What is a lodger [the actual definition]?

While there is no legal definition of “lodger”, a lodger is someone who typically rents a room in your home and shares living space (e.g. kitchen, bathroom).

Lodgers in England & Wales are typically what is known as a “licencee”, which essentially means the lodger can only stay as long as the landlord allows. It’s important to note that there is a distinct difference between a lodger and a tenant, and they should not be confused with one another.

Lodger Vs Tenant

A tenant is someone who has exclusive rights over a property for a fixed term, and the landlord will not live in the same property. The tenant can decide who he/she wants to allow into the property, and can even keep the landlord out.

In most cases, with a few exceptions, if a landlord is renting out a spare room in the property they also live in, that person is a lodger and they will have a ‘licence’ (not a ‘tenancy’). Where a tenant ‘owns’ the space they rent, a lodger cannot exclude the landlord from any space. For example, a lodger cannot keep landlords out of their bedroom, but privacy should be respected.

Lodgers aren’t allowed to put a lock on their door, but if they do, the landlord is entitled to a copy of the key, and enter without restrictions. Since the flat/house is the landlord’s main place of residence, the balance of rights is in their favour.

It’s also important to note, if a lodger has her/his own room and the landlord does not have the right under the lodger agreement to enter it without permission, the letting would probably be a tenancy. It’s advised for landlords not to allow this happen, so the occupant remains a lodger.

Remaining lodger status

While it isn’t that common, a lodger can potentially turn into a tenant, particularly when landlords move out or spend significantly large periods away from the property. Most lodger situations are licences by default, but it’s important to know the difference and know how to avoid a tenancy being created.

If you are a live in landlord, you will almost certainly want to keep your occupants status ‘lodger’, in which case you should do the following to prevent a tenancy:

  • remain living in the property
  • provide services like meals, clean bedsheets and a regular cleaning service
  • regularly enter the lodger’s bedroom to provide a service (it could be one of the services mentioned above)
  • provide shared living space e.g. kitchen, bathroom. Hallways and landing areas don’t count.

As said, if the lodger becomes a tenant, they will have exclusive rights over your property (i.e. tenant’s can keep landlords out of the property and change the locks), and in the event you wish to repossess your property, you will find it a lot more difficult, and potentially expensive if they refuse to vacate.