How Landlords Can Handle Long-Term Guests

Much has been written about the importance of getting your tenant to understand the lease agreement. By signing it, you both agree to abide by the contract and you both have a place to start when and if any disputes arise. However, when the tenant allows guests to stay in the rental unit for long periods of time, it’s like having a tenant who is exempt from those rules and puts you in a situation where you have little recourse.

If you have experienced problems with long-term guests, you may have learned the hard way that unless you have some solid language in the lease agreement regarding long-term stays, it can be very difficult to get your tenant to comply.

Who is Considered a Long-Term Guest?

In short, anyone who has signed your lease agreement is a tenant and anyone who has not is a guest. At first glance, it may not seem like that big of a deal for your tenant to have long-term guests stay at the rental property. You might be thinking of a significant other who stays over a few nights per week, or a situation where they host family members from out of town for a week or two.

Of course, these instances are generally fine and non-intrusive, but most landlords have heard horror stories of long-term guests that have caused a number of problems. In fact, in some states, if a person stays in a rental property long enough, they can actually gain some kinds of tenant or squatter’s rights and must go through an eviction as well, even if they have never signed a lease agreement. The liability is enormous if you have someone living in a rental property you own who isn’t in any kind of legal agreement with you.

The biggest problem with a long-term guest is that you will not be able to do the appropriate screening that you would for a tenant. You won’t know what this person’s criminal or work background is, nor what they are like as a tenant or neighbor. In the event of damage, noise, or any other lease violation, you would have no real ground to stand on for “evicting” them, collecting damages or enforcing the lease agreement.

There’s just no good reason to allow long-term guests, and if you neglect to add a clause about them to the lease agreement, you are jeopardizing both you and your property. In other words, you are providing a place to live to a person who is not on the lease agreement and bound to the property in any legal way.

Examples of long-term guests might include:

  • A girlfriend or boyfriend moving in.
  • A buddy who will be staying just until they “get on their feet again.”
  • A family member on an extended vacation.
  • Retired parents who plan on staying several months.
  • A subletter that your tenant contracted with.
  • Anyone your tenant is “renting a room” to via companies like Airbnb.

Also, there’s no limit to the number of long-term guests that your tenant may invite, further compounding the problem. In order for you to enforce and uphold the rules and conditions you’ve outlined in the lease agreement, you must have all the adults in the unit listed there with their signature.

5 Tips On Dealing With Long-Term Guests

Whether you have discovered your tenant is hosting guests or you want to prevent such a scenario for the future, there are plenty of things that landlords can do to deal with long-term guests.
Here are 5 tips on making sure that you are doing everything you can to reduce or eliminate long-term guests at your rental property.

1. Include Appropriate Language in the Lease Agreement

Include Appropriate Language in the Lease Agreement

If your lease agreement doesn’t already include a clause about long-term guests, it’s time to amend it. Make sure you are clear about overnight guests and your expectations. For example, you may want to state that one or two guests staying for less than 7 consecutive nights don’t need permission, but any guest who will be staying longer than 7 nights must get written permission from the landlord.

Another option is to limit the consecutive nights that a guest can stay to 2 or 3. This can prevent boyfriends or girlfriends from slowly becoming permanent residents without your knowledge. Yet another example might be to limit guests to no more than 14 days in a 6-month period. No matter what you decide, make sure the language is clear and that you are in compliance with any state laws.

2. Treat Subletting Differently

Too many landlords have gotten burned by tenants who sublet to others, or run a “hotel” business on the side via Airbnb. Subletting should have its own clause in the lease agreement, and should clearly state that it is either not allowed or else outline your conditions for it. Many landlords nowadays are expressly forbidding temporary paying guests via Airbnb in the lease agreement as well.

3. Talk With The Tenant

If the tenant approaches you to request permission for a guest to stay past your agreed-upon terms, listen to what they have to say. You may consider granting permission for an out-of-state family member who is visiting, but not their out-of-work buddy who needs to crash somewhere. If you do give permission, make sure you are both clear on the terms of the stay and when the guest will be leaving.

Make sure to follow up with the tenant to ensure the guest is indeed gone. Before granting permission, remind the tenant that they are responsible for the guest’s behavior, including any damages to the rental. If the tenant wants to add a roommate or live with a significant other and you tentatively agree that it’s ok, start the application process the right way with the guest and take it from there.

4. Act Quickly

The biggest mistake you can make is to delay any kind of action once you discover or are told about a guest. Some landlords who might worry about a confrontation take a wait-and-see approach, hoping the guest will go away on their own. Obviously, this is a less than ideal way to manage your property, and you need to be more assertive in finding out what’s going on. Once you learn the gist of what’s happening with the guest you can make your next move, such as reminding the tenant about the guest rules, asking the guest to fill out an application to be added to the lease, or to start the eviction process against your tenant for breaking the lease agreement.

5. Give Warnings and Eviction Notices When Necessary

Give Warnings and Eviction Notices When Necessary

As much as you may not want to, you may be faced with an increase in problems from the long-term guest. Some of the more common issues that might arise include abuse of parking, noise, damage, and using community equipment (laundry) and areas (swimming pool or clubhouse) that is expressly reserved for tenants. For each violation, deliver a written warning to the tenant, who is responsible for all guests on the property, short- or long-term. Even if the tenant is “innocent” of the problems, they are still responsible and must get the warnings. Lease violations should trigger your eviction process as well, even if the issues stem from the guest and not the tenant.

Take It Case By Case

There are plenty of scenarios that landlords encounter with tenant guests that are completely innocent and deserve some attention and a compromise. Consider that everyone will have guests at some point, so creating a guest policy that is too restrictive can backfire as your tenant tries to sneak in long-term guests and hides that and other activities from you. Instead, create a reasonable policy to be your starting point and keep the lines of communication open. When your tenant understands the regulations on guests, but knows you are a reasonable landlord, they will be more likely to come to you with each unique situation.

On the other hand, abuse of guest privilege is just like any other lease violation, especially when it comes to subletting and short-term stays that earn money for the tenants. When you have your basic guest policy right there in the lease agreement, it is easier to simply cite that and enforce it until you get the result you want. You must treat long-term guest abuse just as you would any other problem with your tenant, and act quickly to prevent any problems, immediately and down the road. Whether you are fine with an additional roommate and just want them on the lease, or you just want all guests out for good, your long-term guest policy and how you enforce it is the best way to move forward.