After pet restrictions, guest clauses are one of the least popular terms in a rental home lease. After all, your renting the house and it's your home. You should be able to have anyone over that you want for as long as you want. Right?
In principle, this is absolutely true. It's none of your landlord's business if you throw a party that doesn't bother anyone or damage anything. It's none of your landlord's business if your kids have a sleepover or if you host a friend or if a budding romantic relationship results in someone staying over more often than planned. But there is actually a reason for guest clauses in your lease. And that legitimate reason is why tenants, no matter how private, should at least give a passing nod to considering a reasonable guest clause when it comes to long-term guests.
Why The Heck is There a Guest Clause, Anyway?
Good question. This is a question that thousands have asked and several hundred are wondering at this very moment. You're thinking about inviting someone over for the summer, for a semester, or while they get back on their feet after a bad relationship. But your guest clause says that no one can stay over for more than X number of nights. Well there's a good reason.
Tenant Responsibility for Guests
Your landlord is worried about unannounced and unmanaged new residents. You see, unlike a guest, a resident has some serious potential to do damage and the current lease-signed tenant might not want to take responsibility for the damage you do. Let's say you let a friend crash on your couch one night. They spill Koolaid and stain the carpet. You have the carpet professionally cleaned and all is well. Might not even need to mention it to the landlord or, if you do, it's your guest and you take responsibility.
Unleased Resident Risks
But let's say you have a guest over for six months and they stain the carpet. You and they get into a dispute about who pays for the carpet cleaning. Or worse, you leave your guest-turned-resident with the house and they stop paying rent and do further damage to the property. Without a lease binding them to responsibility. This is the stuff of landlord nightmares. Really.
Long-term guests scare landlords because they can quickly become destructive un-lease-bound residents in the wrong circumstances. So that's why you're limited to x number of nights with a guest, if your lease has a guest clause. Landlords want to cut that 'unleased resident' stuff off at the pass.
Reasonable vs Unreasonable Guest Clauses
Of course, there's also an important line between a reasonable and unreasonable guest clause. Reasonable guest clauses usually allow somewhere between two weeks and two months of consecutive guest-time. This is enough for long family holidays, summer visiting, romantic stay-overs, and helping a friend get back on their feet. Reasonable guest clauses also give you plenty of time to talk to your landlord about unique circumstances before your timer runs out.
Unreasonable guest clauses are super strict, often limiting guests to no more than three nights (or less!) and then going on to define how many nights per month guests can stay. These landlords are treating their rental homes like hotels where guests and parties aren't allowed. This is your home and you do deserve to have guests, but you also signed the lease and are contractually bound to it's terms. Fortunately, there are ways to work around both of these circumstances without crossing your landlord or the law.
The Boilerplate Consideration
It's also worth considering that not all landlords are even consciously aware of their lease's guest clause. Sure, they may have hand-written an uptight guest rule because they like to be in control. But they might have printed an unusually strict boilerplate lease and never thought about the guest clause. Keep this in mind when you proceed.
Talk to Your Landlord About Guest Plans
If you have long-term guest plans coming up like a summer with your college student coming home or a friend who's asked to stay with you for a few months, call your landlord to chat or write them an email. Ask how they'd like you to proceed.
In many cases, a landlord's biggest worry is things happening outside of their knowledge and ability to control. Just the courteious effort of letting them know about a long-term guest will likely ease their desire to take corrective action when they 'find out'. If you've been a cool tenant and promise A) that your guest is chill and non-destructive and B) that you'll take responsibility for their actions in the home, then all will be well with the vast majority of landlords. They will very likely say that it's okay as long as you're on top of the situation.
There's a possibility that your landlord will be totally surprised because they forgot or never really read the guest clause. In which case, you might be able to talk them into changing it. If both of you sign a new altered lease, it is valid.
If your landlord is still nervous or leaning toward enforcing strict adherence, there are a few other steps you can take as well.
Suggest a Temporary Lease
One of the best things you can do is offer to get your guest on a lease. It doesn't have to be your lease or an identical lease, just a legally binding document that holds your guest to similar home-care responsibilities as you are held. For example, if they cause damage they must pay for it. If your landlord is cool with subletting, you can offer to take them on as your subletting tenant. If not, suggest that they approve a trip-duration lease or a 'while guest is in residence' lease that legally protects your landlord from any adverse actions your guest might take.
An open-minded or very legally-minded landlord will likely be happy with this solution, as it solves their main worry of an unleased resident wreaking havoc.
Get Everything in Writing
That said, whether your landlord agrees to simply let your guest slide or is interested in a temorary lease, get everything in writing. Technically, if you 'break the guest clause' and only have verbal agreement that this is OK, you could find yourself being fined or evicted. It's unlikely, but the smart choice is to get an email, certified mail, or signed piece of paper clearly stating that your landlord agrees with your guest's stay and the terms you've found to make this acceptable.
Clear It With Your Guest
Now that your landlord is cool, talk to your guest about whatever terms are necessary for them to stay. If your landlord has decided that no special action needs to be taken, get it in writing and pass the word on that your landlord has fully approved of their summer-long stay.
If your landlord wants a temporary lease, either connect the two parties or act as the go-between to draft a quick for-the-duration lease. Make sure your guest knows where their responsibility lies and that everything should be fine because neither of you plan to wreck the house. This might also be a smart move to help a young or troubled guest understand that staying with you isn't a 'no rules' situation.
What to Do About an Unreasonable Guest Clause in Your Lease
Now that we've covered all possible positive scenarios in which your landlord is cool or you reach a compromise, now let's talk about what to do if your guest clause is controllingly strict and your landlord won't budge. There are no legal tenant rights regarding guests, except that your landlord can't violate other rights just because you have a guest.
You can gamble that your landlord won't take action. You can carefully document how your guest stays somewhere else every few nights to 'reset' the limitation. But your best bet is that temporary lease. Or even just getting them on your lease, with the understanding that they don't have to stay after the visit and rent obligation will still remain 100% yours.
Renegotiating Before Signing (or Renewing) a Lease
The best defense against an unreasonable guest clause happens before you sign. It's a lesser-known fact that you can absolutely re-write lease terms before signing, as long as both you and the landlord sign the altered copy.
So if you're house-shopping and see a restrictive guest-clause in a lease, ask to have it altered to a longer duration or with temporary lease caveat built in before you sign. And if it's coming time to renew, ask to have the clause altered before you sign the renewed lease. If you strict landlord refuses at lease-renewal time, it may be time to let them know that you're looking for a new place and don't plan to renew. That might change their tune. Or you might just end up with a cooler landlord as a result.
Tackling a Guest Clause in Your Lease
In summary, there are several different things you can do if you want to host a long-term guest when your rental lease has a guest-clause. In most cases, talking to your landlord and getting an exception in writing is all it takes. For a guest staying longer than a month or two, offer to draw up a temporary lease that protects your landlord from worries about guest damages and hot-swapping.
Most landlords are reasonable and one of these two options will be the answer to your question. And if your landlord is dead-set against letting you host a guest in your home, it may be time to find a rental home that is more your own.
Here at VerticalRent, we are dedicated to helping both tenants and landlords create a satisfying rental home experience. A rental house is your home and you deserve the right to do things that people do with their homes. If you need rental advice or are looking for a new place with a cool landlord, we can help. Contact us today to talk about your rental questions or needs.
About the author
Matt Angerer is the Founder and President of VerticalRent. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics that help Landlords, Property Managers, and Renters across America. He is particularly interested in helping renters understand their local marketplace, pick the best places to live, and find an awesome roommate. Since 2011, VerticalRent has grown to service over 100,000 landlords and renters across America.