Helping a friend or stranger get back on their feet by letting them stay at your house is a wonderful thing to do. However, it could cause you a lot of problems. Your house guest could become a tenant, which means you'll need to go through a legal eviction process if they refuse to leave. So what do you do when you want to help someone out but you don't want to become their landlord? Don't give them any way to be able to claim residency.
Kelly Murray learned the hard way. She invited a homeless couple into her home, only to find later that she needed to go through a lengthy court process to have them legally evicted. Fortunately, they moved out several days after she started the legal eviction process. Michelle Russo wasn't so lucky. Her tenant didn't leave until 1½ months after she filed a legal eviction. Here are several things that could change your status from that of a host-guest to landlord-tenant.
They Give You Money or They Work In Exchange for Room and Board
If your house guest gives you money for rent, pays for groceries or covers their usage of your utilities, the relationship between you changes to that of landlord-tenant. Do not take their money for any reason while they are in your home as a house guest. Along the same line, do not have them do housework, make repairs on your home, do yard work or babysit your children while they stay in your home. This could be misconstrued as work exchanged for room and board, such as a live-in nanny like Mrs. Doubtfire.
They Have Unconditional Access to Your Home & Use It as Their Own
Your house guest may be considered a tenant if you allow them to use your home as if it's their own. If they act like they live there instead of act like a guest, the court system will likely consider them to be tenants—and you their landlord. Here are a few examples that could change the relationship based on the dynamics of the living situation.
- You give them a house key. As difficult as it may be, you'll need to be home to let your house guest in instead of giving them access with a house key. If this means they'll need to wait outside for you to arrive, then so be it.
- They move furniture and personal belongings in. In some states, they can be considered tenants by simply having some belongings in your home. Do not let them move anything in.
- They forward mail or have their mail sent to your address. As with Michelle Russo, if your house guest uses your home address as their own, particularly in regards to bills, they take the status of a resident in the eyes of the law and the court system.
They Stay Too Long
Most states have a specific time period in which a house guest's status changes to one of a resident, which would mean you would need to evict them through the legal process. This time period may be relatively short. For Kelly Murray in Maryland, this was only 30 days. If your house guest can prove they stayed in your home for at least 30 days (or whatever the time period is for your state) you won't be able to tell them to get out. You'll need to evict them.
Each state has specific landlord-tenant laws. Before you let a house guest stay in your home, be sure you fully understand the laws in your state. It's a good idea to err on the side of caution and seek legal counsel from an attorney before you offer up your couch or spare bedroom to someone who needs a place to live.