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Guests, Tenants, and in Between: When There Is No Lease

Sometimes a person may find themselves living in a home without any sort of lease agreement – written or oral. Perhaps the person lives with a family member or friend, or with a significant other in a relationship that has gone bad. Most likely there is no agreement about who is responsible for things such as utilities, food, and rent. 

What are the rights of the parties involved?

Just because there is no lease does not mean that the owner or primary renter can just put someone’s things outside and change the locks. While police may be willing to remove a very short-term guest based on a trespassing complaint, removing someone from a home most often requires a formal eviction and a court order – and removing a tenant always requires eviction and a court order.

Under Texas law, someone is a tenant if they have entered into a lease that allows them to live in a home. A lease can be written or oral. A lease can even be implied. For example: If you pay money monthly to stay in a house or apartment, then you may be a tenant even if you never discussed terms with the owner. Your behavior – you paying rent and the owner accepting it – may imply an agreement between you.

Be aware that one can argue more easily that you are only a “guest” if you do not have a written lease. A “guest” has generally only stayed at the property for a week or less. Short-term guests who overstay their welcome can sometimes be removed by police for trespassing. If a guest has been in the home for a while, though, or if they claim they live in the home, then formal eviction is likely necessary.

Note that staying in a hotel for more than a week does not make you a tenant. While certain long-term situations might cause a hotel guest to become a tenant, it is uncommon.

How can I show that I'm a tenant without a written or oral lease?

If you have exchanged money or services in any way, or you have split bills for the property, this could be evidence that you are a tenant with an implied lease. Such tenancies are usually month-to-month. In a month-to-month tenancy, either party can give notice that they will be breaking the tenancy by giving 30-day notice to the other party.

How do you remove someone if there is no lease?

The proper way to remove an individual with no lease is an eviction. Even if someone has been in a property less than a week the only way to properly remove someone who claims to be a resident is through an eviction. This is done just as a landlord would evict an individual who has a lease. You can learn more about the eviction process here.

How do I protect myself?

If you expect a living situation to be long-term, you may want to formalize it by signing a lease or sublease. If you want to maintain or confirm guest status, you can sign a guest agreement like the one found here. Written agreements are good because they clarify what is expected from both sides. You can make it clear that even if someone helps with bills, they are a guest. Note that the sample guest agreement is not a lease and is not intended to create a tenancy. As with any legal document, it is a good idea to have an attorney review it before you sign.

Important: If you rent, know that many leases do not allow long-term guests. Most leases also require getting permission before subleasing. Violating a lease can cause big problems, including fees and eviction. Be aware of what is in your lease before you sublease or enter into a guest agreement.