How Do I Get Rid of a Houseguest Who Won't Leave?

A guest who won't leave when asked to do so is technically a trespasser—unless, that is, the police think he's a tenant, which makes the situation even more complicated.

By , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated May 19, 2022

Houseguests who have been asked to leave and overstayed their welcome are technically committing a crime—trespassing. Despite this fact, getting rid of a trespassing houseguest can be challenging.

Trespassing Laws and Penalties

Laws vary, but in most states, a person commits the crime of trespass by entering or remaining in a building or on land without permission from the owner or resident. Even if the owner initially gave the person permission to hang out or stay at their house, the person can still commit trespassing by not leaving when the owner asks. For example, a person who remains at a party after the owner tells them to leave is trespassing.

Many states divide trespass offenses into degrees or levels, with increasing penalties based on the type of property or situation. For instance, trespassing on another's land might carry a low-level misdemeanor penalty. States generally reserve the harshest penalties for trespass of a dwelling (a place where a person lives or sleeps) or in defiance of a request to leave. A person convicted of these more serious trespassing offenses could face up to a year in jail, fines, probation, and potentially a no-contact or restraining order.

Should I Call the Police for Trespassing?

Technically, in most situations, a houseguest who remains after being asked to leave is trespassing. So how can you get an unwanted guest out of your house? First, make sure that the trespasser knows that they are no longer welcome. It can be difficult to tell friends and relatives that you want them to leave, but if you've previously given the person permission to stay at your house—and not made it explicit that you want the person to leave—they might not be violating any laws. On the other hand, if you've made it crystal clear that a guest is not welcome, but the guest continues to stay, call the police and report the person for trespassing.

Police Involvement

Unfortunately, you might find that the police aren't as helpful as you would hope. Often, police are wary of getting involved in an unwanted houseguest dispute because they worry that the houseguest is actually a tenant.

If the houseguest is indeed a tenant, they can't be removed from the property until the landlord or owner has followed the proper procedures. In most states, the landlord must first formally terminate the tenancy with a written notice. Then, if the tenant doesn't leave by the deadline in the termination notice, the landlord will have to file an eviction lawsuit and (if the lawsuit is successful) get a court order for eviction. The actual physical removal of the person from your property must be carried out by a law enforcement officer.

Under the law in most states, guests—even long-term guests—are not tenants and are not entitled to the formal eviction process. However, a police officer has no way of knowing whether your guest is a trespasser or a tenant, and it's not a police officer's job to make that call. Police officers could find themselves in legal hot water if they wrongfully remove a tenant.

Do I Have to Formally Evict an Unwanted Houseguest?

There isn't a formal process (such as eviction) for getting an unwanted guest of your house. Your first step should be a straightforward one: Clearly tell the person that you need them to leave. If you want to preserve a relationship (for example, if it's a friend who won't leave your house), try to sit down with them and discuss it. If you're not comfortable doing this, give them the notice in writing—an email is fine, just make sure you keep a copy of it. No matter how you tell them their time at your place is over, be sure to give them a deadline by which they must be gone.

If they don't leave by your deadline, you could try changing the locks. However, your safety is the primary concern—don't do anything that you think could put you in danger. And don't ever use violence to try to remove an unwanted guest from your house.

You do have legal options if the guest ignores your notice and remains on the property. Many states allow you to file an eviction lawsuit against a guest who overstays their welcome. Even though you're not required to evict an unwanted guest, it might be your best (and safest) course of action. That's because once the court issues an order for the person to leave, you can have local law enforcement, such as a sheriff, carry out the order and physically remove the person.

When Does a Houseguest Become a Tenant?

Most commonly, a tenant is someone who has entered into a lease or rental agreement with the landlord. However, there are situations where someone who was once a guest gains the status of a tenant through their own actions or the actions of the owner.

For example, say you open your home to a friend who needs a place to stay and your friend generously offers to give you some money to defray expenses. Great, you think—that makes life a bit easier. Not so fast. If you accept money in exchange for allowing a person to stay with you, that person might be considered your tenant under state law—even without a written lease or rental agreement.

Other ways that a guest might gain the status of a tenant are by:

  • not having another residence
  • getting mail at the property
  • having a key to the property, or
  • giving something of value (or even a promise of something) in exchange for staying at the property.

Every state's laws differ on what makes someone a tenant rather than a guest. If you're unsure whether your guest has gained tenant status, consider contacting a local landlord-tenant attorney before you take any action.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you have a houseguest who won't leave, calling the police is an option. (If you're being threatened or harmed, don't hesitate to contact the police.) In other situations, it's often a good idea to first familiarize yourself with your state's landlord-tenant laws to make sure that your guest isn't considered a tenant. A landlord-tenant attorney can help answer any questions you might have, and might prove invaluable to have on hand when you call the police and ask for their help (you might even have your lawyer go with you to the police station to file a report).

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