When Does a Guest Become a Tenant? - Article Banner

We’ve all had them: the houseguest who overstays their welcome. 

What does it mean, though, when your tenant has a guest staying in the property and the days and weeks tick on without that guest packing up to go back home? 

When you rent out a property, you expect that your tenants will have visitors from time to time. However, when that visitor turns into a permanent resident, you need to get them on the lease agreement. They need to be screened before you can let them stay.

This can be a delicate conversation to have.

Your lease agreement should reference visitors and have a guest policy. It should also state exactly when a guest ceases to be a guest. 

Here are some best practices on how to handle this.

How to See a Guest vs. a Tenant 

A tenant is on your lease agreement. A guest is not. That’s the main difference between tenants and guests. When you have a tenant living in your property, that tenant is responsible for paying rent on time and preventing any damage. They’re bound to the terms of the lease agreement. 

A guest is not listed on the lease. There is no way for you to gather information or hold them accountable to the condition of the property or the payment that’s required to live there. 

You don’t want a guest to establish residency in your property without having properly screened them or added them to the lease agreement. If that person is not listed on the lease, you cannot hold them legally accountable for rent payments and other requirements. You might even have trouble removing them from your property. 

Rental Laws and Guests in Washington State

Unlike other states (we’re looking at you, California), Washington State does not have what’s called a “bright line rule.” In California, a guest who has stayed for more than 29 days automatically becomes a tenant on day 30. 

This is not established in Washington as a law. 

Therefore, it’s up to each property owner to decide how long you’re willing to accommodate a tenant having a guest. Maybe it’s two weeks. Maybe it’s 15 days. Maybe it’s a full month. 

It should not be any longer than that. Write this into the lease agreement and highlight the section when you’re talking to your tenant before they move in. 

Approaching a Guest Who Seems to be a Tenant 

When you have a specific limit to how long a guest can stay, you can enforce that lease clause. 

If you notice that a tenant has hosted someone for longer than what your lease allows, send a letter notifying the tenant that they are in violation of the lease agreement. You can provide options such as:

  • Requiring the tenant’s guest to leave.
  • Inviting the tenant to add the guest to the lease agreement after the guest passes a screening.
  • Moving forward with eviction proceedings if the tenant does not come into compliance. 

If you’ve got a good relationship in place with your tenant, a friendly conversation about the guest can usually take care of the issue. But, it’s important to have the language in the lease in case you need to protect yourself from a guest who has overstayed their welcome.

Questions for Property ManagerQuestions about this? We’d love to talk about it. Please contact us Real Estate Gladiators. We serve Monroe, Issaquah, Bellevue, Everett, Lake Stevens, Kirkland, and other cities in and around King and Snohomish counties in Washington State.