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When does a guest become a tenant?

When it comes to landlord tenant rights, the question, ‘When does a guest become a tenant’ is one comes up a lot

When it comes to landlords, tenants, and the rules that govern their relationships, there can be a lot of grey areas to negotiate. One of these is the concept of a guest versus a tenant, which can be confusing at times due to the fine line that separates the two distinctions. This often leads to a question many a seasoned landlord has asked at some point or another: “When does a guest become a tenant?”

It’s a loaded question, one that can come with a great deal of legal implications attached to it. The question of whether a person is a tenant or a guest could impact everything from rental agreements and leases to court proceedings and evictions. Luckily, although there are countless variables you may need to consider based on the specifics of your situation, there are some guidelines that can help you better understand what you’re dealing with.

What are the differences between guests and tenants?

There’s no telling who might be coming by to pay a visit (or something longer) to your renter. Between roommates, relations from out of town, and hired help, there are plenty of possible scenarios to be on the lookout for. When does a guest become a tenant, though? Answering the question first requires a look at the two sides, as well as the qualities that set them apart from each other.

A guest can generally be considered a tenant if he or she has agreed to pay the landlord rent, whether or not they then proceeded to actually do so. This principle applies even to cases where the person in question is only living in a specific section of the unit. In this context, “rent” isn’t limited to money, and can also apply to services rendered or items exchanged for the purpose of paying to live in the unit.

A solid rule of thumb for identifying when a guest has become more than a guest is if he or she begins receiving mail at the address in question. This shows that they have established the living space as a residence, which typically indicates that they are a tenant. The same can also be said for a person who spends at least half of a given month living in a unit.

On the other hand, if someone has not lived in the space for that long, and also has never paid or rendered services to you in exchange for living there (nor have they stated the intention to), then they that individual likely be categorized as a guest.

What are the signs of a visitor who is becoming a tenant?

Being able to spot the signs of a guest turning into a tenant is crucial for any landlord. If a visitor begins to act like a tenant, it can lead to a world of trouble, in addition to being a pretty big liability in the general sense. Although some maintain that a tenant is any person who is on the lease, this principle doesn’t take guests that have overstayed their welcome (without permission) into account.

And if there’s an adult who is living in your unit, not just visiting, and they aren’t on the lease, there isn’t going to be the necessary legal accountability for them or their actions while living there. In other words, if you don’t put a stop to it,, you’re going to be the one taking on all the risks. And putting a stop to an unauthorized extra tenant, either by getting rid of them or by adding them to the lease, begins with identifying the warning signs.

Signs that a visitor or guest has become a tenant:

  • They are contributing in some way to rent payments
  • They spend their nights there
  • They stay for weeks or months at a time, including nights
  • They’ve made maintenance complaints or requests
  • They have brought pets or furniture into the unit with them
  • They receive mail
  • They have a key to the property  

If one of more of these signs is apparent, and you have a nagging feeling that the guest you’re dealing with has turned into more than just a guest… you’re probably right.

Evictions can be hard for everyone involved, and should be avoided if possible.

Exploring ways to prevent tenant uncertainty


The best solution is often prevention, and this principle absolutely applies to landlord-tenant disputes. As a landlord, it’s up to you to do what is necessary to prepare for situations like this before they occur. And this begins with establishing rules and expectations clearly from the onset of your relationship with your tenant. You’ll also want to make sure there’s a section in your lease agreement that addresses this.


For the lease, this means clearly defining the limitations on what can be considered a “guest visit.” In this way, you’ll have a point of reference to work with when determining if someone staying with your renter has begun crossing over into tenant territory. To further protect yourself, you could also require that your tenant put their initials alongside this section to show that they both read and understand your policy on guests.


Accepting rent from a visitor is a bad idea, as doing so can potentially initiate what would legally be considered a landlord-tenant relationship. If this is proven to be the case, even without being on the lease, the unofficial tenant would then gain certain protections that could make removing them from your property much more difficult.


It might not be a pleasant conversation, but if you’ve found that a guest is overstaying, you might want to explore a new lease agreement with your original tenant. Talk to your tenant about adding their guest to the lease – if they refuse, your next step could be informing them of a violated lease agreement. And if you find that you’re unsure of how to handle the situation, getting some assistance is a good idea before conditions get a chance to escalate.


Whether you’re hoping to get an eviction, or you want the dispute settled in a less extreme fashion, getting advice before moving forward can make things move much more smoothly. Whether you want answers to the question, “When does a guest become a tenant?” or anything else, ask a landlord-tenant law Expert on JustAnswer for help that can get you through the rough patch.

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