“Friends, Relatives, In-laws, lend me your ears. I have come to bury our relationship, not to praise it. You need to leave my house now.”
Feel free to tweak the foregoing to fit your situation. Shakespeare most assuredly will not mind.
There are few situations more fraught with anxiety than dealing with a houseguest turned squatter. You might be dealing with an adult child who moves back home for “just a few weeks” and is still sitting in your basement playing video-games 6 months later, or a close friend who gets evicted and just needs to place to “spend a night” and then has his mail forwarded to your home, or a mother-in-law who comes to temporarily help out with the kids and arrives with 8 suitcases and her dog. No matter how initially welcome your guest, there will come a point in time when you want them gone and your house back.
That can be an extraordinarily difficult conversation to have. It might even be a dangerous one if you have been saddled with a true exploiter.
So let’s start by looking at the law.
If your houseguest has been there for a while, he or she has probably achieved tenant status in your house. Surprise! If that is the case, you cannot oust him by simply piling his belongings on the sidewalk and locking the door behind him. As painful as it seems, your houseguest has rights. How many rights he has depends on the nature of his tenancy.
A tenant by sufferance is someone who has entered into your house under a written or oral agreement for a set term, and then holds over after the term expires. If, for example, you told your daughter she could move home for 3 months, then at the end of the 3rd month she becomes a tenant by sufferance. Because she no longer is on the property with your consent, this type of tenant has the least rights.
A tenant at will is someone who came onto your property with your consent. You or the tenant can terminate the arrangement at any time.
A tenant under a written lease or oral rental agreement has the most rights. He has a right to occupancy during the term of lease. You cannot terminate his lease without an acceptable reason.
To get rid of a tenant by sufferance or a tenant at will, you have to give that person at least 3 days written notice. To terminate a tenant who has an agreement, you have to give the notice required under your agreement.
For all of the tenancies, if the person does not leave at the end of the notice period, you have to file a forcible detainer suit.
That is all very well and good, but you may feel reluctance, or even fear, about giving your houseguest/tenant/squatter a written notice and then filing suit. It will certainly be awkward, and may even be dangerous.
The law in this area is a bit archaic and a lot technical. So consult with a lawyer who can advise you from conversation to court order, draw up the documents, and represent you in court.
Virginia Hammerle is a Texas attorney whose practice includes estate planning, guardianship and probate. Sign up for her newsletter at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact Hammerle Finley Law Firm to schedule a consultation at hammerle.com.
This column does not constitute legal advice.