Imagine going through all the trouble of marketing, properly screening tenants, and signing leasing documents, only to discover unwelcome occupants in your rental property. As a landlord, understanding who a tenant is, who is a guest, and who is an unauthorized occupant is essential. Furthermore, knowing your rights as a landlord can help deal with an unfortunate and potentially detrimental situation. Continue reading below as we define common types of unauthorized tenants and outline what to do when discovered.
Types of Unauthorized Tenants
Tenant – An authorized tenant is the person of legal age who the owner screened and signed the lease with. These individuals or individuals are the ones who pay rent and occupy the landlord’s property.
Authorized Occupant – Since the lease is a legal contract, tenants must be over 18. However, in the case of a family or some other circumstances, there may be additional occupants. Therefore, anyone under the age of 18 or unable to legally sign but is still expected to occupy the property along with the tenant is listed as an occupant in the lease.
Subletter – Subletting refers to when someone else is added to an existing lease. Typically, this occurs behind the landlord’s back, meaning they do not have the opportunity to screen the subletter. If the current tenant needs to move but does not want to pay the penalties of a lease break, they may opt to circumvent the landlord and move in someone to take over the lease.
Extended Guest – Landlords cannot refuse tenants the right to have visitors. That said, when family or friends come for an extended visit, tenants should inform the landlords. However, if the lessee has a long-term guest (over the age of 18) that contributes to the rent, this is an unauthorized occupant.
Squatter – A squatter is an unauthorized individual who refuses to leave the unit. Depending on the circumstances, this may be due to a break-in with the individual deciding to take up residence. Additionally, “holding over” is a common problem for landlords. Thus, if the existing tenant’s lease expires and refuses to vacate, they become a squatter.
You can usually spot an unauthorized occupant if you see them coming and going consistently and at the same time from the property (they leave around 8 a.m. every morning, for example). This indicates they're keeping a regular schedule at the home, as you would your primary residence. You might also hear about unauthorized occupants from other tenants or neighbors, particularly if the occupant is being disruptive.
When Does an Extended Guest Become a Tenant?
When it comes to different types of unauthorized tenants and guests, each state may have varying laws regarding becoming a true tenant. Typically, this is determined by the length of stay. In general, if a guest stays more than 2 weeks within a 6-month period, they should be added to the lease agreement. That said, length of stay is not the only factor involved in distinguishing guests and tenants. Some of the other telltale signs of a guest transitioning to a tenant include –
Moving in Items – One of the first telltale signs beyond length and consistency of stay is when a guest starts moving in items. That said, this could be furniture, personal items, or even a pet. This means the guest could view the unit as their home.
Accepting Mail – In general, a visiting guest is not otherwise associated with the address. If, however, the individual begins receiving mail or packages to the address, this is a red flag for landlords. In addition, mailing addresses are often used as a form of residency identification. Therefore, receiving mail at the location could indicate evidence of occupancy.
How To Deal With Unauthorized Occupants?
What can you do about unauthorized occupants when you realize that it is time to remove them from your property? You will want to take swift, decisive action to ensure that you can regain complete control of the situation.
Talk To The Tenant
The first thing that you will want to try to do is to talk to the tenant. Bring a copy of your lease agreement with you, and remind the tenant that they are not allowed to have any long-term guests without adding them to a lease addendum. Find out who the occupant is, how long they are staying, and other relevant information.
Sometimes, tenants will not realize that they are out of line. Alternatively, they’ll realize that you are not willing to look the other way. Ideally, this means that they will get the unauthorized occupant out of your property, and you can continue through the rental period with ease.
Evict The Tenant And Occupant
If your tenant is allowing an unauthorized occupant to stay at the property and your lease or local code specifically prohibits this, you can move to evict the tenant and the occupant.
The overall eviction process lines up to a standard eviction; the reason for eviction will be a lease violation. Here’s a quick overview of that process:
Send a 3-day notice to fix or quit.
If the tenant doesn’t follow through with a fix, visit your local courthouse and begin a filing for eviction. In some states, you can file to only evict the unauthorized tenant. In others, you’ll have the option to evict your tenant as well as the unauthorized occupant.
The court will review the application and send out the required notices for all upcoming court dates.
Prepare your defense, and defend your situation in court.
The judge will determine what happens from there!
Before you do this, however, you need to be absolutely certain that your tenant’s actions violate your lease agreement. Evicting unauthorized tenants is one of the most difficult cases to win because tenants are allowed to have guests, so you will want to be sure about your case.
Clarify Your Lease For Future Protection
In order to avoid having to deal with this situation again in the future, it’s always a good idea to include very clear information about who qualifies as a guest, when guests are allowed, how unauthorized occupants will be dealt with, and any other questions that may come up in this vein.
Before you sign your next lease agreement, be sure that you have all of this inline with the template that you are using.
Note: State And Local Laws
As always, there are local and state laws that you need to pay attention to when dealing with this type of situation.
When you are dealing with unauthorized occupants in your area, make sure that you check into your state and local laws to be sure that you are not going to be breaking any rules or guidelines.
Make Things Clear
The key thing to remember through the entire process of dealing with unauthorized tenants is that you need to make the rules clear with the tenant in the lease. If you do not, it is unlikely that your case will stand up to a court eviction hearing.
As long as the rules are clear from the beginning, you’ll have a good chance of being able to ensure that all tenants are acknowledged as such in the eyes of the law.