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: Jan 20, 2020

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Family members and friends can wear out their welcome through an over-extended stay. When this happens, the most general and direct option is to ask them to leave. Beyond a simple request, other legal options to remove a family member will be governed by the laws of your state.

Tenant or Licensee?

Before you begin any legal action, you must first determine how the law classifies the unwanted family member: Are they a licensee or are they now a tenant? A family member or friend occupying your home may be considered a tenant regardless of whether a lease was signed or rent was paid. If the family member paid for things like utilities or food, the payment of these expenses can be considered rent. Accordingly, some state laws will treat them as a tenant. To remove them from the premises you will have to file a formal eviction proceeding (known as an unlawful detainer action) as in any other landlord-tenant relationship.

If no form of rent has been paid, many states permit you to simply ask the family member to leave and remove their belongings without any legal proceedings. However, in other states, someone who enters your home and stays with your permission will be classified as a licensee. This status grants the family member more rights than a general guest. To revoke the permission you gave them to remain on your property, you will need to go through the steps of a formal eviction to have them legally removed.

Preparing for Eviction

If your state’s laws classify the family member as a tenant or licensee, your next step is to prepare for an eviction, or unlawful detainer action. Before you can file suit, you must first serve your family member or friend with a notice to vacate (or notice to quit) the premises. This is a more formal way of asking the person to leave your home. The notice must be given before the suit is filed. In some states this notice can be for as little as 3 days prior, in others, as much as 30 days. Each state has its own rules regarding how and when to serve the notice. Be sure to follow all legally required steps. If your family member or friend fails to leave by the requested date, you can then file an eviction petition.

Once you file your petition, you must request an unlawful detainer hearing. This is a short court hearing in which you explain the reason for the eviction and present evidence of the prior notices to vacate. If the judge agrees with you, the judge will issue an order of eviction and a writ of possession (or your state’s equivalent). The order will usually set a vacate date for the family member or friend. If they still refuse to leave in violation of the order, you can then call law enforcement and to have them removed, using physical force if necessary.

Eviction or unlawful detainer actions are not generally complicated lawsuits. However, the rules of tenancy and procedure vary by state. Before jumping into a lawsuit, you should speak with an attorney in your area to learn your state’s rules and local procedures. They can advise you on the correct legal steps required in your jurisdiction. While having an attorney represent you in this type of case is not mandatory, you can avoid more problems by having one. If you fail to comply with all of your state’s eviction procedures you will delay removal of the unwanted guest. You may even find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit for unlawful eviction. Remember, follow the law and don’t be tempted to use self-help measures such as changing the locks or physically removing the person yourself.

Protective Order

Finally, if a family member or friend living in your home is abusive and putting you in fear for your safety, the quickest temporary solution under such circumstances is to apply for a protective order from your local family court or criminal court. Depending on the laws in your state, a protective order can exclude the unwanted family member from using the residence for 30 days or for a number of years. Even if a protective order is granted, you should still consider eviction proceedings to remove the unwanted family member permanently.