Any legal adult living at my rental property must be listed on and sign a lease.

It’s a simple rule I always follow—and it’s never steered me wrong. It’s also the foundation of my tenant guest policy.

What’s a long-term guest?

A long-term guest is an unofficial tenant, an individual who lives at my property without approval or permission. Perhaps that person has even changed their mailing address so they receive mail at my rental.

Long-term guests generally move in under the assumption that they’re only going to be visiting a current tenant for a week or two. But weeks pass quickly, and suddenly they’ve been living at my property for five months without receiving prior approval.

Why you need a tenant guest policy

From a landlord’s perspective, the words “long-term” and “guest” are contradictory.

My tenants’ visitors and guests have included a college student home for the summer and an aging parent who’s moving back in with their child. I’ve seen it all—and the common thread in these situations is a question of liability and my ability to collect rent.

If a tenant isn’t on the lease, they aren’t subject to the terms and conditions therein, which means I can’t hold them accountable for rent. This could cause problems down the line.

Long-term guests are not deal breakers—they just need to be on the lease and held accountable to its terms. After all, I want my tenants to be both safe and happy.

Whenever this situation arises, my response is always the same:

“If you are an adult living in my property, I need to know who you are, which is why you need to fill out an application. I also need to know that you will be jointly and severally liable for rent and damages, which is why you sign a lease.”

I believe that if I treat my tenants with respect, they’ll return the favor.

Include a “Use of Premises” clause

To accomplish this, I stick to a rock-solid lease. This is important, as the moment I deviate from enforcing any part of the lease, I set a precedent that I will waive other lease terms such as late fees or eviction.

In my lease, I use a clause entitled “Use of Premises” to limit the number of people allowed to occupy the dwelling and to explain the difference between a tenant and a guest.

USE OF PREMISES

The Premises shall be used and occupied by Tenant(s), for no more than FIVE (5) persons exclusively, as a private individual dwelling, and no part of the Premises shall be used at any time during the term of this Agreement by Tenant(s) for the purpose of carrying on any business, profession, or trade of any kind, or for any purpose other than private dwelling.

Tenant(s) shall not allow any other person, other than Tenant’s immediate family or transient relatives and friends who are guests of Tenant(s), to use or occupy the Premises without first obtaining Landlord’s written consent to such use. Any guest staying in the property more than 2 weeks in any 6 month period will be considered a tenant, rather than a guest, and must be added in the lease agreement. Landlord may also increase the rent at any such time that a new tenant is added to the lease or premise.

Tenant(s) and guest(s) shall comply with any and all laws, ordinances, rules and orders of any and all governmental or quasi-governmental authorities affecting the cleanliness, use, occupancy and preservation of the Premises.

Of course, some tenants prefer that I don’t find out about their guests because they don’t want me to raise the rent.

In reality, I rarely raise the rent when a college kid comes home on summer break, but I want the option to do so just in case my individual tenant suddenly decides to move in seven extended family members.

Have all parties sign

If a long-term guest refuses to sign the lease, I have the option to terminate the lease based on the original tenant’s violation of the “Use of Premises” clause listed above.

Again, the main purpose of this clause is not to raise the rent, but rather to have everyone accounted for and liable for the rent in case the original tenants abandon the lease.

Most tenants are willing to sign the lease in these situations—especially if there is no extra expense.

Common examples of long-term guests

The single-income couple

SITUATION: A couple wants to rent my unit together, but only one of them has an income. They may assume that only the person who is qualifying for the lease needs to be listed.

MY RESPONSE: Even though the couple might qualify based solely on one income, I still need both individuals to fill out separate applications and sign the lease as occupants. This protects my rental income if the couple separates.

The perpetual overnight partner

SITUATION: A tenant has their partner stay over—often. When asked about it, they say, “That’s my significant other. They recently lost their job and were having trouble paying rent, so they’re staying with me until they can get on their feet.”

MY RESPONSE: I remind my tenant of the lease terms. I also say, “If they need to stay for more than two weeks, I’ll need them to fill out an application and sign the lease.”

The college student

SITUATION: A pair of empty nesters want to downsize, so they sell their house and move into my rental property. When summer rolls around, their youngest child moves back in for the duration of the break.

MY RESPONSE: As long as this does not violate any county occupancy ordinances or increase utility usage that I pay for, I simply create a lease addendum that adds the additional occupant (by name) to the lease. I then have everyone sign it.

The aging parent

SITUATION: A tenant’s parent takes a bad fall and needs regular assistance. The child (my tenant) quickly volunteers to have their parent move in so they can care for them.

MY RESPONSE: Because this parent has a higher risk of accident and injury, I especially want to make sure they sign the lease and acknowledge their responsibility to obtain tenant’s liability and medical insurance. Landlords can be held responsible for tenants’ personal injuries, but some of that risk is mitigated if they sign a lease. Again, as long as this doesn’t violate any county occupancy ordinances, I think family members should be able to help each other.

The unofficial sublet

SITUATION: A tenant’s job changes or they need to move for personal reasons. If subletting is prohibited in the lease—or if there is an extra fee involved—they may bring in an “unofficial” subletter to avoid an early termination or subletting fee.

MY RESPONSE: If a subletter has moved in without my approval, I usually just require the tenant to pay a one-time subletting fee (mentioned in the original lease) to avoid a lease violation and subsequent termination. However, if the subletter wants to live there for a while, I might release the old tenant and sign a new lease with the subletter (who then becomes the lessee). The result? I secure a longer rental term, the original tenant is free from obligation, and the new tenant doesn’t have to hide from me. Everyone is happy.

The bottom line

Your tenant guest policy is a tool to keep both you and your tenants safe. Communicate this policy clearly and upfront when new residents sign their lease.