Warning: Freeloading houseguests could be “legal residents” of your house

Thanks to various sources–a friend who manages apartments near my house, various letters to advice columnists (such as last night’s Annie’s Mailbox), and Google searches–I discovered that it was very risky for my husband and I to allow Richard and his family to live in our house.

They were homeless, so this was their primary residence for a time, and their mail was sent here.

Since Richard had previously lived in another state, had nowhere else for that mail to go, and had lost his driver’s license, this was the only way that Richard could get a new license–and, thus, a job.  He couldn’t get a job without a license.

Turns out that in many states, this could mean I would’ve had to give them 30 days’ notice, or go through the courts to evict them, if they did not finally leave on their own.  It looks like, for Wisconsin, this was a “tenant at will.”

This is particularly troubling because many times I asked–even begged–Richard to set a date and move out, but he did not do it until he and Tracy decided it was time to leave.  (!!!!!)

Meanwhile, we were cramped and my husband and I were going crazy, because we had ZERO room (not even a spare bedroom) in our 1100-square-foot house, and I am an introvert who MUST have time by myself.  Lots of it.  Daily.

Which Tracy took as a personal affront that meant I could not be friends with her husband without her constant supervision/chaperoning because obviously I could not be trusted alone with him. (!!!!!)

Argh.  Yet because they stayed here for six weeks, and Richard for three months, and this was their primary residence, I couldn’t legally just throw their stuff outside, kick them out, change the locks, and be done with it?

I may have had to send them an eviction notice by registered mail when they lived right there with me?

Or at the very least give them a written notice 28 days in advance?  It’s hard to be sure, because I’ve Googled for hours and can’t get much Wisconsin-specific information for this particular informal situation.

I’m not sure exactly how it applies when neither of them got an actual okay from us for the whole family to move in: From what I recall, I expected them to find some place else, such as a motel.  I seem to recall Richard telling me they were going to do that.

Then I discovered they were all coming to stay, which is not what my husband and I originally agreed to when Richard first asked for a couch on which to crash.

No, he was supposed to stay for a couple of weeks, find a job and apartment, and THEN bring up the family, who were staying with relatives.  Then he tells me his family is coming to stay with us, too, but neither my husband nor I can recall giving him permission.

The very thought of abusive and bullying freeloaders who don’t clean up after themselves, don’t often bathe, don’t give you money for their keep, constantly argue and yell at each other and their children, who have overstayed their welcome with too-nice hosts, being able to control when they can leave, and even sue you if you kick them out and change the locks, is appalling.

And with the state of the economy, and many people hosting homeless friends and relatives for weeks or months at a time, this is an important thing to keep in mind.

Research laws for your state before letting them stay with youHave a written agreement and move-out date before they even move in.

Then I found this post by “aardvarc” on a legal forum:

I know this goes outside the spirit of the holidays, but as someone with a lot of experience with and exposure to situations like this, the reality is that when you have friends or casual acquaintances who are needing a place to stay, putting them up in your own residence really is NOT usually the best option.

You have to keep in mind that there are REASONS why they are being kicked out, and even more reasons why they don’t have ties with parents, siblings, other family members to turn to – and often its because those bridges have already been burned.

If they are turning to friends to take them in, particularly in open-ended situations (ie don’t already have something lined up), it really needs to be a BIG red flag and if you wish to assist, you need to do so ONLY after getting some very fundamental things (like a lease agreement) IN WRITING.

Allowing others to live under your roof often comes with the consequence of providing those others with unintended rights, and resulting legal nightmares should you want them out before they are ready to leave.

Your BETTER option is to get them to a program in the area who can assist them, or give them enough cash for a few nights at a motel until they can get in contact with programs/agencies.

Those programs have MUCH more in the way of legal protections (they can toss people out, without eviction) and are MUCH more versed in providing aid (and motivation) to make positive change than most individuals.

It’s really a shame that trying to help others so often results in the helper being taken advantage of – but those with the biggest hearts sometimes get the biggest heart ACHES.

My situation is astoundingly common.  So this–as another poster wrote on a forum–is why so many people don’t take in friends and family who are down on their luck.  😛

Here is a website on Wisconsin law about this, though these are not lawyers.

And this is a general page on letting friends stay in your apartment.

I post this to warn others because it could happen to you, too.