Every time you drive by your rental property, you see the same car parked outside. You know it doesn’t belong to your tenants, and it’s been two weeks already. If it was a friend visiting, wouldn’t he or she have gone home by now?
Sometimes, guests to your rental properties can become tenants if they meet certain criteria. If you think a guest has stayed too long, here’s what you, the landlord, needs to know about housing laws in Washington, DC.
Difference between a Guest and a Tenant
A guest and a tenant are two very different things to landlords. A guest is someone who is visiting the property for a short period of time, usually less than two weeks. This person is not receiving mail at your property, and they have not moved any of their furniture or valuables into the space.
A tenant is a person who has signed a lease to live at your rental property. He or she is legally responsible for paying the rent and keeping the property in good condition.
In short, a tenant is on the lease. A guest is not. If a guest stays on the property long-term and they cause damage, then you may not be able to hold them accountable for the repairs.
When Does a Guest Become a Tenant around the US
Rules and ordinances around the country differ, but in Washington, DC and in many other places, a guest that stays longer than two weeks within a six-month period is usually considered a tenant.
You need to be aware of the laws governing tenants and guests in your own area. As a landlord, you may end up being responsible for damage a guest does if that guest overstays his or her welcome. Additionally, your unit’s occupancy limit may be stretched if you have a guest that becomes a not-quite-legal tenant.
If you’re unsure about laws in your own city or state, first check with your state or city’s department of housing. These departments keep track of all state and local laws that govern how guests and tenants should be treated on a rental property.
Landlords can also consult real estate lawyers in their states. Having a real estate lawyer look over your lease agreement can help you protect your property while respecting the rights of tenants.
When a Guest Turns into a Tenant in Washington DC?
In Washington, DC, guests can become tenants under the general two-week rule or in several other instances, such as:
- Regular overnight stays: A significant other can become a tenant if he or she is spending the night regularly over the course of the week. It’s more than a Friday and Saturday night. It’s usually all week long. If you see the same car parked overnight several nights a week or have security footage showing the same person coming over and leaving in the morning, then you might have a case to make.
- Official change of address: Most guests won’t get a magazine or package delivered to a unit that they’re visiting for a short time. If your rental unit starts receiving mail for a person not on the lease, it’s a good indication that a guest is sticking around.
- Moving furniture and belongings: It’s not unusual for significant others to leave shampoo or a hairdryer at their partner’s home, but leaving a couch or dining table isn’t the same thing. If a person is moving furniture into your rental property, then they’re going beyond a guest.
- Adult children: This can be tricky for landlords. Adult children who are in college and home for break or just visiting for a week will not be considered tenants. This is because the stay is temporary, and they have established residency elsewhere. However, adult children home from college for the summer or moving home after college may be considered tenants.
- Nannies vs. au pair: By definition, an au pair lives with the family and takes care of the children, so an au pair is a tenant. A nanny, however, usually stays at the property only during working hours and some nights. Unless the nanny is staying overnight frequently, he or she is not a tenant.
If you’re unsure whether your tenant’s guest is a legal tenant, then consult your property management company. At Atlas Lane, our job is to hold both sides accountable to the lease, and our property asset managers have excellent knowledge of Washington, DC tenant and housing laws.
What to do if a guest behaves like a tenant
If your tenant has a long-term guest, the first thing you need to do is speak candidly with the tenant or tenants on the lease first. You can ask questions about the guest and learn any mitigating circumstances. For example, a tenant who’s just had a baby might ask a parent to stay for a few weeks to help out. Talking with your tenant first keeps things friendly while reminding them of what is and is not allowed. After your conversation, send a follow-up email outlining what was discussed, and ask your tenants to respond that they understand what was discussed.
Your lease should also specify what happens when a guest becomes a tenant and what your rights as a landlord will be. You may reserve the right to raise the rent for another person. Have your property management company or real estate lawyer look over your lease to make sure you’re protected.
Not all guests are tenants, but when a tenant overstays his or her welcome, then it’s time to consult your lease and get involved. Want to learn more about how Atlas Lane can protect your property from guests-turned-tenants? Reach out to us here to learn more.