Are you worried that your guest could legally be considered a tenant?

For landlords, tenants and guests pose very different levels of liability. However, it can be hard to be sure where to draw the line.

In the case of scenarios that include visiting family members, live-in nannies, and new partners, situations can become personal and sensitive.

Tenants have the right to quietly enjoy their home. However, long-term guests and rogue tenants pose numerous issues that need to be taken care of immediately.

In this article, we’ll cover the most frequent questions regarding long-term stays in rental properties. You’ll learn about when a guest becomes a tenant, as well as important nuances to keep in mind in such situations.

Be mindful that while this article is a helpful overview, it isn't a legal document. Be sure to stay up-to-date with Oregon's landlord-tenant laws to avoid legal difficulties.

What is the Difference between Guests and Tenants?

Legal residents have the right to reside in a rental property. The process of becoming a tenant typically begins with filling out a rental application.

Next, tenant screening procedures normally follow, including criminal record, credit, and employment checks. Signing the lease and paying the first month’s rent and deposit follow as the next logical steps.

relatives and visitors

Guests have no association with the legal paperwork that provides the right of being called a tenant. As such, rental guests don’t have the legal rights that actual renters enjoy.

For instance, guests don't have the right to leave trucks or cars on the rental property’s exterior. They certainly don’t have any entitlement to the property’s keys or amenities.

Practical Examples of Tenants vs Guests

While the line between a tenant and a guest seems clear-cut in theory, it can be blurry in practice. That's why it's so important to be familiar with the Fair Housing Act.

Let’s take a closer look at some real-life examples of the differences between tenants and guests.


Hired Help and Nannies: Cleaners, landscapers, and nannies can be considered guests to the property if they are only present during normal working hours. While they might be given their own keys for convenience, they do not have the same rights as tenants.

Relatives: Say a tenant's grandparents are in town for a week or two for a visit. While they'll be staying on the property full-time, they don't have any of the same rights or responsibilities as a tenant during such a short stay.

Friends and Partners: Personal relationships are key to a fulfilling life, and your tenants will likely have friends or partners stay with them from time to time. These guests should stay for a reasonably short duration and respect your property.

College-aged Kids: If your tenants have college-aged children, it's common for them to stay with their parents during breaks or on weekends.


Hired Help and Nannies: Do hired workers live on the property full-time? Do they receive mail there and consider it their home? If so, they could be considered tenants.

receiving mail

Grandparents: It's common for elderly people to move in with their children once they become unable to care for themselves. If a grandparent moves into your property with no plan to leave, they become a tenant.

Friends and Partners: If a tenant's partner starts spending many nights over, continuously spending weeks or even months there, they may become tenants.

College-aged Kids: The college-aged child of a tenant may move home with no plan of returning to school.

When Does a Guest Become a Tenant?

As you can see, there's clear logic behind who can be considered a guest or tenant. But there are always gray areas. Some guests who have become tenants may disagree with their new status, which can lead to expensive, time-consuming legal troubles.

Here are the top signs that a guest has turned into a tenant

  • The guest spends every night at the rental property.
  • The guest has started receiving regular mail at the rental.
  • The guest is paying rent.
  • The guest is making requests for upkeep and repairs.
  • The guest has brought pets or furniture inside the property.
  • The guest is continuously parking a truck, car, or boat outside the rental.

visitors parking

Unfortunately, it's common for a legal tenant to allow guests to overstay. A guest could access to their permanent residence. These types of guests might decide to stay for longer because they can’t see any other option in front of them.

These are difficult situations. Some scenarios could legally be interpreted as squatting, since squatters don't sign lease agreements.

Parking vehicles in front of the property and using the utilities can be considered claims of dominion.

In many cases, legal tenants don't see the guests who have overstayed their welcome as actual squatters. Some renters may not even know about the requirement of adding a serious boyfriend or girlfriend on their lease, for instance.

What Is the Right Thing to Do?

Adult occupants should be added to leases. From the landlord’s perspective, it’s important to know who exactly is living on the premises. These occupants have to adhere to the lease terms.

Before making any decisions, consider the following questions:

  • How is this guest receiving mail?
  • How long has this guest been staying?
  • Do they have another residence?
  • What is the extent to which the guest has made the rental property their home?
  • Is there a sub-lease involved? Any other type of contract?
  • Do they have their own keys to the property?

The best course of action is prevention. You can take decisive steps before your relationship with the guest enters the gray area.

For instance, you shouldn’t accept any form of payment from your guest. Collecting rent from a guest could automatically lead to a landlord-tenant relationship.

Writing clear, detailed property listings can help you avoid ambiguity and legal gray areas.

In a Nutshell: Guests Becoming Tenants

Having guests over is a normal part of life in a rental property. But when you have guests overstaying their welcome, you’ll enter into a legal gray area. At some point, that gray area turns into a concrete legal issue.

While every situation is unique and needs individual assessment, these are some strong signs that your guest has become a tenant:

  • Exchange of rent payments.
  • Constant presence in the property.
  • Upkeep and maintenance requests.
  • Posession of personal furniture or pets inside.

Do you have further questions about how to manage your rental property? InterWest provides expert property management services in the areas of Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington.

Get in touch today to learn about how we can help you with your rental property.

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