How to Set House Rules for Guests
It's natural for your residents to have guests for short visits. Even guests who come and stay for an extended period of time are not uncommon. But if your residents think their guests are not really your concern, or if you think it's no big deal if a guest comes now and then, you need to think again.
“Years ago, we didn't see the issue of guests as a big deal, even long-term guests,” says Gianna Solari, whose California property management firm manages nearly 5,200 units. “But then we began looking at the impact on utilities, wear and tear on the units and common areas, and even parking, and it really started to add up. It was a real eye-opener.”
Along with the physical impact on your property, guests of residents could make life unpleasant for other residents with noise violations, ignoring rules, and overtaking common areas. Plus, if HUD discovers you are letting people live at your site without certifying them and taking their income into account when calculating household rent, you could end up paying the tab for their stay.
HUD rules require you to certify every member of a household, so you don't want to run the risk of having to repay assistance that HUD views as overpaid because a household member was not certified. Handbook 4350.3, Section 8-19, discusses how HUD views such undisclosed information or information discrepancies as fraud.
Control Guest Stays and Unauthorized Move-Ins
About 12 years ago, Solari's company began to establish limits on guests’ length of stay and the need for management to be notified about guests. These requirements and limitations found their way into the house rules that accompany every lease. Even though the HUD model lease addresses the issue of guests in a few places—such as holding residents accountable for the actions of their guests—it does not contain language that gets into the details of residents’ hosting guests.
House rules are the best place to address the fine points about guests, says attorney Neil Shankman, who specializes in landlord-tenant issues, though his preference would be to see such rules addressed in a lease addendum. Shankman has written extensively about using house rules to cover aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship that the HUD lease doesn't adequately address. As Shankman points out, the lease does stipulate that “The tenant agrees to obey the House Rules” that are included as an attachment to the lease. That means residents are obligated, and you have some protection if you need to take action.
Section 6-9 of the HUD Occupancy Handbook (4350.3) indicates that that developing a set of house rules “is a good practice.” House rules, HUD says, can identify allowable and prohibited activities in housing units and common areas. House rules must “be related to the safety, care, and cleanliness of the building or the safety and comfort of the tenants.” Such rules cannot circumvent HUD requirements and may not discriminate against any protected class of individuals. Furthermore, the rules must be “reasonable within the bounds of common sense,” “not excessive or extreme,” and “most importantly, fair.”
Be Specific for Best Results
The more specific your house rules are about the issue of guests, the better. Keep in mind that such rules about guests can protect you and help you accomplish the following:
Make residents aware that they must tell management when guests visit and that they risk violating their leases if they don't control guests’ conduct.
Help you keep track of guests that are at your site at any given time.
Give you ammunition, should you need it, against residents whose guests cause trouble or become unauthorized live-ins.
Show HUD that you are making an effort to prevent unauthorized live-ins and subsidy abuse at your site.
The Occupancy Handbook includes among its examples of a reasonable house rule one that requests that all visitors sign in when entering the building. An example of an unreasonable house rule is one not allowing a visitor in a resident's unit during the nighttime.
Shankman suggests the following language for a house rule. Show this to your attorney before adding it to your house rules.
Eligible Occupancy and Guest Policy. Except as listed on Resident's application, or after written permission from the Owner, no other individuals may reside in the unit. Residents may have guests stay with them for no more than thirty (30) days during a calendar year, including no more than seven days consecutively.
Another example of language you can adapt for use in your house rules comes from Solari, who includes the following language in a Rules and Regulations addendum to leases. Again, show this language to your attorney before using it.
Guests. Guests staying in excess of 72 hours must register with the office. Resident may be permitted to have a guest(s) visit the household. However, any adult person(s) making recurring visits or one continuous visit of 14 days and nights in a 45-day period without the consent of Management is a violation of the lease. Persons receiving mail to the premises will be considered occupants. All adult household members must submit a completed application and qualify for residency.
Supervision. Resident agrees that Resident is responsible for the conduct of any member of his or her household, visitors, and guests, and agrees to pay for any damage to the premises caused by members of the household or guests. Resident shall prevent household members or guests from tampering, in any way, with the landscape, sprinkler system or plants, shrubbery, trees, or equipment that is appurtenant to the premises.
Both Solari and Shankman note that specifying an exact number of days and length of stay lets residents know that they cannot host a guest for an indefinite period of time. Solari says her property managers follow up with the resident on the day that a guest is supposed to be out of a resident's unit.
“We keep track of the dates and contact the resident, saying, ‘Your guest is scheduled to be moving on,’” Solari says. “We want them to know that we don't just take the guest registration card and toss it in a file and forget about it.”
Solari also reminds the resident of the house rules about guests several times throughout the year, at resident meetings and in the site's newsletter. It's an issue that she says bears repeating often.
“I don't think most residents intentionally mean to violate their lease and the house rules,” she says. “And we don't really want to have to issue lease violations for guests. But there are people who tend to take advantage, saying they didn't know there were limits or didn't realize that a guest had to be registered.”
What House Rules Should Cover
Your house rules, like our Model Policy: Adopt House Rules Regarding Guests, should include four essential items:
Require guest registration. Have guests provide their name, address, and proposed length of stay. Set a short but reasonable time minimum for requiring registration—three days, for example. You want to know how long they are at your site so you can track their stay and prevent them from becoming a “permanent” resident of a household without your knowledge. Having basic information about their identity also could come in handy if they cause problems at your site and you need to take action against them.
State that residents are responsible for conduct of, damage caused by, guests. Indicate that any guest who creates a nuisance or engages in behavior that disturbs other residents of your site will be required to leave immediately.
Detail your right to confirm guest's residence. This rule will come in handy if you start to suspect that the guest is no longer a guest, but has moved in permanently. If you have this suspicion about a guest, you can require the resident to prove that the guest still maintains a residence elsewhere. Be sure to list the types of documents that you will accept as proof, such as a current lease in the guest's name, current utility bills, pay stubs that show an address, bank statements, car registration, and mortgage statements. Some documents you should not accept are phone book listings, old tax forms, and expired driver's licenses, as these could contain out-of-date information.
Set limits on length and frequency of guest stays. To be silent or vague on the issue of time could be seen as an invitation for guests to stay as long as they please. State that guests cannot overstay these limits unless they are admitted to the site, following the standard application and admission process. Remind residents that the addition of household members may cause their rent to increase.
Also, be sure to ask your local HUD office if you are subject to the criteria of any local or state laws that affect how long a guest is permitted to stay.
PRACTICAL POINTER: Residents are legally bound to adhere to house rules that are attached to the lease when they sign it, Shankman notes. But “additional rules established after the effective date” of the lease cannot be applied against them unless the rules are “reasonably related to the safety, care, and cleanliness of the building and the safety, comfort, and convenience of the tenants.” Such rules, he explains, must be provided to the resident at least 30 days before the date that the rule is to be enforced.
Neil Shankman, Esq.: Shankman and Associates Legal Center, 11 Lisbon St., Lewiston, ME 04240; (207) 786-0311; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gianna Solari: Vice President and COO, Solari Enterprises, Inc., 1572 N. Main St., Orange, CA 92867; (714) 282-2520; email@example.com.
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