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Frequently Asked Questions: Evicting Guests, Roommates, Family Members, and Other Unwanted Occupants from Your Home

Authored By: D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center
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Information

For a fillable packet that includes forms and instructions for filing them, download the Evicting Unwanted Guests Self-Help Packet.

If the person you want to evict is your tenant, then you should refer to the Frequently Asked Questions for Landlords. If the person you want to evict is not a tenant, or if you are not sure, then please keep reading this FAQ. Throughout this FAQ, non-tenants are called "guests".

If you need to speak to a lawyer about evicting an unwanted occupant, you may contact the following:

FAQ

What makes a person a tenant?

In general, if a person has paid rent or has agreed to pay rent to live somewhere, then that person is a tenant.

  • This is true even if the person is only using part of a house or apartment, such as when a person is sleeping on your couch.

  • Rent is usually money. A person can also “pay” rent by doing work or giving things to the person they are renting from.

If a person has never paid money, done work for you, or given you something of value AND they never agreed to do any of those things, then he or she is probably not a tenant. However, if a person has agreed to pay, do work, or give you something of value in exchange for living in your home, they may be considered a tenant even if they have never done anything to keep this agreement.

  • For example, if someone promised to pay you $500 per month to sleep in your spare room, that person may be a tenant even if he or she never paid even $1 in rent since they moved in.

I rent my home from someone else. How can I be a landlord?
A person may become a landlord even if he or she does not own the property.
  • The most common example is when a tenant sublets his or her rental unit.
  • The tenant who is renting from the owner is a landlord and the person subletting is a tenant.
Can someone be a tenant even if there is no written lease?
Yes. An agreement to rent a property does not need to be in writing.
  • A person can become a tenant through a verbal agreement.
  • A person can become a tenant based on the way he or she acts and how the other person responds. For example, if a person gives the owner money on a regular basis and the owner accepts it, that might create a landlord-tenant relationship.
What if we have a written agreement that says that the person living in my house is NOT a tenant?

That type of agreement can be helpful. But, if the person is paying rent, he or she may still be considered a tenant, no matter what the agreement says.

  • You cannot change a tenant into a guest just by changing what you call that person in your agreement.

  • If the issue ever came into court, the court would look at what is really happening, not just what the person was called in the agreement.

What if we have a written agreement that says that a person is a tenant only for a certain amount of time and that time is now over?

If you have a written agreement that a person is a tenant for a certain period of time, you will probably need to follow the procedures for evicting a tenant. This is true even if the time in the agreement is now over.

Are household employees tenants?

Employees who get housing from their employers as part of their pay are usually not tenants.

  • The most common example of this is live-in health care aides.

  • Whether an employee is a tenant depends on the specific agreement between the employee and employer.

  • It is possible for a person to be both an employee and a tenant.

Doesn't living in a property for a long time give a person “squatter’s rights? 

A person does not become a tenant just because he or she has lived in a property for a long time. In very rare cases when a person lives in a property for at least 15 years without the owner’s permission and meets several other conditions, then that person may own the property by “adverse possession.” This is usually what people mean when they talk about squatter’s rights.

The person I want to evict is a co-tenant on my lease. Is that person a tenant or something else?

If you and another person are co-tenants on the lease because you both signed the lease as tenants, you will both have an equal right to live in the property in most cases. Co-tenants usually cannot evict each other, even if one of the co-tenants stops paying the rent or is violating the lease that they both signed.

If the person you want to evict is not a tenant, but is a household member or authorized occupant, you may be able to evict that person. You will need to figure out whether that person is your tenant or is a guest. (See “Tenants vs. Guests” above.) If you are receiving a housing subsidy, you may want to talk to a lawyer to make sure you are following the rules of your subsidy program.

I've read all of this, and I'm still not sure whether the person living in my property is a tenant or not. What should I do?

If you are not sure whether the person you want to evict is a tenant or not, you should talk to a lawyer before you decide what to do next.

Can I lock a guest out and put the guest’s property on the street?

The safest way to remove a guest from your property is to use the court process. There are several reasons why it may be a bad idea to use self-help eviction to remove a guest from your home.

  • You may be risking your personal safety if the guest becomes angry or violent during or after the eviction.

  • If the police need to be called because the eviction is causing a disturbance, they may stop the eviction and direct you to let the guest move back into your home. The police may also direct you to go to court to evict the guest.

  • In many cases, you cannot be sure whether a person is a guest or a tenant. If you are wrong and a judge decides that your guest actually is a tenant, you may be ordered to let that person move back into your home and you might have to pay that person money for wrongfully evicting him or her.

  • Judgments for wrongful eviction can be a large amount of money and can include: reimbursement for living costs while the guest was out of the property, lost or stolen personal property, pain and suffering, and, if the tenant can prove that you acted recklessly or maliciously, additional damages to punish you for the illegal eviction.

You can protect yourself from these problems by using the court process to evict your guest.

How do I evict a guest through the court?

Even though a guest is not a tenant, you can still file an eviction case in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of D.C. Superior Court. The Landlord and Tenant Branch is eviction court, and you do not have to be a landlord to file a case to evict someone.

  • You do not have to use the Landlord and Tenant Branch, but it is usually the fastest way to get a judgment to remove a person from your property.

  • You can file a complaint on a Verified Complaint for Possession of Real Estate on Landlord and Tenant Form 1B, along with a Summons on Landlord and Tenant Form 1S. A sample complaint and summons filled out for a case like yours is included in the Self-Help Packet

  • After these forms are filled out, take them to the Landlord and Tenant Clerk’s Office, 510 4th Street, NW, Room 110, Washington, DC 20001.

  • There is a $15 fee to file the Complaint and Summons. If the filing fee will be a hardship to you, you can ask the court to waive your filing fees by completing an Application to Proceed without Prepayment of Costs and Fees. Click here for help completing this form.

  • After you file the Complaint and Summons, you will need to have someone over the age of 18 serve the papers. Instructions for serving the papers are included in this Self-Help Packet.

  • The person who serves the guest needs to fill out an Affidavit of Service that explains how the papers were given to the guest.

  • Your first court date will be about 3 weeks after you file your Complaint and Summons.

Do I need to put any special information on the court papers if I am a tenant myself, rather than the owner of the property?

In Paragraph 2 of the Complaint, a tenant who is evicting a guest can check the box “is not the Landlord, Owner, or Personal Representative but has the right to demand possession.” You can then explain on the line provided that you are the lawful tenant and that the guest is a person who refuses to leave your home.

Do I need to put any special information on the court papers if the guest I am evicting occupies part of the property, rather than the entire home, or if some or all of the furniture belongs to me?

In Paragraph 3 of the Complaint where the form says, “Plaintiff seeks possession of property located at,” you can put the complete street address of the house or apartment along with a description of the part of the house the guest is occupying. For example, if the guest is living in the basement or master bedroom, you can add the description “basement” or “master bedroom” after the address.

If some or all of the furnishing in the house or apartment are yours, you can add the words “partially furnished” or “furnished” to the address line.

See the sample complaint in the Self-Help Packet for an example.

Paragraph 4 on the Complaint asks whether the rent for the property is subsidized. My rent is subsidized, but the guest I’m evicting pays no rent. How do I answer this question?

If the rent for the unit you rent is subsidized, then you must check the box that says “yes.” You can take a black pen and carefully write underneath that question “The plaintiff’s rent is subsidized, but the defendant pays no rent” to explain.

Do I need to give my guest a 30-day notice before I file an eviction case in the Landlord and Tenant Branch?

In general, you are only required to give a 30-day notice to quit to someone who is a tenant.

You are usually not required to give a guest a 30-day notice, no matter how long that person has lived in your home. Most of the time, you can sue to evict a guest as soon as you have asked the person to leave and they have refused to move out.

These are not common, but here are some reasons why you might need to give someone who is not a tenant a notice to quit:

  • You promised your guest you would give him or her a certain amount of notice before he or she had to leave.

  • The person is not a tenant but is the former owner of a foreclosed property or cooperative unit that you bought. (Tenants of former owners of foreclosed properties have the rights of tenants. Please refer to the Frequently Asked Questions for Landlords for more information.)

If you think one of these reasons might apply to you, you should talk to a lawyer before you file an eviction case to make sure you have served a proper notice to quit.

I am afraid of my guest. Can I get this person out of my house any faster?

If your guest is violent, threatening, or abusive to you, you may be able to get an emergency Temporary Protection Order and/or a one-year Civil Protection Order to protect you. You do not need to have a family or intimate relationship to use the domestic violence process, but you do need to live together in the same home.

For more information about the domestic violence process, click here. For legal help requesting a TPO or CPO, click here or call the Domestic Violence Intake Center at (202) 879-0152 (at DC Superior Court) or (202) 561-3000 (at United Medical Center in Southeast DC).

The guest is a family member or friend. I'm worried that I will hurt our relationship if I sue him or her. Are there any other options?

The court offers a free service to help people solve disagreements without going to court. If your guest agrees, a community mediator can talk with you and the guest to see if you can reach an agreement. For more information on the court’s Community Mediation Program, click here or call (202) 879-1549.

I filed a Complaint to have the guest evicted. What happens when I go to Court?

Make sure you arrive and are seated in the courtroom by 9:00 AM. The judge will explain how the process works and what help may be available. If you do not speak English or are deaf or hard of hearing, make sure you tell the courtroom clerk before the announcement begins.

The clerk will read the names of all parties who are scheduled to appear. You must answer "here" or "present" and state your name when your name is called. Make sure you can hear the clerk clearly. If you cannot hear, raise your hand and let the clerk know. If you miss your name and fail to answer, your case may be dismissed. If the defendant does not answer when the case is called, you can ask the clerk to enter a "default" against the guest.

If you do not hear your name during the roll call or you are late arriving to court and aren't sure if your name was called, you should speak to the clerk in the courtroom after the roll call is over and make sure that the clerk knows that you are present.

Once the clerk completes roll call, you can decide to do one or more of the following:

  • Settle the case with the guest or the guest's lawyer.

  • Ask the judge to grant a non-redeemable judgment in your case. If the guest does not have a defense to your claim, the judge can enter judgment for possession. If the guest has a defense, the case probably will be set for a trial on a different day.

  • "Mediate" your case through a court-appointed mediator. A mediator will talk to both sides and try to help settle the case. However, you do not have to settle the case, and you should speak to a lawyer if you do not understand any part of the mediation or what is being said to you by the mediator.

For more information about what happens on your first day in court, click here. For more information about settlement and mediation, click here.

What happens if I can't appear in Court on my scheduled day?

You should immediately call the Clerk of the Court at (202) 879-4879 to explain why you cannot appear. Ask the clerk for his or her name and write it down. You also should immediately call your guest or the guest's attorney to tell him or her that you cannot appear. If you have time to come to court on another day before your court date, you can file a notice with the court explaining that you cannot come to court and requesting a new date.

If the clerk does not give you another date to appear in court, get to court as soon as possible and find out what happened. Even if you call the court, the judge may still dismiss your case. If your case is dismissed because you are not there, it is called a "dismissal for want of prosecution," and you can usually file a motion to re-open the case or file a new case.

What happens if the guest does not come to court?

If the guest does not come to court on the initial hearing date, you can usually have a "default" entered against the guest during the morning roll call. In most cases, a default means that a judgment for possession will be entered after you file paperwork with the court proving that the defendant is not in the military.

In some cases, you are also required to present proof (called "ex parte" proof) of your case to the court before you can get a judgment for possession, even if the guest does not come to court or if the guest came to court but left or did not come back to court for a continued hearing.

If proof is required, the judge might set another court date about two weeks after your first one. If the guest does not come to court, the clerk will usually tell you if you need to appear in front of the judge after roll call. If you aren't sure, you can ask the clerk after the roll call is over what you should do next.

The guest filed an Answer. What is an "Answer?"

An Answer puts in writing the defenses the guest intends to raise at a trial.

Does the guest have to file an Answer?

Filing an Answer is not required in Landlord Tenant Court unless the guest wants to request a jury trial (instead of a "bench trial" before a judge).

What are some defenses the guest might raise?
The most common defense to a case filed against a guest is that the guest claims that he or she is actually your tenant, not your guest. Other defenses may include:
  • The court papers have not been filled out correctly.
  • The court papers were not given to the guest in the correct way or soon enough before the first hearing.
  • The guest has some other right to live in the property.
  • The guest has been given permission to live in the property by a co-tenant or co-owner.
I have a judgment for possession. How long will it take until the guest is evicted?

After you get a judgment for possession, you must wait two full business days before you can file a Writ of Restitution. A Writ of Restitution is a document that authorizes the U.S. Marshals Service to schedule an eviction.

After the Writ of Restitution is filed, the Clerk's Office sends the writ to the U.S. Marshals Service. The U.S. Marshals Service sends a copy of the writ to the guest. The U.S. Marshals Service will call you to schedule the eviction. The soonest an eviction can take place is on the fourth business day after the writ is filed. The writ is valid for 75 days. If the guest is not evicted in the 75 days, then you will have to file a new (or "alias") writ.

Remember, the U.S. Marshals must be present during the eviction. However, the U.S. Marshals will not remove the guest’s property. You will need to find or hire an eviction crew. The size of the eviction crew depends on the size of the home being evicted. For more information about the U.S. Marshals’ procedures, click here. You also may want to schedule a locksmith to come to the property to make sure the locks are changed at the same time as the eviction.

For more information about the eviction process generally, click here.

What happens if I can't afford to pay any Court fees?

If you cannot afford to pay costs or fees relating to your Landlord Tenant case, you can file an "Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Costs, Fees, or Security" commonly referred to as an "IFP" or "In Forma Pauperis." You will be required to complete the court's form and swear to information about your financial affairs. Once you complete the Application and Affidavit, you will appear in front of the judge who will decide whether to grant your request. You can click here for the form.

 

Although the court-filing fees will be waived, only $10 of the writ fee will be waived in most cases. (The writ fee is currently over $200.) You will also have to pay for an eviction crew or find friends who will help you do it for free. These costs usually cannot be waived.

Last Review and Update: Dec 18, 2019