Parting with Unwanted Guests

Over winter months, family and friends often gather for meals, shared holiday traditions, and overnight visits. While most of the time overnight visits are welcome and temporary, we at the Minnesota Elder Justice Center regularly see harm against older older and vulnerable adults when a temporary visit turns into a long-term unwanted guest. Hosts find themselves in difficult situations if guests do not leave. A guest’s continued presence can turn exploitative if the guest explicitly seeks money or other resources from the host or implicitly consumes those same resources by remaining in the host’s home without providing the host compensation. MEJC recognizes circumstances where guests have overstayed their welcome in the homes of older adults or vulnerable adults as symptomatic or predicative of other forms of abuse.

When a host cannot successfully part with the unwanted guest on their own, the unwilling host may call law enforcement for help. A law enforcement officer may serve as a mediating or protective presence, but the law enforcement officer may not have authority to remove the unwanted guest. To issue a citation or proceed with an arrest, the law enforcement officer needs to identify facts supporting commission of a crime. To charge an unwanted guest with criminal trespass when the host initially permitted the guest’s presence, the law enforcement officer needs facts suggesting that 1) the host clearly communicated that the guest needed to leave and not return and 2) the guest does not have a claim of right to presence on the premises. Minn. Stat. § 609.605, subd. 1(b)(8). If the unwanted guest claims that they live on the premises, the unwanted guest is claiming a right to presence. Because a law enforcement officer cannot adjudicate, or decide, who is right in a dispute between the host and guest over whether the guest lawfully lives there, a law enforcement officer may identify the situation as a “civil matter” for resolution in court.

Eviction is the legal process that the host may use to prove that the unwanted guest does not have a right to live on the property. If a court finds that an unwanted guest lacks a right to live on the property, the court can issue a writ of recovery and give law enforcement authority to remove the unwanted guest from the premises. Proving that the unwanted guest does not have a right to live on the property becomes difficult if the unwanted guest argues that the host and unwanted guest had a spoken agreement about the unwanted guest’s presence. Landlord-tenant law recognizes these spoken agreements as verbal lease agreements. If testimony and evidence about the arrangement between the host and guest suggest that the host did permit the guest to live there but did not require the guest to pay rent or other expenses, the court may require that the host have given the unwanted guest written notice to leave three months in advance of starting the eviction proceeding. Minn. Stat. § 504B.135. The eviction process can move more quickly for hosts that can prove that the unwanted guest did not pay expected rent or engaged in criminal activity on the property. Minn. Stat. §§ 504B.291 and 504B.171. Even with proof of unpaid rent or criminal activity, a host may find that the process to evict an unwanted guest takes a month or more.

The legal system offers faster relief for hosts who experience abuse and petition for orders for protection or harassment restraining orders. A court grants a request for an order for protection where the host identifies that the unwanted guest has committed or threatened acts of physical or sexual abuse against the host. Minn. Stat. § 518B.01, subd. 2(a). A court can grant a request for a harassment restraining order where the host identifies that the unwanted guest has committed “repeated incidents of intrusive or unwanted acts, words, or gestures” that negatively affect the host’s “safety, security, or privacy.” Minn. Stat. § 609.748, subd. 1(a)(1). Both processes can deliver relief to a host experiencing abuse within 24 to 72 hours. However, if the host does not submit a petition with sufficient support for the court to order relief, the unsuccessful attempt may have the unintended consequence of emboldening the unwanted guest, offering the unwanted guest false assurance of the rightfulness or stability of their ongoing presence in the host’s home.

The Minnesota Elder Justice Center offers victim services so that older adults and vulnerable adults do not need to navigate these options on their own. Each host’s experience is unique, featuring different facts, complicated nuances of interpersonal relationships, and varying knowledge by all parties of their legal rights and legal systems. Clear information and personalized consultation can help end challenging situations with unwanted guests.


Written by Laura Orr, Staff Attorney

Last updated December 18, 2023