Guide to Laws About Roommates and Houseguests in California

This is a guide to the basic rules related to roommates and houseguests. It can be a VERY complicated area of law, so be sure to speak to a landlord-tenant lawyer regarding your situation.

Also be sure to read our Guide to Tenants Rights.

1. Roommates

Can I legally kick out my roommate?

Unfortunately it’s not easy to determine whether or how to legally remove a roommate in California. The potential courses of action depend on whether or not you own the unit, and whether or not the roommate is on a lease.

If you own the unit where you and your roommate are living, your roommate may be considered a lodger. See below for more on lodgers.

Can I evict my roommate if I don’t own the unit?

In general, you cannot just physically remove your roommate (that could be considered assault or battery), and you can’t just change the locks. Perhaps if you reason with your roommate that it’s not working out (or beg them to leave), they may leave quietly and that could be the end of it. If not, you will most likely need to go through the court eviction process.

If your roommate is on the lease with your landlord, then you will need to go to the landlord to discuss removing your roommate, and the landlord would need to handle the court eviction process.

If your roommate is NOT on the lease with your landlord, but they pay rent directly to the landlord, they may be considered a co-tenant. Which means, again, the landlord would need to handle the eviction.

If your roommate is NOT on the lease with your landlord (and you are on the lease), but they pay rent to YOU (not the landlord), or they don’t pay any rent but you agreed to let them live there, then you may have an implied sublease or sublet with your roommate (or you may have created an actual sublease or sublet with your roommate). Your roommate would then be your “sub-tenant.” If that is the case, you would need to go to court to evict them and show either that your roommate violated the terms of your “sublease” or that there was no specific time period for the tenancy and thus you can terminate it at any time.

But if your lease with the landlord says you can’t have people living there who are not on the lease (which is common), then you may be violating your own lease, and YOU could be evicted!

Bottom line, it’s complicated and really depends on your particular situation, so you may want to get some legal help.

NOTE: If your roommate is threatening you with violence or otherwise doing dangerous illegal activities, call the police.

2. Houseguests

When does a house guest become a tenant?

Again, look at your lease. But if the lease doesn’t specify, generally in California a “houseguest” may be considered a “tenant” after 30 days.

That said, whether a guest becomes a tenant depends on various factors beyond just the duration of their stay. These include:

  • Length of stay: While not a definitive rule, exceeding 30 consecutive days is a strong indicator of tenancy.
  • Guest’s conduct: Receiving mail, using the property as their primary residence, paying rent (even informally), or expressing intent to stay long-term suggest tenancy.
  • Landlord’s conduct: Accepting rent, providing keys, allowing access to common areas, or failing to object to the guest’s presence can imply consent to tenancy.

Can I legally kick out my house guest?

If your houseguest has been there less than 30 days, you can tell them to leave. If they do not leave, they are “trespassing,” and you can call the police to have them removed.

If your houseguest has been there 30 days or more, they may be considered a tenant (even if they haven’t paid any rent), and removing them is more complicated (see Roommate section above).

Can a landlord evict me and/or my house guest if the house guest isn’t on the lease?

First, read your Lease/Rental Agreement (see above) to determine what it says on this; usually what an agreement says on this is enforceable and if you violate it, yes, you and your houseguest(s) can be evicted. If the agreement doesn’t discuss this issue, the general rule in California is that you are allowed to have a person stay at your apartment as long as the person doesn’t violate any of the terms of the lease.

Either way, you can’t ever have more occupants than is legal under zoning laws (usually no more than 2 occupants per room).

(Note: be sure to read our Guide to Eviction)

3. Lodgers

What is a lodger?

A lodger is a person who lives in a housing unit where the owner also lives. In this situation, the owner may enter all areas occupied by the lodger, and has overall control of the house.1Civ. Code § 1946.5(c). If this is not the case, particularly if the lease says otherwise, then the person is likely a regular tenant instead of a lodger.

Can I remove a lodger?

In a home with multiple lodgers, lodgers generally have the same rights as regular tenants.2Civ. Code § 1940(a) However, if there is only one lodger in a house, the owner can evict the lodger without using formal eviction proceedings. The owner can simply give the lodger written notice that the lodger cannot continue to use the room or space. The amount of notice must be the same as required for any other periodic tenancy (30-60 days, depending on the situation).

After the applicable time period has expired, the lodger has no further right to remain in the owner’s house. The owner may have police remove the lodger as a trespasser if they refuse to leave.3Civ. Code § 1946.5; Penal Code (“Pen. Code”) § 602.3. However, if the lodger disputes their status as a lodger, this may require the owner to use formal eviction proceedings.

Further Resources

See our Guide to Tenants Rights

See our Guide to Laws for Short Term Rental Guests and Hotel Guests in California

Guide to Laws for Homeowners in California

Find a Landlord-Tenant Lawyer

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