Law distinguishes between tenants, roomers, guests

Tenants, roomers, guests and trespassers -- all are involved in living in someone else's property.

Sooner or later, an owner or tenant may try to kick someone out -- someone who had been allowed to live in the premises but now refuses to leave. All parties need to know their rights and responsibilities.


* Tenants are individuals who rent space that usually contains living and sleeping areas, bathroom and especially a kitchen and cooking facilities. These include people who sublet half an apartment from another tenant or half the house from an owner who remains an occupant.

The subletting tenant has full use of all facilities except the bedroom of his landlord. In Baltimore, tenants have to be given a minimum 60-day notice before the day that they are to leave. (They have to give the landlord a minimum 30 days' notice.) In Maryland counties, a week's tenancy requires a minimum of a week's notice and a monthly tenancy requires a minimum of a month's notice by either tenant or landlord. If the tenant refuses to leave at the termination of the notice, then the landlord has to refuse future rent and file a tenant holding-over action with the District Court.


* A roomer is usually someone having a non-housekeeping room -- that is, without cooking facilities. He may have very limited kitchen/living room privileges outside of his room. Baltimore City law seems to define a roomer as a kind of tenant in that it requires a roomer to be given a 30-day notice to quit.

Some lawyers at BNI believe that outside of Baltimore City, a roomer has the right to stay in the property only until the rent is consumed and then may be told to leave immediately or be considered a trespasser. But some branches of the district court seem to consider a roomer to be a tenant requiring proper notice, and the filing of tenant holding-over action if the roomer refuses to leave -- so check with your local court.

* A guest may be a visitor or a family member -- even a child or parent of the owner -- who has entered the premises with the owner or tenant's permission. They may on occasion share some minor expenses, but they do not pay rent. If the guest refuses to leave when asked, the owner or tenant may seek to evict him by filing a civil action called a Forcible Entry and Detainer (FED) with the district court alleging that he is the rightful occupant of the premises and that the defendant refuses to leave.

* A squatter or trespasser is someone who enters into the premises without the permission of the legal occupant or the owner. This situation comes up primarily when a legal tenant shares the premises by subletting to another tenant. The original tenant either leaves voluntarily or is evicted. The subletting tenant, while having had a claim on the legal tenant, has no such claim on the owner of the property, who can consider the subtenant a trespasser if the subtenant attempts to stay in the property.

The owner may file with the court for repossession of the $H property, stating that the occupant is a trespasser. No one should attempt an eviction by taking the law into his or her own hands and evicting someone without using the proper legal process. If they do, they may be sued for damages and in some jurisdictions may be fined.

George B. Laurent is executive director of BNI, or Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a private nonprofit group that works to resolve tenant-landlord problems and to eliminate housing discrimination.