Legal Rights of Adults Living with Parents
In the United States, the number of adults living with their parents has been steadily rising over the past decade. While some adult children continue living at home for financial reasons, others do so to help care for elderly or unwell parents. Regardless of the reason, it is important for both parents and their adult children to understand the legal rights and responsibilities when living together in the same home.
Rights of Adult Children Living at Home
When an adult child lives with their parents, they maintain broad legal rights despite not owning or leasing the residence. Parents cannot simply treat them as minors with no freedoms. Key rights include:
Right to Privacy
- Parents do not have the right to search an adult child's room, belongings, or private spaces without permission. This includes going through their closet, drawers, computer files, mail, trash, etc.
- Courts have ruled that adults living with parents qualify as tenants or legal occupants, giving them privacy protections. Parents who rifle through an adult child's room or possessions against their wishes may be liable for invasion of privacy torts.
- If the adult child pays rent, there is no question the parents must respect their privacy. However, even non-paying adults qualify for privacy rights in all but common areas of the home.
- Areas like the kitchen, living room, and shared bathrooms do not require the same privacy. However, personal documents and items stored there remain private.
- Parents cannot spy on an adult child by recording their private conversations, phone calls, or other interactions without consent.
Right to Have Guests
- Adult children can have visitors, including overnight guests, without needing permission from their parents. The home belongs to the parents, but they cannot prohibit guests unless they have valid safety concerns.
- Parents may request that an adult child inform them in advance when guests will visit so they are not surprised by unfamiliar faces. However, the adult child does not need to comply with arbitrary restrictions on guests.
- If the parents have rules against smoking, drinking, drugs, or fighting in their home, they can forbid particular problematic guests. Beyond that, they must allow an adult child to have visitors.
- If the parents' objections against a certain guest seem unreasonable or discriminatory, this could potentially constitute illegal harassment of tenants' rights.
- An adult child having consensual adult guests, even overnight, does not justify eviction or other punitive actions. Parents cannot impose a curfew or monitor when guests arrive/leave.
Right to Come and Go Freely
- Parents have no legal right to tell an adult child when they need to be home or impose any kind of curfew. Restricting an adult child's movements would likely constitute false imprisonment.
- The adult child has full access to the home and does not need to ask permission to come and go. Parents cannot lock them out if they miss a curfew.
- If the parents have safety concerns about an adult child being out late at night, they can communicate this but cannot legally force a curfew. That would be overstepping boundaries.
- Trying to confine an adult child to the home against their wishes by taking their house key or disabling their car could justify lawsuits and even criminal charges.
Right to Use Common Areas
- An adult child living at home maintains reasonable rights to use shared living spaces like the kitchen, laundry room, living room, etc.
- Parents cannot restrict an adult child from normal use of common areas. This includes barring them from cooking in the kitchen during certain hours or ties.
- At most, parents can set reasonable schedules for sharing common spaces, like reserving laundry room use on Sunday mornings for the parents. But they cannot issue unreasonable blanket bans.
- Adult children's access to common areas is like that of any tenant or resident. Parents cannot block it without cause or as harassment. Doing so could potentially terminate their child's duty to follow house rules.
- If disputes over common area use arise, clear communication and compromise is preferable to escalating to unlawful lockouts or utility shutdowns. This violates housing laws.
Responsibilities of Adult Children Living at Home
While adult children maintain broad legal rights, they also have key responsibilities as residents sharing the home. These include:
Following House Rules
- Parents can establish reasonable house rules covering topics like cleaning, parking, chores, smoking, etc. The adult child needs to follow these rules or move out.
- However, house rules must be sensible and cannot violate the adult child's rights as a tenant/occupant. Requiring them to ask permission to leave the house would likely be unlawful.
- If the adult child believes house rules are excessive, they should communicate this before violating them. In some cases, parents may need to relax unreasonable rules to avoid a dispute.
- Violating lawful house rules repeatedly could potentially give parents grounds to terminate the living arrangement through proper eviction channels. The adult child may need to find alternate housing if they cannot comply with basic rules.
- If parents request monetary contribution for rent, groceries, utilities, etc., the adult child should pay their fair share if possible. This financial obligation should be communicated clearly.
- What constitutes a fair share depends on the adult child's income and expenses, whether they have exclusive use of certain rooms, etc. A rental agreement can formalize financial expectations.
- If the adult child cannot afford to contribute, the parents need to either adjust payment expectations or lawfully end the living arrangement. They cannot take an adult child's property or money without permission for unpaid housing expenses. But nonpayment could potentially lead to formal eviction.
Being Respectful and Considerate
- Adult children should be respectful of parents as the homeowners and avoid intentionally disturbing them. Parents deserve basic courtesy and consideration.
- This includes keeping shared living spaces tidy, giving notice before having guests over, avoiding excessive noise late at night, and following smoking/drug rules.
- If conflicts arise, adult children should be open to reasonable compromise and communication. A rigid refusal to accommodate parents' needs could sour the living situation.
- However, parents also cannot make arbitrary demands and expect adult children to obey as if they are still minors. Communication should be two-way.
Avoiding Illegal Activity
- Parents can prohibit illegal activity as a house rule, and adult children must comply. Intrafamily violence, theft, property damage, and illegal drug use could justify eviction.
- If an adult child engages in unlawful behaviors that compromise the safety or legality of the living situation, the parents likely have grounds to remove them from the home through proper legal procedures. They should first request the adult child cease the problematic behaviors before pursuing eviction.
- However, alleged criminal activity must be legitimate and proven. Parents cannot make false or unsupported claims as harassment to force an adult child out.
Parents' Rights and Responsibilities
Parents allowing an adult child to live at home also have legal rights and responsibilities:
- Parents can require an adult child to contribute financially to cover increased costs like utilities, property taxes, groceries, etc. However, any required rent payments should be reasonable.
- Charging far above market rate could constitute illegal harassment of tenants' rights. If the adult child believes the rent expectations are excessive, but the parents refuse to compromise, moving out may be necessary.
- It is prudent for parents to research average rents for rooms in their area to set appropriate expectations. A formal rental agreement can provide clarity.
- If the parents already have a mortgage and do not have increased housing costs, requiring significant rent from an adult child may demonstrate unlawful profiteering from the living arrangement.
- If parents want to remove an adult child from the home, they must follow formal eviction procedures as with any co-habitant or tenant.
- Self-help evictions like changing locks, throwing out belongings, or shutting off utilities are illegal even if the parents own the home. Proper notice must be given.
- Legal eviction requires formally terminating any rental agreement and then pursuing court-ordered eviction if the adult child refuses to leave. Parents cannot force them out without judicial approval.
- Harassing an adult child to try to get them to voluntarily leave could justify civil lawsuits or fair housing complaints of illegal tenant harassment.
- As co-habitants, parents have an obligation under the law to respect an adult child's reasonable privacy rights. As discussed earlier, this includes not intruding into private spaces without permission.
- Peering through an adult child's windows or recording their private conversations could violate laws against stalking and eavesdropping. Parents need to understand privacy boundaries.
- Any disputes over privacy should be resolved through open discussion and compromise. Parents cannot unilaterally override an adult child's privacy whenever convenient. Legal issues could arise.
Providing Notice Before Entry
- State laws usually require landlords to give reasonable advance notice to tenants before entering rental units for non-emergency reasons. This principle also applies to parents entering an adult child's private spaces.
- Knocking and announcing themselves before entering an adult child's room demonstrates basic courtesy and respect. Routine failure to provide notice could worsen the living situation.
- Parents retain right of entry for legitimate emergency reasons without notice. But scheduled maintenance or arbitrary inspections require reasonable advance warning to avoid tenant harassment claims.
Allowing Basic Utilities
- As lawful occupants, adult children have legal protections against having utilities like electricity, water, heat or air conditioning shut off by parents without notice. Doing so could risk lawsuits and fines for illegal eviction tactics.
- Cutting off vital utilities to try to force an adult child to move would likely constitute unlawful constructive eviction. All residents have a right to basic utilities.
- If an adult child fails to pay agreed upon utility fees, normal collection procedures apply. The utilities cannot simply be shut off without proper notice. Service disconnection is a last resort option.
- Parents should communicate clearly about any utility payment agreements and give reasonable warnings before pursuing disconnection through proper legal procedures. Unlawful utility shutdowns can create major liability.
According to legal experts who write for us on law, while living together, both adult children and parents have important legal rights and obligations under housing laws and social norms. Open communication and respect for reasonable boundaries help avoid escalation into civil disputes or unlawful behavior. With understanding from both generations, multi-generational households can thrive.