Difference Between a Guest & a Tenant

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The line between guest and tenant is very thin. A guest can easily become a tenant if the guest stays long enough and starts to pay rent and utilities. A guest is typically defined as a visitor who is allowed to enter a residential living space because the tenant has invited him.

A tenant is a party who has entered into a lease or rental agreement with a landlord. A tenant pays rent to a landlord for the living space. Both parties have certain rights and responsibilities, which are outlined in the lease.

A guest is a person invited by the tenant to be at the property. A guest does not pay rent and is not on the lease. State laws differ as to the definitions, rights and responsibilities of tenants and guests. A guest transforms herself into a tenant when she pays rent, receives mail at the property, regularly spends nights at the property, moves in furniture or pets, and makes maintenance requests.

Why a Lease Makes a Difference

A residential lease is a contract by which a party conveys access to living quarters to another party for a set period of time. Many landlords set up residential leases as month-to-month arrangements. This means a month-to-month arrangement is a type of lease. A landlord usually requires a similar payment due at a specified time every month.

State laws differ as to whether a residential lease must be in writing. A court can consider a conversation, a written document or a series of acts to be a lease. The court will look at the amount of evidence that shows the landlord and guest acknowledged the existence of an unwritten arrangement for the space. In most states, the existence of a residential lease requires the landlord to make repairs and conduct maintenance to keep the rental property in good condition.

Changing an Address Denotes Tenancy

A guest usually has a permanent living address that is different from the address of the tenant. A guest may become a tenant if he changes his address to the place where he is a guest. Some states consider a guest’s receiving or forwarding of mail at the new address as evidence to show the guest became a tenant.

Length of Stay Defines Tenancy

State law determines when the length of a guest’s stay transforms her into a tenant. Some states have laws that limit the length of stay and number of overnight guests. A landlord may add a clause to a lease to limit how long a guest can stay on the property.

If the guest stays longer than this length of time, the landlord may consider the guest a tenant. The landlord may raise the rent if the lease provides for an increase. The landlord can also evict the guest and the tenant who invited the guest.

Why Does Regular Payment Matter?

A guest does not pay for rent, utilities or maintenance of the property. If a guest does pay for rent and such services, a court may consider the guest a tenant. The manner in which the guest contracted for the living space matters. Depending on the state, if a guest, like a visitor through Airbnb, stays past a fixed term, he can become a month-to-month tenant.

Who Is Liable for Injuries?

Tenants and guests may have grounds to sue a landlord if they are injured at a rental property. Typically, a landlord has a duty to disclose a hidden danger, like an uneven floor. Sometimes a tenant is liable when a landlord is not.

For example, if a tenant created a hole in the floor but did not tell the landlord, only the tenant would be liable if their guest was injured. Usually, a landlord is not liable for an injury on the property caused by a third party, like a delivery truck hitting a guest. Injured parties should consult an attorney to determine who is liable.

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About the Author

Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.