People will come and go from your rental, including new roommates, visiting family, partners, and live-in nannies. When should you classify them as a tenant instead of a guest?

What’s the difference?

Most landlords think of a tenant as someone on the lease. While that’s a good definition, that classification doesn’t account for guests living in the rental without a landlord’s permission. In the tenant’s right of quiet enjoyment, guests are allowed, but rogue tenants are not.

It’s important for any adult occupant who lives at your property to be on the lease. Otherwise, you can’t legally account for them. Guests can become a liability if they start acting like tenants.

Examples of tenants vs. guests

  TENANT  GUEST 
College students  Returning home for the summer or because they stopped attending school  Returning home for weekends, spring or winter breaks, but will go back to school 
Elderly parents  Moving in with children because they can’t care for themselves  Visiting children for a few weeks or helping with a new grandchild 
Friends or romantic partners Spending most days and nights for weeks or months at a time  Visiting during the day or only spending a few nights here and there 
Hired help  Living at the property full time  Spending normal business hours at the property 
Au pairs Living at the property full time  My definition, they live at the property 

Signs a guest is a tenant:

  • They pay rent
  • They receive mail at the property
  • They spend every night at the property
  • They moved in furniture or pets
  • They make maintenance requests

Other considerations

State laws vary regarding this issue. Check out Landlordology’s state laws to learn what your state requires.

Your lease should address how long a guest can stay, such as “no more than 10 to 14 days in any six-month period.”

Should you add a guest to the lease?

It’s an industry best practice to add any adult occupant to the lease. This makes them accountable to the terms of the lease, and, at the same time, clarifies who’s living at your property.

Confrontation is uncomfortable

Most landlords ask the current tenant to add the new roommate to the lease. Yes, this is an uncomfortable conversation, but it’s also an opportunity to talk about renewing the lease with new terms.

The alternative is to serve the original tenant with a lease violation notice, and threaten to terminate the agreement.

Take preemptive action

Avoid having a guest becoming a tenant by having a candid conversation with the current tenant and explain what’s allowed. Specifically mention guests in your lease, too, and consider asking your tenant to initial beside that provision.

Here’s an example of what you might add to your lease:

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.

In some cases, if you accept rent from a guest, you may have initiated a landlord-tenant relationship. If that happens, your new tenant might have the same rights as any other tenant.

It’s also a good idea to consult an attorney before you have to consider eviction or other courses of action.

Prepare now

Be realistic. If you’re a landlord, chances are good that you’ll need to decide if a guest became a tenant at some point. So prepare now, before it happens.