My girlfriend of two years and I recently broke up. During the last year of our relationship, she basically lived at my place. Now she won’t leave, saying she has “tenancy” rights, and I should be the one to move.
Granting tenancy rights can happen by accident
Your challenge is that your girlfriend may have indeed established tenancy rights by living in your home for a lengthy period, according to Joe Veenstra who concentrates in landlord-tenant law. When someone without a lease stays at your property with your permission, they become a “tenant at will” and you become a landlord. A tenant at will doesn’t have a contract (or necessarily pay rent) and typically has no end date. It can be a verbal agreement established as simply as a conversation where one person says to another, “Why don’t you just stay here?”
"That means if you want her to move out, you’ll need to evict her," said Veenstra.
Eviction may be needed to end tenancy rights
In Wisconsin, in the absence of a written agreement about your living arrangement, you can terminate your ex-girlfriend’s tenancy by giving her 28 days’ written notice — which in most cases will result in a move-out.
If your house guest, however, still has not vacated at the end of the 28 days, you can file for eviction at the county courthouse and schedule a hearing. (Note that the fee for filing for eviction in Wisconsin is $94.50; plus, you’ll need to pay $80 for the pleadings to be served upon your ex.)
"When you go to court, be sure to have a copy of your written notice of eviction and any other written records about your living agreement," said Veenstra. "If your ex shows up, you may have to mediate the dispute, and the court will likely schedule the trial for the following week. Your ex-girlfriend will have the right to contest the eviction if she chooses. If there are any disputes over other issues, like bills or property, you should include those claims as well."
Should you win the lawsuit, you still cannot force her to leave. And it’s illegal to change the locks or shut off the electricity while she’s living there. The only legal way to make her leave is to have a law enforcement officer remove her. We hope, for both of your sakes, it doesn’t come to that.
Tips for when your house guest — er, tenant — moves
To keep things from getting even messier, said Veenstra, be sure she takes her property, such as clothing, electronics, etc., with her. If she doesn’t, you must notify her within ten days that you are storing her property and will dispose of it if not picked up. If she doesn’t claim it within 30 days of that time, it’s yours to do with as you please. This does not apply to medication or vehicles, which have special rules for which you should confer with legal counsel.
We also strongly recommend that the next time you consider hosting a long-term house guest of any kind, you get some sort of cohabitation or tenant agreement in writing. Of course, we have some great attorneys here who can help you with that.
Information provided by Joe Veenstra, attorney at Johns, Flaherty & Collins. For legal help with landlord-tenant issues, call him at 608-784-5678.