.

Realistically, as a landlord, your tenants will have guests and you will probably need to decide if these guests are considered tenants. It is important to be informed and prepared to make that decision.

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