Legal Removal of Unwelcome House Guests

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 19, 2018

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Any uninformed attempt to “evict” an uncooperative and unwanted house guest can be frustrating and costly for both tenant and landlord. The first step is to establish whether the house guest is a lodger, a bonafide house guest, or a roommate. Legal definitions may vary slightly from state to state, so check with our local housing department for details.

Rights of Homeowners

In general, if you own and live in the dwelling unit or home, and the individual rents a room in the dwelling, he or she is considered a lodger. As a homeowner, you have the right to terminate the lodger’s tenancy by written notice to vacate. If you are unsure of what the notice should outline, written notice to vacate templates are readily available through a number of reputable online sources.

Written notice is usually served with a 30 day notice period. Once the period expires, any agreement that you may have with the lodger is terminated by operation of the law. Homeowners in these cases are also entitled to police assistance in removing the individual from the home. Formal eviction procedures are not required in these cases.

Rights of Renters

If you are renting a home or apartment, working on a solution within the letter of the law can be more difficult. Lodging laws do not apply to renters. Renters do not own the unit or home, so they are not entitled to the same legal options as homeowners. If you have a house guest and would like them to leave, you must establish whether the guest is a roommate or truly a guest. Unfortunately, the guest can delay any legal action by fabricating a story about an oral rental agreement between you, the renter, and the guest.

To have the house guest removed via legal proceedings, the renter must establish that he or she has control over the unit and is responsible for maintaining the unit. The renter must also prove that he or she is the only person with a set of keys to the unit, that he or she is the only person paying the rent, and that he or she has been living in the unit from the beginning of the lease up to the date of the complaint. Unfortunately, there is a catch. If the house guest has been living in the unit for more than 30 days, the courts might consider him or her a tenant. In this case, you may only terminate tenancy by formal written notice, regardless of whether the individual’s name is on the lease. If the house guest (who is now considered a tenant) does not vacate within the notice period, you will have to begin formal eviction proceedings.

For unwanted house guests that have been living in the rental unit or home for less than 30 days, the laws are disturbingly sparse. Although the law might not recognize the individual as a tenant, any physical attempt to remove the individual could result in a lawsuit. For example, if you place the individual’s property on the lawn or street and change the locks, the individual might attempt to sue for unlawful eviction by claiming that he had a verbal agreement with you. The individual may also attempt to sue for any perceived damages to his or her property. In cases such as this, the best way to protect yourself would be to serve a formal written notice of termination of tenancy. If you feel that written notice will not be enough to get rid of the house guest, do not wait until the last minute to begin the eviction process. Be prepared to file eviction papers as soon as the notice period ends.

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