Why Living Together Can be Dangerous – Landlord Tenant Issues

For previous generations, unmarried couples living together was referred to as “living in sin.”  It was so taboo it served as the premise for the television sitcom “Threes Company.”  Today, that morality mire has gone away; however, there is still a legal issue in these situations that when relationships are good, goes ignored.

It is advisable to have leases put into writing.  The Statute of Frauds requires any lease over 12 months to be in writing.  If not in writing, it is presumed to be a month to month lease.  When does one become a lessee or tenant is the first magic question.

If two people live together as is evidenced by duration, access to/from the residence, presence of living items in the residence, sharing of rent or utilities, the situation being open and obviously, and other factors, one living in a residence arguably becomes a tenant.  That can be true even if that other person is not listed on the lease.

It is not difficult to think of several problematic situations.

For instance, take a couple romantically involved living together in an apartment or house.  Only one of them is on the lease, but for all intent purposes the other is a tenant.  Then the couple breaks up.

Take another example of a three best buddies sharing an apartment while attending college.  Then they have a falling-out.  Again, maybe only one is on the lease.

The temptation when things go bad, especially by the tenant actually listed on the lease, is to try and forcibly remove the other individual(s).  Such self-help attempts to remove the now unwanted person could bring criminal charges of assault and battery as well as violations of landlord-tenant laws involving interference with tenancy possession interests.  The law provides for clear financial damages to be paid to the wronged individual when unlawfully and forcibly removed.  Unless the other party voluntarily leaves the residence, there may be requirements to go through the eviction processes.

The lessons are:  always have a written lease; reach written understandings when you allow someone to reside with you for an extended time, do not take matters into your own hands when things go wrong, seek the advice of legal counsel, and comply with the law.  Otherwise, if you take actions that may seem to be reasonable in the heat of the moment, you may be the one in the wrong and the situation may become very messy.