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Knowing how to spot the Difference Between a Guest and a Tenant

Image is a drawing of a man opening a door while standing on a welcome mat and inviting someone inside.It’s important for rental property owners to know who is occupying their properties at all times. This is why owners so often turn to property managers like Martin Feinberg to manage the property for them. Property managers conduct careful screenings and write lease agreements specifically designed to define who the resident will be and to also outline the terms of that resident living on the property.   While guests are usually not an issue for most property managers, when a guest crosses the line to unauthorized occupant that can become a problem.

Knowing when a Guest has become a Resident

No professional property manager wants a guest moving into the property without his or her permission and without any legal responsibilities.   For that reason, it’s important that property managers know how to spot a guest who has gone rogue. The signs can include:

  • The guest has started paying for some of the rent or utilities.
  • The guest is receiving mail at the property.
  • The guest is staying at the property every night.  This can be difficult to catch but security cameras and knowing who is parking in the unit’s parking spot can help.
  • The guest is rearranging the furniture.
  • The guest has a key and is regularly using it.

These signs don’t all mean that a guest has essentially become a tenant but they are evidence that some further digging might need to be done.

Sometimes the difference between a guest and a tenant does not depend on the person but the situation.  For example, a college student home visiting for a holiday is a guest.  A college student home for the summer is a tenant. Likewise, a boyfriend or girlfriend who spends the night a few nights a month is a guest while one who spends most nights at the unit is a tenant.  A parent staying for a few weeks to help with a new baby or receive medical care is a guest. A parent who moves in because they can no longer care for themselves is a tenant.  A nanny who occasionally stays overnight is a guest but one that lives in the home is a tenant.

Having a good Tenant Guest Policy in the Lease

Property managers should always have a guest policy in every tenant’s lease so that they have some legal recourse when a guest moves in without permission.  This also helps tenants to understand the consequences of allowing a guest to overstay their welcome.

A good guest policy includes the following:

  • The maximum number of residents allowed to live in the unit.
  • What kinds of guests are allowed (only friends or relatives of the existing tenants.   No sub-letters, renters, or AirBnB).
  • The number of guests allowed in the unit at one time.
  • The number of nights a guest may stay in any given period.
  • The number of nights a guest may stay overnight consecutively.
  • The consequences for when a guest stays over the allotted time or otherwise break the rules of the lease.

When to revise the Lease

If a property manager discovers that a guest has violated the terms of the lease, one option could be to amend the lease and add the guest as a tenant.   At this time a higher rent price for a longer term can be negotiated to help offset the liability of having a person that the property manager did not vet in the property.  Experienced property managers will never allow an adult to live in a property they manage without that adult being on the lease.  They will also never accept rent from an adult not on the lease as this can create a tenant/landlord relationship which could give the guest rights as a tenant without legal paperwork to protect the property manager and the property owner if things go south.

Be Proactive

As soon as a property manager suspects that a guest has moved into the property they should speak to the tenant and re-affirm the guest policy in their lease.  They need to keep the lines of communication open between them and the tenant while also sticking to the agreement the tenant made. Because the laws governing guests in a rental property are different from state to state, property managers should also be well versed in what is legally allowed in their area so that they can handle guest/tenant situations carefully and professionally.

Image is a giant hand about to flick the figure of a small man.