When Does a Guest Become a Tenant?


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If you live in an apartment, you’ve probably let your friends and family have fun with you for a night or two. Usually, having guests in your home is not a problem, but if your loved ones stay often or for an extended period of time, your landlord might start to see them as tenants.

Here’s what you need to know to allow guests to stay in your apartment without breaking the rules of your rental agreement.

What is the difference between guest and tenant?

By definition, a tenant is the person listed on a lease agreement responsible for paying rent on time and preventing damage to the property. A guest is not. Clients do not have a binding contract with an owner and they usually only stay a few days at a time.

In most cases, your tenant’s rights cover the stay of the guests. However, your guests cannot establish their residence in your accommodation without obtaining permission from your landlord. Landlords will want any adult occupant actually living in your unit to be included in the rental agreement so that each resident has legal responsibility.

When does a guest become a tenant?

Guests can become renters after a certain period of time, but length of stay is not the only important factor. If a guest establishes proof of occupancy for your apartment, it is also a sign to your landlord that they are crossing the tenant’s territory.

How many days can a tenant receive a guest in the house?

Your rental agreement may provide for how long you can have a long-term guest in your apartment, so go back to your lease to make sure you know the rules your guests must follow. Typically, customers can stay in a unit for around 10-14 days.

This is not a hard and fast rule, however. In addition to variations between rental agreements, what state laws define as a guest may differ from other places. So when does a guest become a tenant in Colorado? When does a guest become a tenant in Washington State? How long can a guest stay in my apartment in California? You are not alone if you ask yourself these kinds of questions. State laws vary, so you should always check your local laws to make sure you understand the exact rules that apply to your situation.

What are the other signs that a guest is becoming a tenant?

Guests do not pay rent in exchange for their stay in a unit. However, paying rent is not the only way to prove occupancy. Your landlord may determine that a guest has crossed the line and becomes a tenant in certain circumstances, including:

  • Moving assets
    If a guest starts moving furniture, personal effects, and even pets around the unit, it signals to the owner that the guest considers the unit their home.
  • Change of address or receipt of mail
    Regular customers generally do not have packages, letters and subscriptions that are frequently delivered to temporary accommodation. In fact, colleges and universities, the Department of Motor Vehicles and various other institutions use a mailing address as their residency document. Receipt of mail serves as legal proof of occupation.
  • Regular overnight stays
    If a guest regularly stays overnight in the property, owners can assume that they are no longer a temporary visitor.

Examples of tenants and guests

Here are some examples that can help you understand when some short-term guests will become renters.

  • Children, parents and relatives
    You can consider middle school students who come home for short stays (think: weekends and spring break) as guests, as long as they always return to school afterwards. They can become tenants if they return home for long periods, for example during the summer or because they no longer attend school. Likewise, parents and other family members are invited if they stay a few weeks to visit or help. If they move in for more than a month, they become tenants.
  • Relatives and friends
    Romantic partners or friends who only visit during the day or occasionally stay overnight are guests. However, if they spend most days and nights in the unit for weeks or even months, they are tenants.
  • Nannies, babysitters and au pairs
    If you have someone watching your child during the day or evening (or occasional nights), you can consider them as guests. If someone lives with a family, it is another tenant. Au pairs live with their families by definition, so they are always tenants.

While there is a gray area, asking if someone is using the unit as a living base can help you determine if that person has become a tenant.

When to add guests to a lease?

Any adult occupant who lives in the property should be on a lease. This makes the occupant bound by the lease and ensures that the landlord knows who lives on his property. If you have a long-term guest living with you and you don’t tell your landlord, they can take action.

Many landlords will take the first step by asking you to add a new roommate to your lease. Your landlord can discuss if the cost of rent will change and what the rental agreement will look like with an additional tenant.

A landlord can also serve you a notice of breach of lease to terminate the tenancy agreement if you have another tenant in your unit without prior approval. To avoid this situation, be sure to follow all the rules set out in your lease. If you want someone to move in with you, proactively talk to your landlord to take the appropriate steps to add them to the rental agreement.

Although you can have guests in your apartment, you cannot have guests indefinitely. Understanding when a guest becomes a tenant can help ensure you don’t break the rules set out in a rental agreement.