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Tenant Guests: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

When do guests turn into unauthorized residents and what rights do landlords have in this regard

Unless you’re the least friendly person on the planet, every now and then you invite guests to your place or become a guest yourself. Guest visits are all fun and pleasure. Shared dinners, table games, movies, or pajama parties are all common scenarios for an occasional guest visit. It’s an integral part of our social life and everyone has the right to enjoy it.

But what about inviting guests into rental units? Just how normal is that to invite people into a property that’s not yours? Are tenants allowed to welcome whoever they want for as long as they wish? What’s the difference between tenant guests and unofficial residents? And what rules are there to regulate the question?  When does a guest become a tenant? Read on to find answers to these and many other questions.

It’s All About the Difference in Perspectives

The topic of tenant guests might not seem like a big deal for tenants (unless their guests are for some reason not welcome). For landlords, however, it’s one of the major pain points and a source of potential risks.

From a tenant’s perspective, guests are all those who come for a short period of time and are expected to leave soon. It won’t hurt to mention that ‘short period of time’ and ‘soon’ are usually not defined.

From a landlord’s perspective, however, there should always be a clear distinction between the two. Mostly because everyone staying in a rental unit long-term should be liable for possible damages and force majeure situations.

Should This Question Be Regulated?

The answer is yes. One hundred times yes. Landlords want their properties to be safe and sound. That’s what credit and background checks are mostly used for. Before letting tenants move in, landlords make sure they are sealing the deal with honest, trustworthy, and financially reliable people. With long-term guests, however, this step gets skipped. And it can trigger all sort of issues for everyone involved – landlords, tenants, and guests.

Why Is This a Problem?

Let’s say a long-term guest stays home alone, falls asleep, and forgets to stub out the cigarette. When he or she wakes up, everything around is burning. Firefighters arrive and prevent the worst. The rental unit is not burned to the ground, but the damage is severe. Who is the one to take the consequences? When does a guest become a tenant and takes responsibility for his/her actions? Is it a negligent guest? Or a tenant whose name and signature is on the lease? Or a landlord who failed to set up a clear guest policy in the first place?

Of course, the above-mentioned scenario is somewhat overdramatized. But nothing proves the importance of tenant guest policy better than such a story. The conclusion is simple: tenants have the right to host guests, but this right should be limited to a certain extent and explained in detail.

The Thin Line Between Overnight Guest, Long-Term Visitors, and Unofficial Tenants

The smartest step would be to draw the line between guests, long-term visitors, and unofficial tenants and to indicate tenant rights in regards to each group. For good or for ill, there is no law saying for how long should a guest stay to be considered an unregistered tenant. So may the common sense and the table below be your reference point.


In the usual sense, guests are those who come for a dinner with a bottle of wine and leave the party by midnight pretty much as Cinderella did. People who come and stay overnight for a weekend (one weekend), however, can also be referred to the category.

Long-Term Visitors

With very few exceptions, this category is represented by college kids, elderly parents, boyfriends/girlfriends, and hired help. What do all these people have in common is that they come for a defined period of time and always leave by the expected date. In the case with college kids, it’s usually a summer or winter break. When it comes to elderly parents, it can be a weekend or a couple of weeks per year.

Unofficial Tenants

As for the rest, including overnight boyfriends or girlfriends, best friends who’re staying until they manage to secure a place of their own, and a colleague from another city who doesn’t seem to be leaving anytime soon, the term ‘guests’ seems like not the best word choice (put it lightly). If so-called tenant guests spend every night at the property for the third week in a row, have some of their personal belongings placed on shelves, or receive occasional mail at the property, it smells of trouble. Such ‘guests’ are actually tenants whose names are not on the lease.

How to Solve Disputes Related to Tenant Guests

As the old adage goes, the ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. What it means in the context is that it’s better to avoid disputes in the first place. But how to do this, you ask? Easy, if only both parties agree to follow the smart approach. All the details below.

The Smart Approach For Landlords

A smart move would be to include a well-thought-out guest policy as a separate close in a rental agreement. It doesn’t mean there should not be some wiggle room, but it’s always better if the terms of guest visits are agreed upon and documented before tenants move in. As a landlord, you can either prohibit all long-term guests and demand that they become tenants or set specific limits. Being as clear as possible is key.

Indicate the maximum number of days guests can stay until they become ‘long-term guests’ and are expected to be registered as tenants. For instance, you can set a limit to no more than 15 days in any six-month period and demand an official approval for all stays that are longer than that. This way, you’ll protect yourself from guests turning into unauthorized residents. What’s more, indicate whether or not a monthly price will be affected in case the number of tenants grows. Do not forget to mention your right to reject tenant guest’s applications if you’re not good with the results of their credit and background checks.

The Smart Approach For Tenants

As a tenant, you should clarify the question before signing a rental agreement and moving in. If you know that long-term guests are likely to be the case and the lease doesn’t say a word in this regard, don’t be afraid to raise the question yourself. Remember that a failure to negotiate the terms is one of the common mistakes tenants make and don’t shy away from speaking up.

If it’s too late and your long-term guests are already unpacking, don’t try to hide this fact and pretend they’re only here for one day. Be honest with your landlord and ask if he or she is ok with that. If something is wrong, try to sweeten the deal by offering additional bucks for your long-term guests or whatever else you believe might work. And keep in mind that as long as the names of your long-term guests are not on the lease, you’re the only person liable for everything that might happen to a rental property.

Summing Up About Tenant Guests

To avoid misunderstanding and conflicts related to guest visits, there should always be clear where do tenant rights end and landlord rights begin. When does a guest becomes a tenant? As there is no federal or state law indicating the optimal length of tenant guest visits, landlords and tenants should get the upper hand and negotiate the terms before shaking their hands in agreement. The rule of thumb is that landlords as property owners should never be uninformed about new residents, while tenants should be granted the right to host guests. Just like in any other aspect of our life, the right balance is the key.

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  1. If a tenant invites a guest to stay over without the landlord permission where is that guest supposed to sleep?

  2. I’ve looked up the law and offering up extra money is not a choice. It’s illegal for landlords to ask or accept extra money for a unofficial guest as one that becomes a roommate for financial reasons.

  3. Am moving out because landlord is extremely verbally intrusive, some comments are sexual and absolutely inappropriate.
    I”m moving out, now he is questioning another tenant about where I’m moving to. This makes me very uncomfortable. Can I legally tell him to leave me alone?

  4. how do i start charging a guest rent, there is no time schedule as my ‘guest’ is quite comfortable with the current arrangement, they are having mail sent to my address and does not contribute one cent to help me with the bill or rent. I’m uncomfortable with that

  5. Hi
    I live in a flat with 5 roomies. The flat is newly built and we all moved in 6 weeks ago. Everyone has their own bedrooms, so its a 5 bed flat.
    However, one of the tenants, a man, has since the beginning been bringing his two daughters over for every weekend, friday to sunday, they are children, and very noisy. Is this legal??
    None of us never got this information that we would be living with children every weekend when we moved in. What can we do?
    The landlord knows nothing about this. Is it legal?

  6. I have my spouse visiting we been married 11 yrs he was in prison but now not on parole his life is not about illegal stuff anymore… we have reconcile. Our daughter graduates in may can my landlord tell me he has to go or put him out by police I tried to put him on lease the landlord wouldn’t agree to lease so I’m going by month to month after being here over 1 year I’m in a house not apartment complex what can I do!

  7. The individual who won’t leave stayed out for 5 nights in a row is she now considered a non tenant and can I remove her and her belongings from my moms residence???