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Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed April 30, 2008
  1. Who is considered a guest in public housing?
  2. May I have guests in public housing?
  3. If I am disabled and live in public housing,
    can someone sleep over to care for me?
  4. Am I responsible for the conduct of my guest
    in public housing?
  5. What can I do if the housing authority says I
    have an "unauthorized occupant"?

Who is considered a guest in public housing?

In general, a guest is someone who does not appear on your lease and who
is not a member of your household. A guest is defined differently, however,
depending upon whether you live in state or federal public housing.


Just because someone is related to you does not mean that he or she is automatically
a household member. You must consult with the housing authority before letting
anyone move in with you. Many tenants get into trouble with the housing authority
when they allow people to move in without requesting permission.

State public housing

If you live in state public housing, a guest is defined as a person who is
in your housing development at your invitation or the invitation of someone
else in your household. The individual does not have to be staying in your

Federal public housing

If you live in federal public housing, a guest is defined as a person who
is temporarily staying in your apartment with your permission or the permission
of someone else in your household.2


If your children or grandchildren are not a part of your household or on
your lease, they are most likely guests. Your grandchildren could be considered
household members (and therefore not guests) if they routinely live with you.
You must, however, inform the housing authority that they live with you and
the housing authority must calculate your rent to reflect the fact that they
live with you.

May I have guests in public housing?

You have a right to have guests visit you. But you need to be familiar with
what rules apply to you, because if the housing authority suspects that someone
is staying with you longer than allowed, they may try to evict you for having
an "unauthorized occupant." They may also claim that you have not reported
all household members and income and require you to pay more rent.

In general, there are no rules that limit when or for how long a guest may
visit you during the day. There are, however, rules that govern the number
of nights a guest may stay (either living with you temporarily or staying for
an extended period of time). The rules are different for federal and state
public housing.


In no case may the number of guests go above the number of people allowed
to occupy an apartment under the State Sanitary Code.3

State public housing

In state public housing, there are specific regulations that say how long
a guest can stay in an apartment. A guest may not stay overnight longer than
21 nights during any 12-month period. You may request an extension of that
time if you have a good reason (or good cause) and you request it before the
21-night limit is up. If the housing authority gives you permission, it must
do so in writing. Be sure to ask for a copy of this letter. You will need it
if the housing authority later accuses you of violating the lease.

Federal public housing

Housing authorities establish their own policies about guests. There are
no specific rules about how many days per year are allowed. To find out what
your housing authority’s policy is, read your lease. It should state
how long someone may stay in your apartment, how many guests you may have at
one time, and what procedures you must follow if you want a guest to stay longer
than what your lease allows. Review your lease very carefully before you allow
a guest (even a family member) to stay in your apartment for any amount of
time. Overly restrictive guest policies (such as those which require housing
authority permission for any overnight guest) can be challenged in court.4

If a guest is staying for a period that is beyond the limitation contained
in the lease, you may want to consider requesting that the guest be added to
your lease. The housing authority may screen such a person (determine whether
he or she is likely to be a good tenant.) The housing authority’s approval
is needed before the person is added to your household. There may also be cases
where the tenant should consider whether the guest is going to be in longer-term
live-in aide, needed because of the disability of someone in the household.

If I am disabled and live in public housing, can someone sleep over to care
for me?

If you are disabled and you require the assistance of a live-in aide, then
you and the live-in aide may be eligible to occupy your apartment. To qualify
as a live-in aide, the person who will be assisting you must be essential to
your care and well-being and be living in the unit in order to provide necessary
support services.5 Under
state rules, a personal care attendant must also be paid for the fair value
of such assistance and would not live in the unit except to provide such assistance.
You must ask the housing authority for permission to have a live-in aide.

Live-in aides are held to the same standards as other household members in
terms of eligibility, admission, and conduct. A live-in aide’s income,
however, is not calculated for the purposes of determining rent. Also, if your
disability ceases or you no longer qualify for the assistance of a live-in
aide, your aide will have to vacate the unit and will no longer be eligible
or allowed to live with you.

In federal housing, a live-in aide who is residing in the apartment must
be counted for purposes of a housing authority determining your unit size.6 If
the aide is part-time and only there at night or certain days, the issue of
unit size may still come up.

If the live-in aide is a relative, you will need to figure out whether to
ask that they be approved as a live-in aide (which means that the person has
another place to live and their income will not be counted when figuring out
your rent).7 Or
whether the person should be added as a household member (which means that
they do not have another place to live and their income will be counted when
figuring out your rent.

Am I responsible for the conduct of my guest in public housing?

When your guests are on housing authority property, they are subject to the
same rules as you are and you are responsible for their conduct. If your guest
breaks the rules, the housing authority may bring an eviction action against


In state public housing, a tenant can be evicted only for the conduct of
a guest where the tenant knew or should have known that there was a possibility
that a guest would misbehave.9

Specifically, your guests may not do the following things:

  • Disturb other tenants and conduct themselves in a way that is not peaceful,
    including making unreasonably loud noises.10
  • Engage in criminal activity in the apartment, on housing authority
    premises or near the property.11
  • Damage the unit or any of the housing authority’s property.12
  • A tenant can be required to pay for any damages caused by a guest.13

State public housing

If you are in state housing, your guest may also not do the following

  • Injure, threaten, or unreasonably disturb housing authority officers
    and employees.14
  • Misuse electric, heating, plumbing, or other utility services or install
    any major appliances or waterbeds without permission.15
  • Keep pets without permission.16
  • Alter or perform additions to the unit.17
  • Interfere with smoke detectors or other fire safety equipment.18

Federal public housing

In addition to the above, if you are in federal housing, your guests
may not engage in any drug-related criminal activity on or off the premises.19 A
tenant may be evicted for a guest’s drug activity in or away from
the apartment even if the tenant did not know this would occur.20

If the wrongdoer was a guest and the housing authority doesn’t
have some proof that you knew about the activity, or if the activity did
not take place on or near housing authority property, as a matter of state
law you would get the opportunity for a grievance hearing before you are
taken to court. This is true even if you are a federal tenant.

The law is not yet clear about whether, once the case gets to court,
you would have the usual rights under the state law to try to prevent eviction
by showing: 1) that you did not know or have a reason to know of a guest’s
or household member’s wrongdoing, or 2) that you took all steps within
your power to prevent future wrongdoing once you knew about it. Some courts
in Massachusetts have said that federal tenants don’t have these
state law rights.

What can I do if the housing authority says I have an "unauthorized occupant"?

Housing authorities have specific rules on how long someone can stay
with you as a guest. If you have someone staying with you longer than allowed
by your housing authority, that person is considered an "unauthorized occupant."

If you do have an unauthorized occupant, you should have that person
leave immediately. You are violating your lease and public housing rules,
and the housing authority can start eviction proceedings against you. However,
if you ask the guest to leave, you may be able to avoid eviction by signing
an agreement with the housing authority that says that you will not allow
the guest to live in your apartment.

If you do not have an unauthorized occupant, you need to first find out
exactly who the housing authority thinks is your unauthorized guest. Once
you know who the housing authority thinks is living with you, you should
gather evidence to show that the person does not live with you. Examples
of this type of evidence include the following:

  • A copy of that person’s lease showing where they do live.
  • A copy of that person’s driver’s license with an address
    clearly indicated.
  • Copies of the outside of envelopes addressed to that person, such as
    utility bills, car payments, or credit card bills.
  • A signed statement by the person that says he or she does not live
    with you and giving his or her actual address.

Once you have the evidence, write a letter to the housing authority and
explain the situation. Include copies of your evidence and a clear explanation
about what the situation is. Keep a copy of this letter and whatever else
you send with it for yourself. You can also request a meeting to describe
your situation and evidence.21


C.M.R. § 6.03

C.F.R. § 5.100

C.M.R. § 6.06(3)(c)
. See 105
C.M.R. § 410.400
for the minimum square footage requirement
in State Sanitary Code.

v. Lebanon Housing Authority
, 760 F.2d 361 (1st Cir. 1985 McKenna
v. Peekskill Housing Authority
, 647 F.2d 332 (2nd Cir. 1981).

C.F.R § 982.316
; 760
C.M.R § 6.03

C.F.R. § 982.402(b)(6)
; 760
C.M.R. § 5.03 (b)

C.F.R. § 5.609(c)(5)
; 760
C.M.R. 6.05(3)(l)
(which both exclude from annual income the income
of a live-in aide).

C.F.R § 966.4(l)(2)(i)(B)
; 760
C.M.R. § 6.06(6)(d)

C.M.R. § 6.06(6)(d) and (e)

C.F.R. § 966.4(f)(11)
; 760
C.M.R. § 6.06(5)(c)

state public housing, criminal conduct is defined by M.G.L.
c. 121B § 32
and 760
C.M.R. § 6.06(5)(e) and (6)(e)
. In federal public housing, criminal
activity is defined as activity that threatens the health, safety or
the peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other residents; see 24
C.F.R. § 966.4(f)(12)(i)(A)

C.F.R. § 966.4(f)(9)
; 760
C.M.R. § 6.06(5)(h)

C.F.R. § 966.4(f)(10)
; 760
C.M.R.§ 6.06(5)(i)

C.M.R. § 6.06(5)(d)

C.M.R. § 6.06(5)(g)

C.M.R. § 6.06(5)(j)

C.M.R. § 6.06(5)(l)

C.M.R. § 6.06(5)(n)

C.F.R. § 966.4(f)(12)(i)(B)

v. Rucker et al
, 122 S.Ct. 1230 (2002)

Housing Authority v. Bruno
, 58 Mass.App.Ct.486, 790 N.E.2nd
1121 (2003).

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