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

A guest who won't leave is technically a trespasser -- unless, that is, the police think he's a tenant. This situation can quickly become complicated.

Houseguests who have overstayed their welcomes are technically trespassing, which is a crime. However, getting rid of a trespassing houseguest can be challenging.

Trespassing Laws

Laws vary from state to state, 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. For example, a person who goes into her neighbor's backyard and picks blackberries without permission is trespassing. A person who remains at a party after being asked to leave is also trespassing in most states.

Trespassing is often punished more severely if the defendant is armed with a firearm or if the property is a construction site or public utility site, such as a water treatment facility. In some states, trespassing in a dwelling (a place where a person lives or sleeps) is also punished more severely, as is trespassing after being specifically told that you are not welcome to enter or remain.

Ridding Yourself of a Houseguest

Technically, in most situations a houseguest who remains after being asked to leave is trespassing. How can you get rid of such a person? First, make sure that the trespasser knows that he or she is no longer welcome. It can be difficult to tell friends and relatives that you want them to leave, but until if you have previously given the person permission to stay at your house, and not made it explicit that you want the person to leave, he or she may not be violating any laws. If you have made crystal clear that a guest is not welcome, but the guest continues to stay, call the police and report the person for trespassing. However, you may find that the police are not as helpful as you would hope. In such situations, you may need to encourage your houseguest to leave by changing the wi-fi password, stripping the guest bed, and taking back your key.

Houseguest or Tenant?

Oftentimes, local police are wary of getting involved in domestic disputes because they worry that the houseguest is actually a tenant. Tenants (people who pay rent under a formal or informal lease agreement) are entitled to certain legal protections. While state laws vary, landlords cannot evict tenants without following the proper court procedures, which includes filing an eviction lawsuit and obtaining a court order for eviction. The eviction must then be carried out by sheriff's deputies.

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 may refuse to remove the person, on the chance that you are trying to avoid the eviction process. (Cooperating with an illegal "self-help" eviction could land the police officer in legal hot water.) You may need to educate yourself about your rights so that you can persuade police that you are on the right side the law. For more information on landlord-tenant laws, see Renters' & Tenants' Rights and Landlords & Rental Property.

Make Sure Your Guest Does Not (Inadvertently) Become Your Tenant

So, you have opened your home to a friend who needs a place to stay and your friend generously offers to give you some rent 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 may be considered your tenant (entitled to eviction protection) under state law. Allowing a person to receive mail at your address may also be evidence that he or she is a tenant. Make sure you understand the laws in your state so that you do not inadvertently allow someone to become your tenant. As explained above, evicting a tenant is much more complicated than getting rid of a houseguest.

Punishment

Trespassing is typically considered a minor crime and is not usually associated with stiff penalties. The punishment for trespassing varies from state to state. A person convicted of criminal trespass faces a range of penalties, including time in jail, fines, and probation.

Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you have a houseguest who won’t leave, you should call police. However, you may need to familiarize yourself with state landlord-tenant laws to make sure that your intended course of action is wise. A landlord-tenant attorney can help answer any questions you might have, and might prove invaluable to have on hand when you call the cops and ask for their help (better, ask you lawyer to go with you to the station house, beforehand, to talk it all over).

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