Understanding When a Guest Becomes a Tenant

As a property owner or host, it’s important to know when a ‘guest’ becomes a ‘tenant’. It’s not just about what we call them – it’s about different expectations, responsibilities, and laws. 

Whether you’re renting your place for a quick weekend getaway, for a few months to a remote worker, or for years at a time, knowing when a guest becomes a tenant can change how you handle legal matters with any problems that come up and what type of insurance you should carry. 

Two people are working on computers while staying in an apartment loft in the city. One person sits on the couch while another has a desk with a large monitor. They could be airbnb guests or tenants of the home as it's not easy to tell.

When Does a Guest Become a Tenant?

 If you’ve ever wondered when a guest becomes a tenant, you’re not alone. It’s a question many property owners wonder, and it’s an important one to ask as the answer to this question could impact your legal responsibilities, insurance coverage, and ultimately how you handle disputes. 

While rules vary by state, in most places guests can claim tenant’s rights after just 29 days. But with insurance coverage, it’s more situation based as there isn’t always a distinct line. 

Why Does It Matter What We Call Them – A Guest or a Tenant? 

Distinguishing between a guest and a tenant impacts the risks and legalities property owners face. Short-term rentals, with their frequent turnover of occupants, present heightened liabilities. The constant rotation of short-term guests leads to increased potential for property damage, loss, and accidents that could lead to lawsuits. 

Long-term rentals have more stable occupants, but extended tenant stays may introduce separate challenges around tenant-landlord disputes or property maintenance issues over time.  

The distinction between hosting a guest and housing a tenant influences factors like understanding expanded legal risks and insurance needs. Short-term hosts must have insurance that helps address exposures that come with rapidly changing guests cycling through. 

Once a guest becomes a tenant, they gain certain rights under landlord-tenant law. In the scenario of a guest staying in your home beyond your agreement, the course of action you take depends on whether they’re legally considered a guest or a tenant. For a tenant, you might have to go through the formal eviction process. For a guest, it could involve contacting local authorities and potentially pressing charges for trespassing. 

Insurance Coverage

Beyond understanding tenant rights, it’s important to understand when a guest becomes a tenant for insurance property and liability purposes. However, the answer depends on the length of their stay and where the short-term rental property is located, your agreement with the guest as they transition into a tenant, and your contract with your insurance. 

We know that’s a lot to process but as trusted experts in the short-term rental industry, let us explain.

Short-term rental insurance. Call Proper Insurance for a consultation or get a quote online in minutes.

Types of Guests and Tenants Based on Length of Stay 

 If you’ve ever wondered when a guest becomes a tenant, you’re not alone. It’s a question many property owners wonder, and it’s an important one to ask as the answer to this question could impact your legal responsibilities, insurance coverage, and ultimately how you handle disputes. 

While rules vary by state, in most places guests can claim tenant’s rights after just 29 days. But with insurance coverage, it’s more situation based as there isn’t always a distinct line. 

Long-term Rental Tenants and Guests 

In a traditional long-term rental scenario, a tenant signs a lease agreement. They take up residence in the property, change their address, move their furniture in, and even shoulder some responsibilities for property maintenance and care like cleaning the bathtub or mowing the grass. They’re not just staying; they’re living there. 

A tenant, however, can still have a guest at the property like a friend who comes over for dinner or a family member who visits for the weekend. The tenant’s guest doesn’t pay rent or assume any legal responsibilities for your property. They are simply a guest, visiting for a short period before returning to their own home. 

Many landlords with a long-term rental would not only carry their own insurance for the property such as a Dwelling/Landlord (DP) contract but also require their tenant to carry a form of Renters Insurance. This is so the renter/tenant could be held responsible and therefore held liable in a legal dispute.  

Short-term Rental Guests and Tenants 

When we shift the use of a property to a short-term rental, or even a mid-term rental, the line between a guest and a tenant becomes blurred.  

Short-term rental properties like Airbnb or Vrbo often cater to vacationers and mid-term rentals cater to the likes of business travelers or families who are relocating to a new area. These people might stay anywhere from a few days to a few months. Despite the shorter duration, while they don’t have a formal lease agreement like a long-term rental, there is a rental contract in place based upon the booking agreement. 

If you are a short-term rental owner/host, as you know you are responsible for the actions of your guests. While hosts would like to assume that their guests carry their own personal liability insurance, few require proof of insurance for bookings. 

Responsibility Shifts: Guest vs. Tenant 

Owning a short-term rental is more than just providing a place of rest for your guests; it’s also about integrating into and respecting the community that once charmed you enough to purchase the property in the first place.  

When you introduce guests, you’re not only offering them your space, but also an entry point into the community.  

It’s important for a property owner/host to understand that a short-term guest has a different role in the community than the role of a long-term tenant. A tenant becomes a part of the community fabric, adapting to the ebbs and flows of the town, and bearing accountability for their actions as a community member.  

When you bring in a guest, especially someone who’s paying, you’re essentially vouching for them. So, if anything goes wrong — like if the guest’s dog bites a neighbor or a mishap leads to a neighboring house fire — it can link back to you, the owner/host who invited them. The community members could say this event wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t introduced that guest to the area. 

It’s a responsibility that goes beyond the keys and the welcome mat. And while the community depends on you to introduce trustworthy guests, those guests are also placing an immense amount of trust in you too.

The guest trusts that the pictures you post, the amenities you list, and the attractions you highlight are both accurate and safe in the community they are entering. That’s a weighty responsibility for any short-term rental property owner or host. 

Online Advertisements: Safety, Attractions and Amenities 

Booking platforms like Airbnb, Vrbo, and Furnish Finder bring a different level of complexity to the responsibility you have as a property owner to a guest rather than a tenant. While the platforms offer tremendous flexibility, allowing hosts to cater to guests looking for anything from a single-night stay to a several-months-long getaway, they also intensify the spotlight on how a property is portrayed.  

Just think of the way a short-term rental property is marketed differently than a long-term rental property. While a long-term rental might only have a one-time listing, a short-term rental is constantly being advertised and marketed with key features that make it stand out among others available on the booking sites. 

By including an attraction or an amenity, like a waterfront property with bicycles, it’s your responsibility to meet, exceed and uphold the expectations set by your listing. Every photo and every line of description sets a promise, and it’s your duty as the owner/host to ensure that promise is kept. 

If a guest books your property because of your online advertisement that outlines nearby attractions such as a waterfall or park, and then gets in an accident, it could be linked back to you (the property owner/host).  

For instance, an Airbnb was advertised as being located near a local swimming hole. In a tragic incident a guest and her dog drowned in the swimming hole that was mentioned in the listing. While the property owner/host may not have direct responsibility for their drowning, the woman’s estate is now suing the homeowner and Airbnb for failing to disclose the hidden dangers of the swimming hole.

Another example is that if a short-term rental owner/host provides bicycles at a beach house for guests to use to get to and from the nearby beach access and then the guest gets hit by a car while crossing the street, the owner/host could be held responsible. Even though the accident happened off-premises, the bike was provided for the guests to use as an amenity of the rental house. 

On the flip side, in a long-term rental the responsibility is on the renter/tenant to understand their level of safety in the area around their primary residence. 

Host vs. Landlord: Who Scrubs the Tub? 

“Who scrubs the tub?” is a seemingly mundane question, but it helps to illustrate the blurred lines of responsibility between the short-term rental host and a guest and the long-term rental landlord with a tenant. 

For traditional long-term rentals, the responsibility of cleaning the tub is an easy answer — of course it’s the tenant. The tenant lives in the property, uses the amenities regularly, and it’s up to them to keep their space maintained. A landlord wouldn’t typically enter a tenant’s residence or hire a weekly or monthly cleaner to scrub the bathtub. Therefore, if the tenant slips and falls in their own tub because it’s dirty, it resulted from their own negligence. 

However, in a short-term rental, the responsibility shifts. The property owner or host is responsible for ensuring the place meets a particular standard before the next guest arrives. When staying at an Airbnb/Vrbo, the guest expects what they might experience at a hotel. A tub with mold, scum, or any sign of prior use is not only a potential health hazard but it could lead to negative reviews or even legal implications if the guest were to slip and fall in the tub due to soap residue. 

This demonstrates the added responsibility placed on short-term rental hosts. The bathtub example underscores the host’s duty and the potential pitfalls of not clearly understanding the difference between hosting a guest versus renting to a tenant. 

The Blurred Line of Owner Responsibility with Guests and Tenants

It’s this blurred line between guest and tenant that hosts need to be wary of. If you’re catering to mid-term renters, who might stay for a few weeks to a few months, at what point does the responsibility shift? The differentiation isn’t clear cut and can greatly impact the host’s potential liabilities. 

And while the line between a guest and a tenant may blur, your obligations as a host remain clear and paramount. That’s why having insurance specific to the properties intended use, whether short-term, mid-term or long-term, is crucial. 

Navigating Every Guest/Tenant Scenario with Confidence 

As we’ve pointed out, the difference between guests and tenants can be blurred, especially in the context of short-term rentals. However, if you’ve verified that you have the right insurance coverage for your property, you can be confident that you’re covered regardless of whether you’re dealing with a guest or the grey area of the mid-term rental guest/tenant. 

These in-between areas that happen at a rental property allow for Proper Insurance’s uniquely written, one-of-a-kind policy to really shine. 

Proper’s policy carries “no occupancy restrictions” which means that whether a short-term rental guest, a midterm guest/tenant, or a long-term tenant is staying at your property, you would still have the highest level of protection for liability, guest/tenant damages, and more.  

This is rare as most policies are built with occupancy restrictions that limit the protections should the guest/tenant situation change. A policy like Proper’s is built with the highest level of risk in mind with the understanding that short-term, mid-term, long-term, vacancy, and owner-occupied situations may arise. Our unique policy with no occupancy restrictions means that you’re covered no matter the length of the stay or who is staying there, a guest or a tenant. 

Short-term rental insurance. Call Proper Insurance for a consultation or get a quote online in minutes.

State Laws: When a Guest Legally Becomes a Tenant 

While the distinction between a guest and a tenant can often be subjective in the context of insurance, from a legal perspective, the boundaries are more clearly defined. Each state has specific regulations detailing when a guest officially transitions into a tenant. Refer to the chart below to understand the timeframes set by each state. 

State Rules on Guests Becoming TenantsKey Details and Exceptions
Alabama Guests can stay for up to 30 days 
Alaska No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
Arizona Guests can stay for up to 29 days 
Arkansas No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in leaseDistinguishes guests and lodgers
California Guests become tenants after 14 days in 6 months, or 7 nights in a rowExceptions for minors, caregivers, RVs
Colorado Guests become tenants after 14 days in 6 months 
Connecticut Guests become tenants after 14 days in 6 months 
Delaware No official cutoff. Landlord must specify guests and tenants in lease 
Florida Guests are tenants if they pay rent 
Georgia Guests are tenants if they contribute to rent and chores 
Hawaii No official cutoff. Landlord must specify guest vs. tenant in lease  
Idaho No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
Illinois Guests are tenants if establish residency without landlord permissionExceptions for minors, employees 
Indiana Guests become tenants after 14 days in 6 months 
Iowa No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease guests vs. tenants 
Kansas No official cutoff. Landlord must specify between tenants and guests in lease 
Kentucky Guests become tenants after 30 days or as specified in lease 
Louisiana No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
Maine Guests are tenants after 14 days in 6 months. No lease = tenant at willDistinguishes guests and lodgers 
Maryland Guests are tenants if contribute to rent or provide servicesDistinguishes guests and lodgers 
Massachusetts No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
Michigan No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
Minnesota Guests are tenants if contribute to rent or provide servicesDistinguishes guests and lodgers 
Mississippi Guests are tenants if they pay rent 
Missouri Guests are tenants after 14 days in a year 
Montana Guests are tenants after 7 consecutive days if no cutoff outlined in lease 
Nebraska No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in leaseRequires landlord consent 
Nevada No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
New Hampshire No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
New Jersey No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in leaseException if share facilities with landlord 
New Mexico No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
New York Guests become tenants after 30 days 
North Carolina Guests become tenants after 14 days 
North Dakota No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease if a guest or a tenant 
Ohio Guests become tenants after 30 days 
Oklahoma No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
Oregon No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease between guests and tenants 
Pennsylvania Guests become tenants after 30 days or contributing money 
Rhode Island No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
South Carolina No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
South Dakota No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
Tennessee Guests are tenants after paying rent or as specified in lease 
Texas Guests are tenants if contribute to expenses, use as mailing address, or as specified in leaseCounts guests receiving mail 
Utah No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
Vermont No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
Virginia No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
Washington No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in leaseException for minor children 
West Virginia No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
Wisconsin No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 
Wyoming No official cutoff. Landlord must specify in lease 

 Laws are subject to change. This guide is informational and not exhaustive. Confirm your rights and obligations under your state laws with local housing authorities and legal professionals. Do not rely solely on the summary information provided.

Key Takeaways for When a Guest Transitions into a Tenant

Understanding whether you are hosting a guest or housing a tenant is crucial for any property owner in the rental space. While definitions blur around short-term stays, state laws provide clear consecutive day thresholds for tenant status. Specialized short-term rental insurance helps mitigate increased risks that come with rotating guests. Keep local regulations and insurance needs in mind to protect your property and navigate guest-tenant relationships smoothly.

About the Author

Nick Massey

Nick Massey, the Director of Sales at Proper Insurance, boasts over a decade of experience in the specialty insurance sector, with more than seven years dedicated to the company. His expertise lies in guiding short-term rental owners and property managers through the intricacies of vacation rental insurance. Known for his ability to clarify complex insurance matters, Nick enjoys connecting with clients, understanding their business stories, and sharing his insider insights to help them protect their investments and succeed in the competitive short-term rental market.

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