Sometimes, you as the landlord will be placed in the situation of learning that there are unexpected people living inside of your rental property. Therefore, it’s important for you to understand the difference between how to handle guests, and how to handle your legal tenant.

difference between a tenant and a guest

Rental Guest and Rental Tenant: A Difference in Terms

A legal resident is someone who has the legal right to set up residence inside of your rental property.

They have filled out the paper rental application. You have performed a credit check and a criminal background check on them, and they’ve passed both. They have rendered payment, such as the first month’s rent, and usually, a deposit that at least equals the first month’s rental fee. Finally, you have legally assigned keys to the residents.

A rental guest is a legal resident of your rental property. They aren’t associated with any legal paperwork that would give them the right to take up residence inside of your rental. In most cases, the guest has no desire to take up long-term residence at your rental.

They are simply visiting the legal resident for a very short period of time. They have a home base where they reside, and they are happy to go home after they’ve completed their visit with your legal residents.

Do Rental Guests Get to Enjoy Legal Rights?

Because the rental guest or guests have no legal paperwork in place with you, they don’t have the legal rights that your renters enjoy. They can’t exercise their right to stay inside of the property. They can’t leave personal property on the exterior of the rental property, such as cars, trucks, or boats. They aren’t entitled to keys to your rental property.

In short, they don’t get to enjoy the same legal rights as your rental residents.

What are the Scenarios That Would Describe a Guest?

A residential guest could be described as the following:

– They are friends who decide to either stay the night or over the weekend with the legal residence. They are usually crashing after a long night out, or they are visiting in from out of town. They have every intention of going home after their short visit.

– They are family members who have planned a short-term visit. They enjoy their visit, and then they pack their belongings in order to drive home. Again, they have no intention of staying and setting up home inside of your rental property. They have every intention of going home after their visit with their family members.

– They are domestic helpers who have previously arranged to stay over a night or two. But as is the case in the previous examples, they have a home to go back to. They have no intention of setting up shop at your rental property.

What are the Scenarios That Describe a Legal Tenant?

For clarity sake, below are scenarios that would describe legal residents of your rental property:

– They are an individual or a family who has passed your credit and background check. They have signed the paperwork, and have rendered money in order to establish the payment of rent. They have agreed to abide by your rules.

– These are residents who have every intention of calling your rental property home for an extended period of time, according to the length of time specified with your lease.

– The residents have agreed to take excellent care of your rental property. They won’t trash it, and they’ll notify you immediately if major maintenance needs to happen. They also agree to abide by local ordinances such as fire codes, trash disposal, etc.

– These are people who understand that they don’t own the property, and they can’t maintain residence on your property without renewal of your lease contract. If they violate the terms of your lease, then you have the right to exercise all legal prescriptions for dealing with them, up to and including the legal eviction process.

When Your Guest Illegally Becomes a Resident

With all of this in mind, it should be crystal clear to all parties involved what their roles are in a residential rental situation. However, there are times when one or more of the parties involved pretend as if they don’t understand what their roles and responsibilities are.

For example, this could take place when legal rental property tenants allow their guests to overstay their welcome. The guest might decide that they’d rather live with the legal residents, and they refuse to go home when the time arises. Another instance is if the guest (for some reason) loses access to their permanent home, and then they decide to stay with the people who have actually signed the lease.

If scenarios like this take place, then you have what is commonly referred to as a squatting situation. A squatter is a person (or people) who have illegally taken up residence in a home. In short, squatters don’t sign lease contracts.

They don’t pay money to stay at your residence. They often do things to claim dominion such as turn on utilities, park vehicles on your property, and enjoy life as if they’ve performed all of their legal responsibilities, although they haven’t.

When a Loophole Turns Into Legal Rights

Here’s where things can become tricky for property owners:

If the squatter offers you, the property owner money or services in kind in exchange for room and board, and if you accept their money, then you’ve legally made them a resident of your property. You can’t force them to leave without going through the lengthy and costly court eviction process.

Therefore, it’s crucial that you never accept money or services in kind in exchange for their rooming on your property. Another thing that allows guests to overstay the lease contract is the acceptance of their mail on your property. If they are receiving mail, especially if it’s been more than 30 days, then they are legally entitled to stay, and you’ll be forced to legally evict them.

How to Avoid Headaches and Evictions

It’s crucial that you as the owner completely understand what’s going on inside of your rental. You’ll need to take a hands-on approach by visiting the property on a regular basis. While you don’t want to seem as if you’re harassing your residents, you’ll need to look for signs that they aren’t allowing guests to become long-term residents who aren’t included in your lease contract.

And if you’re not able to personally keep an eye on your property, then contract with a property management company that can. Property management companies can handle issues such as property rental pricing, and common property management services.