Tenants should be allowed to have guests stay a night or two, but long-term guests can pose a problem. Sometimes it’s just a friend or relative who’s visiting from out-of-town, but a long-term guest may include someone who has no intention of leaving.
Technically, at some point a long-term guest becomes a tenant. What started as a week-long visit turns into a three-month stay.
If you’re a landlord, guests who never leave are a red flag, although it’s worthwhile to express empathy if someone seems to be in a difficult situation. Since many factors can be in play with long-term guests, here are some tips to handle the situation skillfully.
Define your version of a long-term guest
First, it’s necessary to define what a long-term guest means from your perspective. How long do you think someone should be allowed to visit a tenant before you consider them a resident?
Two weeks? One month? Three months? Having a clear definition will help you create guest policies for your rental units. If you don’t have a guest policy, it will be harder to remove a problematic long-term “guest.”
Create a guest policy
Tenants often regard guest policies as unfair, but they serve a vital purpose. Without a guest policy in place, it’s harder to take legal action against a person who either won’t leave or causes damage.
Your guest policy is what you’ll require to support any legal action you must take against your tenant or their guest. A solid guest policy will include a version of the following terms:
- An allowable length of stay; for example, fourteen consecutive days in any six-month period, and no more than 20 days per year, is a reasonable place to start.
- A requirement to abide by all rules in the tenant’s lease
- Consequences for allowing a guest to stay past the time limit without explicit permission in writing; you may want to make this situation grounds for eviction because tenants might ignore fines
- A notice that the guest policy may be changed at any time
- Disruptive guests will be asked to leave, possibly by law enforcement
- If a tenant wants a guest to stay more than two weeks, the guest(s) must be placed on the lease as an occupant and go through the tenant screening process, which includes a mandatory background check
- A notice that exceptions can be made on a case-by-case basis to be discussed with the landlord and granted in writing
- A clause that prohibits subletting (sometimes long-term guests are actually subletters)
If it sounds harsh to make long-term guests a basis for eviction, consider how impossible it is to know whether someone is up to no good before damage or physical injury occurs. For instance, your tenant might be turning your unit into a meth lab and you’d never know until it explodes.
Set your guest terms as strictly as possible without being obnoxious. For instance, you shouldn’t limit guests to two days. This is more likely to encourage your tenants to hide their guests and make it difficult for them to maintain healthy relationships with friends and family.
If your base limits are strict, you can make exceptions for your good tenants. Such a tenant might want to have his or her mother stay for a while when times are tough. In this case, you would require the tenant’s mother to be placed on the lease as an occupant.
It’s less risky to allow a good tenant to have a family member live with them short-term than it is to allow the same of a tenant who has a history of late rent payments and multiple excuses.
You don’t have to grant everyone’s request but try to have compassion for your tenants and their families.
Cover yourself because you’re liable for plenty
You’re legally responsible for the safety of all tenants and their guests. Though you wouldn’t be held responsible for injuries that result when someone does something crazy like jumping off a roof, a guest could sue you for a simple slip-and-fall accident.
You also have to be concerned about property damage. When a tenant damages your property, you can readily take the cost out of their security deposit and if that’s not enough, sue them. Guests won’t have signed the lease and you won’t possess a deposit from them.
If a tenant’s guest damages your property, you’ll have to sue and go through the court process. This might seem doable unless you have to figure out who the perpetrators are and where they live. If your tenant’s guest damages your property and takes off, you may not be able to find them.
Your lease should be strong enough that it makes your tenants responsible for any damage caused by guests. If the damage is severe you might win in court, but there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to collect on the judgment.
Be ready and willing to terminate your tenant’s lease
Eviction is something most landlords dread, but sometimes it must be done. If you notice a tenant has a long-term guest who has clearly overstayed the allowed time limit, talk to your tenant to find out what’s going on.
If your tenant isn’t willing to put the guest on the lease, start the eviction process immediately. Serve your Houston tenant their official notice to quit (remove their guest) or vacate.
According to Texas state law, after your notice has been served, you may file the eviction lawsuit with the court.
Don’t want to be the bad guy? We’ll do it for you
Nobody likes being the bad guy when guests overstay their allowable limit. If you don’t want to be responsible for handing out eviction notices due to lease violations, you should hire a property management company.
If you’re a landlord in Houston, Green Residential can handle all your eviction needs. We can even create an ironclad lease that includes a strong guest policy that’s consistent with all landlord-tenant laws.
When you have a team of professional property managers working on your behalf, you never have to be the bad guy. When Green Residential manages your properties, we take care of your tenants and landlord duties, and make sure your rentals meet all legal obligations.
Contact us today to learn more about the services we offer Houston property investors.