Property Management Blog

When Does a Guest Become a Tenant?

Pinnacle Property Management - Monday, February 15, 2021

Tenants are allowed to have guests in their rented premises. It is one of their fundamental rights. Guests may include a visiting family member, a roommate or a significant other. 

However, some guests may choose to overstay their welcome.

So, in this article, we’re explaining how to know when a “guest” really becomes a tenant and what to do in this situation. 

Differences Between Tenants and Guests

The chief difference that exists between tenants and guests is that tenants are on the lease while the guests aren’t. A tenant will be responsible for following the terms and conditions of a lease agreement, such as paying rent and taking care of their rented premises. 

On the other hand, a guest is not contractually bound to the terms of a lease or a rental agreement. As such, in case an issue arises, the liability will fall squarely on their host (the tenant). 

Let’s look at the following examples to better understand some differences between tenants and guests.

In terms of students:

A tenant could be...

  • A college student who has returned home for the summer. 
  • A college student who has abandoned their studies and won’t be returning back after a break. 

A guest could be...

  • A college student who is going home for the holiday, but will soon be returning back to school.

student in rental

In terms of friends or significant others:

 A tenant could be...

  • A friend who stays at the unit for more than a month.

A guest could be...

  • A friend who frequently visits during the day or who stays over for only a few nights. 


In terms of parents:

A tenant could be...

  • A parent who has moved in because they are unable to fend for themselves.

A guest could be...

  • A parent who is just visiting their child for a few days.


In terms of a helper:

A tenant could be...

  • A live-in nanny.

A guest could be...

  • A hired help who mostly works during the day. 



tenants in property

How Do You Recognize When a Guest Has Taken Up Residence?

In certain situations, it can be difficult to determine when a guest has transitioned into a tenant. While gray areas exist, the following are signs to lookout for. 

Sign #1: The guest is spending many nights in the property. 

Do you often see an unrecognizable car parked outside overnight? If so, it may be reasonable to assume that there is a stranger living in your property. Monitor their stays via security footages or parking spots, and make sure to document it. 

If you notice an unauthorized car parked overnight for weeks or months, it’s likely that they are no longer a guest.

Sign #2: The guest has moved in their furniture. 

Has the guest made themselves feel at home by moving their belongings inside the unit? During a recent inspection of the premises, did you notice a large number of personal belongings? If so, chances are that the guest already considers the place to be their home.

personalized home interior

Sign #3: The guest is receiving mail at the property. 

If the “guest” is receiving mail at the rental, it’s another sign that you have an unauthorized tenant living in your rented premises because a guest wouldn’t receive packages, letters, or magazine subscriptions consistently.

Therefore, a mailing address can be used as evidence of occupancy. 

Sign #4: The guest has started making rent payments. 

Has the unauthorized guest started contributing towards rent payment? If so, then you may correctly assume that they are living in the premises. 

That said, it’s also possible that the tenant on the lease is having difficulty paying their rent and the guest is simply assisting them. In such a case, consider talking to your tenant about adding the person to the lease. Alternatively, you can evict them from your property for committing the violation. 

Usually, though, serving the eviction notice should be the last resort. Ideally, you’ll want to talk to your tenant first. 

Should I Add the Guest to the Lease? 

It is always important to include all adult tenants to the lease agreement. Doing so will ensure that all tenants have legal accountability under the lease and that you know who your tenants are. 

Speak to your tenant and suggest having the guest added to the lease agreement. If they don’t cooperate, then the only option left would be to serve the tenant with an eviction notice. 

rental lease agreement

Write a Guest Policy 

As already mentioned, all adult occupants must have legal accountability under the lease agreement. As a landlord, failure to have a guest policy in place could expose you to certain liabilities. 

To protect yourself and your property, you’ll want to do the following:

1. Set an occupancy limit: This can be an easy way to prevent guest problems in your rental property. Specifically, set the maximum number of occupants based size and floor plan. 

You’ll also want to check your local laws’ occupancy limits. Some states have laws that dictate how many people can live in a rented space. 

2. Have parameters in place: As a landlord, you can determine which persons can pass as guests. Friends and family members, for example, are usually welcome. That being said, require them to seek your authorization for long-term stay, nonetheless. 

Additionally, make sure to define “long-term stay.” This can go a long way in avoiding any misunderstandings or confusion that may result from overstaying guests. 

guest lease policy

Bottom Line

Although guests are allowed in your rental properties, if they overstay their welcome, they may have become tenants. This is problematic because they aren’t in the leasing agreement, and this can potentially cause issues in the future.

We hope this article was informative and helpful. If you have further questions or inquiries, feel free to contact Pinnacle Property Management.


Pinnacle Property Management
CA BRE # 01905815
22700 Crenshaw Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90505
Ph: (310) 530-0606
Fax: (310) 626-9786
Email: pinnacle@pinnaclepmc.com

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