What Does Your Lease's Guest Policy Mean?

Lilly Milman

By Lilly Milman

Jun 21, 2024

One of the exciting parts about moving into an apartment of your own is that you have the ability to invite friends and family over and have a guest stay overnight. However, in most cases, it isn’t a free-for-all. Your guests can’t stay forever, even if you want them to. Most landlords typically include guest policies on their rental agreements, often in accordance with state laws.

In this article, we break down what apartment guest policies are, why they exist, and how you can avoid your guest turning into a legal tenant.

What does the “guest policy” mean on your lease?

Before you sign a lease, you should always carefully read all the terms — and then reread them — to make sure that you and your potential landlord will be a good fit. Common lease terms include how much you’ll pay in rent and when rent will be due, who is responsible for maintenance, and, yes, what the guest policy for the unit is.

While tenants are typically welcome to have guests over whenever they’d like (as long as no other lease terms, like noise restrictions, are broken), landlords do reserve the right to restrict overnight guests in their rental properties. For example, a lease may dictate that overnight guests are not allowed to stay for longer than seven consecutive days. Another option is that you may be allowed to have longer-term guests, so long as it is approved by the landlord or property manager. Or, unfortunately, a property owner is even allowed to decide that you are never allowed to have an overnight guest in your unit.

A guest policy can also dictate how many overnight guests you have at a given time and what kind of guests you have over. For example, a landlord may be fine with having your friends and family stay over whenever you’d like, but would not want you to have strangers over or to rent or sublet your unit out on a third-party website like AirBnB.

If you love an apartment that you’ve toured and would like to move in, but you aren’t comfortable with the landlord’s guest policy, try to negotiate it before signing the lease. Explain why you may need to have overnight guests for longer than the lease allows and how you will take precautions to avoid guests becoming tenants (see sections below to learn more). For example, if you are planning to have a medical procedure during your tenancy or to have a child, you may be hosting a family member for several weeks to help you recover. A landlord may be understanding of a situation like this, especially if it comes with an end date.

Why do landlords include guest policies on apartment leases?

In many cases, guest policies included on leases are in accordance with state laws. This means that, even if your landlord would not personally mind that you have long-term guests, the state would. For example, in Florida or California, a guest legally becomes a tenant if they stay over for 14 days in a six-month period or seven consecutive nights. In Missouri, guests can only stay for 14 days within 12 months. In other states, like Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Ohio, and New York, the law is that a guest becomes a tenant after staying in the unit for 30 days. In Maryland, Minnesota, and Mississippi, a guest becomes a tenant once they contribute to rent. However, many other states, including Massachusetts, do not have laws around apartment guests — leaving the policies entirely up to the landlords.

If your landlord has restricted the number of overnight guests you are allowed to have at any time, this could also be due to laws and fire codes around how many people the unit can safely house.

Other reasons why landlords include a guest policy in their lease terms may be that guests-turned-tenants can become liabilities and overstay their welcome. If a long-term guest has broached the territory of becoming a tenant of the apartment by staying for an extended period of time, then landlord-tenant law will come into play — and a guest overstaying their welcome will be much more difficult to remove. Think about it: What happens if a long-term guest claims residency at an apartment, without paying rent or a security deposit, and is responsible for property damage? What if they refuse to vacate after their host asks them to? At this point, it becomes a legal matter and may become much more complicating than asking a guest to leave.

When does a guest become a tenant?

Other than staying for a certain number of days within a certain time window, there are a few other legal boundaries that a guest should not cross if they want to avoid becoming a tenant: 

  • Paying rent. Once a guest helps pay any portion of the rent, they become a tenant of the apartment — even if they do not sign a lease.
  • Receiving mail. Mail received at an address (aka a mailing address) can be used as proof of residency, so for that reason, receiving letters or packages at an address will turn a guest into a tenant.
  • Moving in belongings. While bringing over a suitcase or overnight bag when you are staying at a friend’s house doesn’t make you a tenant, moving in furniture, pets, or a large number of your personal belongings might.
  • Having a key. It’s one thing if your short-term guest borrows your key once or twice, but another if they have their own spare key or make a copy. If they are able to access the unit on their own whenever they’d like, then that makes them more than just a guest.

If you are caught violating the tenant guest policy, it may sever your landlord-tenant relationship — and in a worst case, be grounds for eviction as it is a lease violation.

The Bottom Line

Guest policies can seem inconvenient for renters, but they are put in place to prevent guests from claiming residency without a lease or proper rent payment at an apartment. They can help protect both landlords and tenants from unwanted guests overstaying their welcome. Plus, they are often dictated by state law. To learn more about your landlord’s guest policy, read your lease agreement and your local laws on rental unit occupancy closely.

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