Difference Between a Guest & a Tenant

By Maelin McCartney - Updated June 19, 2017
Towels on bed in guest bedroom

In legal terms, a tenant is defined as a person granted a temporary exclusive use of a property in exchange for rent. A guest is defined as a person welcomed onto a tenant’s property with the intent of visiting for a specified amount of time. In addition to the legal definitions, if a question arises as to whether a person staying at a property is a guest or a tenant, a court of law takes several factors into account.

Lease

When a landlord draws up a lease for a rental property, only the people listed on the lease are considered tenants. The tenant's responsibilities include paying the rent, caring for the property and any other stipulations set out in the lease. A guest is a person not listed on the lease who holds no responsibility for any of the stipulations agreed upon by the landlord and the tenant.

Residence

A guest maintains his or her own physical address separate from the physical address of the tenant listed on the lease. In some states, a guest becomes a tenant if he legally changes his address to the address of the place he has been staying. For example, although he may claim guest status, if he receives mail addressed to him at another address or has mail forwarded, some states may then legally consider him a tenant.

Length of Stay

Statutes regarding the length of stay necessary to maintain guest status vary by state. Often a landlord places a clause in the lease limiting the length of time guests may stay in the property. If the guest stays longer than this amount of time, she may then be considered a tenant, and the landlord can raise the rent, if so stated in the lease.

Monies Paid

Guests do not pay for rent, utilities or any other upkeep or maintenance fees for the property. If the guest does pay rent or other monies related to the property, a case may be made that he has become a tenant in the eyes of the law, depending on the statutes in the state of residence.

Legal Recourse

Depending on the state, both guests and tenants may have the same legal recourse for injuries that occur on the property. The landlord has a duty to maintain safe conditions on the premises and may be liable for damages to any person whose suffers injury due to his or her failure to keep the premises in a safe and habitable condition. However, in certain situations, if the guest or tenant's injury is due to a hazard created by the tenant, the tenant may be liable for damages.

About the Author

Maelin McCartney began writing professionally in 2010. She holds undergraduate degrees from Hastings College in health and developmental psychology, family studies psychology, personality and social psychology and sociology with an emphasis in criminal justice. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in counseling at Doane University.

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