Understanding the distinction between guests and tenants is important in real estate and property management. This article examines South Carolina law to clarify this transition, providing valuable insights for landlords, property owners, and residents alike.

Guest vs Tenant: The Legal Definitions

In South Carolina, a "tenant" occupies a rental property under a lease or rental agreement, whether written or verbal. A "guest," on the other hand, is typically someone who stays temporarily without the rights and responsibilities of tenancy. Problems often arise when a "guest" becomes an unwelcome "tenant."

While the state does not specifically address guest-to-tenant transitions in its statutes, the "landlord-tenant law" in South Carolina does offer a legal framework for these definitions and how they must be handled according to state law. 

The next section will discuss how guests might establish themselves as tenants according to South Carolina landlord-tenant laws.

Factors Determining Tenancy

When it comes to determining whether someone has established legal tenancy, it's important to note two ways in which tenancy can be established in South Carolina:

  • Formal Agreements

A formal lease agreement generally defines tenancy terms. It can be written or verbal and may exist without a physical document with your signature.

  • Informal Agreements

In cases where no formal rental agreement exists, the ongoing relationship between the landlord and the guest, or the guest and the property, can evolve into a de facto tenancy.

In the absence of a formal agreement, here are some of the factors that may help establish whether a guest has become a tenant or not:

Duration of Stay

In South Carolina, the duration of a guest's stay at a property can significantly influence their legal classification as a tenant. Unlike some states where a specific number of days (e.g., 30 days) automatically categorizes a guest as a tenant, South Carolina law is more nuanced. 

Long-term occupancy, especially when the guest has no other primary residence, can gradually transition their status from a mere guest to a tenant. This transformation isn't instant but evolves over time based on other contributing factors, such as the ones listed below.

Intentions of the Parties

Intent plays a pivotal role in establishing tenancy in South Carolina. This intent can be manifested in various ways:

  1. Written Lease Agreements: A formal lease or rental agreement is the most straightforward indication of tenancy. Such agreements specify terms, duration, and rent, establishing a landlord-tenant relationship.
  2. Verbal Agreements: In some cases, even without a written lease, a verbal agreement between the property owner and the guest can establish tenancy. If both parties have agreed orally that the guest will pay rent or stay for a long term, this can be considered a binding agreement under South Carolina law, though proving the terms of such agreements in court can be more challenging than with written contracts.

Behavior Of The Guest

The behavior of the individual staying at the property is another critical factor. Certain actions can implicitly establish a tenant-like relationship:

  1. Paying Rent: Regularly paying rent is a strong indicator of tenancy. Regular rent payments can establish a rental agreement even without a formal lease.
  2. Security Deposits: Contributing to a security deposit, typically done in formal tenancies, further reinforces the existence of a landlord-tenant relationship.
  3. Receiving Mail: When a guest starts receiving personal mail at the property, it indicates a more permanent occupancy, aligning more with tenancy than a temporary stay.

Establishment of Residence

Establishing the property as their primary residence is a significant step in a guest transitioning to a tenant. This establishment can be demonstrated in several ways:

  1. Use in Official Documents: If the individual uses the property address for official purposes, such as on a driver’s license, voter registration, or tax documents, it suggests the property is their primary residence.
  2. No Other Residence: If the guest does not maintain another residence, this can further indicate that they have established the rental unit as their primary dwelling place.

As you can see, without a legal lease agreement, the transition from a guest to a tenant in South Carolina is not defined by a single factor or a rigid timeframe but rather by a combination of circumstances, behaviors, and/or agreements. Understanding these nuances is crucial for property owners and managers to navigate the complexities of landlord-tenant relationships and to ensure compliance with South Carolina landlord-tenant laws.

If a guest has established themselves as an unwelcome tenant at your property, then your only recourse to remove them is through eviction.

Eviction Process in South Carolina

We discuss the intricacies of the eviction process in South Carolina, but this is the summarized framework for how the eviction process works:

A. Legal Grounds for Eviction

South Carolina law allows eviction for lease violations, non-payment of rent, lease term expiration, holdover tenancy, and illegal or criminal activity. The first legal step is providing a written notice to vacate or eviction notice.

B. Providing Proper Notice

The law requires landlords to give tenants written notice before initiating an eviction lawsuit, allowing time for remedy or vacating the premises. The type of notice is determined by the type of lease or reason for which the eviction is being filed.

C. Court Proceedings

If unresolved between the parties involved, the matter proceeds with a civil filing with the court. Both parties present their case here, and the court rules based on South Carolina landlord-tenant law.

D. Enforcement and Tenant Rights

Enforcing an eviction must comply with the law, respecting tenant rights. Illegal methods like property damage or forceful eviction are prohibited. If the court rules in the property owner's favor, the eviction is ultimately enforced by law enforcement, not by the property manager or property owner.

Preventive Measures and Best Practices

To avoid misunderstandings, accidental tenancies, or any other legal issues with your rental property or home, landlords and property managers should have a clear guest policy and property management strategies to prevent unintended tenancy. Properly drafted lease terms and rental agreements can mitigate such risks, which is one of the many reasons that TenantCloud offers lease document management tools on our platform.


In South Carolina, the transition from guest to tenant involves various factors, including the length of stay, intention, and behavior. Understanding these nuances is key for property owners, landlords, and guests. Seeking legal advice for specific cases is always advisable to navigate the complex eviction process and tenant rights under South Carolina law and avoid potentially expensive mistakes down the road.

Frequently Asked Questions

What notice do South Carolina eviction laws require that landlords provide tenants before starting the eviction process?

South Carolina eviction laws require landlords to provide tenants with a written notice before starting the eviction process. The notice period varies depending on the reason for eviction. For non-payment of rent, a 5-day notice is required. For lease violations, a 14-day notice is generally required. If it's a month-to-month tenancy without a specific lease violation, a 30-day notice is needed.

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

If you have a written agreement stating that a person is a tenant for a specific period, and that period has ended, you can ask them to leave. If they refuse, you can file for eviction as a holdover tenant. No specific notice is usually required since the end date of the tenancy is already established in the agreement.

How can you evict someone from your home if they never signed a lease but refuse to leave in South Carolina?

In South Carolina, if someone is living in your home without a signed lease and refuses to leave, they are generally considered a month-to-month tenant. You must provide them with a 7-day notice to quit for a week-to-week tenancy or a 30-day notice for a month-to-month tenancy before proceeding with eviction.

What are the differences between a tenant and an unauthorized guest?

A tenant has entered into a formal or informal agreement (lease) to occupy a property, often involving paying rent. Tenants have legal rights under landlord-tenant laws. An unauthorized guest, however, stays at the property without any formal agreement or the landlord’s permission. They typically do not have the same legal protections as tenants and can usually be asked to leave without going through the formal eviction process.