Defining “Visitors” v. “Roommates”

When a visitor or guest stays in a rental property long enough, it can begin to have a significant impact. Water, sewer and other bills may go up. If the tenants are paying these bills, then rental managers and owners in this situation may not have a problem.

An extra person can add to general wear and tear on a property and its fixtures as well, however, and in many cases utility costs may be included in the rent. Besides that, tenants may not be sure where the line between visitor and roommate is.

To avoid confusion, property management companies and owners should develop a clear policy. According to the American Apartment Owners Association (AAOA), this may cover:

  • Security access, due to theft and liability concerns
  • Restrictions on the number of guests allowed at a single time
  • Limits on how long guests can stay before they are considered to be residents
  • Any rules governing smoking, noise or other behaviors that can disturb neighbors
  • Penalties for violating the policy
  • Any advance notice required for exceptions

According to the AAOA, state laws that govern a landlord’s right to raise rent or take other action because of a new occupant vary, so these should be reviewed when creating a policy.

While occasional exceptions can be made, enforcing the policy consistently can help avoid both legal and personal difficulties. Treating tenants differently can seem unfair at best, or be perceived as discrimination. Online legal resource Nolo suggests that, while caution may be justified, tracking a tenant’s visitors too closely may be considered an invasion of privacy in court.