At some point in time, every property owner will ponder one question: When does a guest become a tenant? Perhaps a tenant has a guest who has been “visiting” for a few months and appears to have moved in. One might assume that a guest can only become a tenant if they sign a lease agreement, but this is simply not true.

A tenant is defined as an individual who is permitted to inhabit a property for a set amount of time in exchange for rent. And a guest is defined as an individual who is invited to visit the tenant’s rental space for a set amount of time. And this is where things become complicated. Landlords often have a clause in their tenant’s lease that permits visitors only for an expressed amount of time and under certain conditions. But, if the guest stays longer than the days allowed in the lease, the landlord is placed in a risky position in which he or she could be liable for the guest’s injuries and any property damage caused by the guest. And the guest would basically have all the rights and privileges of tenancy without the responsibility to pay rent or abide by landlord’s policies. And worse, a landlord cannot just kick them out; the landlord must go through the process of legally evicting the guest.

So, when does a guest become a tenant? There are several ways that a landlord (or a judge) might determine when a guest has become a tenant. First, ponder these questions:

1. What is the Guest’s Physical Address?

It is important to find out whether the guest has a permanent, separate residence from the tenant’s residence. If the guest has mail forwarded to the tenant’s address or has his physical address legally changed to the tenant’s address, some states may consider the guest a legal tenant.

2. How Many Nights Has the Guest Slept on the Property?

Landlords should determine how many consecutive nights the guest has stayed in the tenant’s space. There should be a clause in the tenant’s lease regarding the number of nights guests can visit the tenant. If the guest stays longer than the lease agreement allows, then he or she may be considered a tenant in some states.

3. Has the Guest Contributed to the Tenant’s Rent, Utilities or Other Expenses?

Guests are non-paying visitors, so a guest that is paying the tenant’s rent or other household expenses may be deemed a tenant based upon the states’ statutes.

4. Has the Guest Moved Pets or Furniture into the Rental Space?

A guest who moves a couch, bed or even a pet onto the premises is probably planning to live there permanently.

5. Has the Guest Begun Acting Like a Tenant?

There are a few indications that a guest is beginning to act like a tenant. If they are seen going in and out of the rental space when the tenant is not home, it is possible that they possess a spare key. They may also submit maintenance requests for the rental space, as well as regularly use tenant facilities such as the laundry room, pool or gym. This behavior may indicate that the guest has moved in illegally, and in some states, they could be considered a tenant.

If the landlord has reviewed the “When Does a Guest Become a Tenant?” questionnaire and finds that the guest meets any of the criteria, the landlord should take swift action to fix the problem. First, the landlord should refer to their states’ tenant laws. Second, the landlord should remind the tenant (verbally or by written notice) of the guest policy per the lease. The landlord can ask the tenant to add their guest to the lease and pay additional rent in order to be in compliance. This can be a difficult conversation to have but it is necessary to protect the landlord from liability and from being cheated out of additional rent.

The landlord may also elect to begin the eviction process. In this case, the landlord would have the tenant served with a notice of lease violation and threaten to begin the eviction process if the guest continues to illegally reside in the tenant’s rental space. Landlords should refer to their states’ laws regarding tenant eviction.

To avoid a situation in which a guest becomes a tenant, landlords should ensure that their leases clearly state the guest policy, and the tenants read and understand the agreements. Landlords should also familiarize themselves with their state mandates, as there are variations in states’ tenant laws.

We hope that you found our article “When Does a Guest Become a Tenant?” useful. As always, our friendly team of property managers in San Antonio is here to help you with all your property management needs. Please feel free to contact our property management company in San Antonio today!