Should we rent a room to our friend?
August 3, 2013 7:43 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I just bought a house. We have more space than we currently need, and a friend is starting grad school in the area. We are considering renting a room to her. Have you done something like this? How did it work out for you? What made it work? What problems did you encounter?

Us: My husband and I and our two cats. Planning on having kids in the near future. One car.
Friend: A woman a few years younger than us, and her (friendly and quiet) small dog. Let us call her F. She has a car. We have been friends for a few years.
Our house: a three bedroom in a suburban neighborhood. Only one bathroom, but there is plumbing in the finished basement, which we want to turn into a half-bath anyway, probably with a shower. Our street is all single family homes, mostly older folks who have lived here a long time. We have space for two cars in our driveway, and there is more or less unlimited free parking on our street, but no overnight parking.
My concerns: I haven't had a roommate (other than my husband) since college. I am extremely introverted. The thought of having a roommate in general does not appeal, but living with F seems like it would be okay, mostly. The one boundary I am really sure I would want is that if my office door is closed, don't come in without knocking and waiting for me to answer.
F would have use of the kitchen and living area. We would charge her a rent which is probably below market for our area, but a significant help with our expenses.
I'm not looking for advice on the legality of doing this and zoning issues- I will be calling the city on Monday to figure out if this is legal, and if it isn't we won't do it.
What boundaries should we consider setting, both for her and for us? My goal here is to have still be friends when she moves out.
Also, I have never interviewed a roommate. What kinds of questions should I ask?
posted by Adridne to Human Relations (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Unless you really need the money, I just wouldn't do it. You sound like me with the introversion and needing your own space, and I worry the situation would not only annoy you but damage your relationship with your friend. I lived with a good friend in college and it took years to repair our relationship after we lived as roommates.
posted by something something at 8:01 AM on August 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

I turned down such an offer, partly because of location and partly because we probably would have been a terrible pair of people to live together. (Basically, both of us were really messy, but other people's mess bothers me.) And thirdly because it felt like we might not be great at working out the boundaries of the living-with-your-landlord scenario. It's possible I would have been persuaded a year or two down the line, but my friend died unexpectedly (and then his house got walloped by a tornado, so I guess it's just as well neither of us was living there). I did live in a house with 10 other people in college. However, living with people who own the house (even if they're your friends) feels different to just sharing a house. So that's my background on shared housing. Some considerations:

- Who does the cleaning (of common areas)? Do you two do it all because it's your house? Do you split it unevenly? Do you split it evenly three ways?
- What are your expectations about her having people over? I assume you want not to have wild dance parties in your living room, but, I don't know, do you mind a dinner party?
- Common food? Everyone has their own flour?
- What happens when you have a kid? Presumably your friend is living in what would be the kid's room. Obviously, she'd have 9 months warning, but do you expect her to move mid-semester?

I guess, broadly, there's a choice to be made. You can be three people living in a house that two of you happen to own or you can be two people who own a house with a third person living in it. If you pick the first option, you have to really pick to the first option and let go a bit. If F leaves dirty dishes in the sink, it's a problem for you as her roommate, rather than a problem for you as her landlord. I think being the third person in the second scenario is something that would be difficult for me, so it could be a dealbreaker for F, but you shouldn't think that reflects badly on any of you. On the other hand, I knew someone in college who spent two years happily living in the attic of a not-super-close relative. She ended up moving because the commute sucked, but the living situation was fine.
posted by hoyland at 8:10 AM on August 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


A good friend lived with me after my first wife died. Later, my current wife moved in.

Adjusting to someone new is complex. People do things in their living space.... they cook, share resources, listen to music, ignore their animals, clutter up, neglect to lock doors, have friends over. It goes without saying that they will have annoying habits and/or you will.

We all need privacy. The chances of getting it are low for all three of you.

To be fair, though, if you are going to rent it to a stranger, you MAY be in better shape renting to a friend. When you rent, however, you are in a complex legal situation and the renter has some substantial rights. I've seen at least one person take nearly a year to evict a person she let stay in her house without rent, and it took court action to achieve it. (She was a lawyer, too.)

Be careful and study this.
posted by FauxScot at 8:15 AM on August 3, 2013

Response by poster: She would not be living in the room-for-kids-yet-to-be, but in a third room.
posted by Adridne at 8:23 AM on August 3, 2013

Living with an established couple is rough, as a single person. I've had roommate situations nearly end friendships, so if you really want a roommate, I'd go with someone you can treat like just another tenant, rather than a friend.
posted by xingcat at 8:25 AM on August 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Your roommate can be your best friend, but your best friend can't be your roommate." A friend of mine told me this once after she tried the latter. I don't believe the two of them are speaking anymore. And that goes double for a landlord situation. Offer to put up your friend for a couple of weeks while she house-hunts, and do some of the ground work before she comes to town so you can say, "Here's an awesome house that's just right down the street!" or "I hear that apartment complex is really loud at night."
posted by Etrigan at 8:26 AM on August 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

Well, I knew a heterosexual couple who had a female friend living with them to share the rent, and they all got on so well together that neighbourhood men started teasing the man about having two girlfriends – that wasn't the situation, but it might've looked that way. There was a kid, too, and the kid (around 3 when this setup began) benefited from having a third, friendly adult around.

But in that case everyone was good friends and it was a given that they'd share meals and cleanup duties and, to some extent, socialize together. In your situation I think if you haven't got a kid now but want one soon, then don't. Whatever balance you achieve at first will shift a lot after the kid, and your tenant may not want to be living in a house with a small crying baby, especially if it means no social life there because of the kid, and difficulty in studying or sleeping because of a baby that isn't hers.

You guys are basically not in a pattern of life that's conducive to having roommates, especially ones where the line between tenant and friend is not clear.
posted by zadcat at 8:28 AM on August 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I see no reason why you shouldn't do it as long as you get along well and think you'd mesh well in a living situation. Though I will say that a lot of the ways your post is phrased make me think you secretly don't want to do this. The fact that you are worried about things like her knocking on your closed office door, for example.

More practical thoughts:

- Parking. You mention your driveway has space for two cars and there's no overnight street parking. It's already you and your husband living there. If you both have cars, where is Friend supposed to park overnight? If you share a car, what happens down the road when that situation changes? Keep in mind that most people like their living situations to be long term, so anything that is subject to change at your whim (like getting a second car) should be carefully considered in advance.

- Bathroom. I've had roommates for most of my adult life and we've all shared a single bathroom. So I think that could be OK. If you're not used to this, seriously think through how it will work out. Is your shared bathroom already a tight fit in the mornings before work? I don't think a half bath is going to be a solution to the bathroom sharing issue.

- Pets. How is her dog with cats? This could be a potentially HUGE dealbreaker that could cause the entire living situation to break down. How will you deal with the animals not getting along?
posted by Sara C. at 8:31 AM on August 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Re things like cleaning, food, etc. I think that if you're all grown adults with jobs and reasonable standards, you can probably work this stuff out. That's really more the type of stuff that brings down college kid living arrangements, not adults who are already friends and on the same team and in overall agreement about not eating the last yogurt or that the trash needs to be taken out on Fridays.

My one caveat is this, and I think it's something that is highly variable on both you and your husband as well as your friend. For a while I lived in a group living situation where some people in the house were couples. It always drove me CRAZY when guys' girlfriends did their housework for them. It wasn't a dealbreaker as a living situation, but it was really frustrating for me. If I shared a place with only a couple, and the woman in the couple did ALL the housework except for what was reserved for me, I think that could definitely be a dealbreaker.
posted by Sara C. at 8:37 AM on August 3, 2013

I would also encourage F to think long and hard about this. One of the issues with living with people is that if you're with a group of friends or even random roommates, things can be somewhat democratic. Informal votes tend to decide things. But when a single person lives with a couple, especially if the couple owns the property, the single person is almost always outvoted by the couple's voting block. And the couple has often made a decision ahead of time, since they've probably talked over whatever the contentious issue is in bed the night before. Couple drama can also spill over into the rest of the house and make things uncomfortable for the single person.

I was the single person in this scenario once, but it was just on a 3 month sublease. It was fine, but I wouldn't do it again.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:42 AM on August 3, 2013 [6 favorites]

I have done this, after college, and it worked out for me with the first friend who moved in, but not with the second. In the first instance, our at-home styles meshed (quieter, companionable rather than social, retiring/arising roughly on the same schedules, same drinking habits, similar tastes in food/media); the second time none of them did. I would not contemplate doing this with only one bathroom for all three of you.

What's the future kid room for while there is no future kid? Is that your office? Could you rent both the future kid room and the intended-to-be-rent-room to her as a two-room suite so she has her own living space in addition to sleeping space? Could you designate the finished basement her space, and the rest of the house yours? That cuts down on a lot of conflicts. If future kid is planned and expected in the next year, I don't think you're in a position to bring a boarder into your house.

You've identified the issues: setting the right boundaries and making sure the legalities are in order, but you need to make sure the boundaries that will make it work for you are reasonable living conditions for another adult, no matter how good the rent.

Ask her how much time she expects to use the common areas (living room in particular) because you can't play your stereo/piano/playstation while she's watching her Firefly marathon on the living room tv. Seriously consider how much you don't want someone other than your spouse in the living room while you're doing your living room thing. It's not fair to expect an adult to spend all her time in a bedroom when there's a whole house, but if she's home 14 out of 24 hours where will she be?

Is there a porch or a deck that you don't want someone on while you're reading the Sunday paper because telling her she can't use it will seem hostile. Will you take meals together? Only on invitation? Do you expect her not to use your "special" pans or your fancy Kitchen Aid? Do you want a dog in your house? In your yard? Will you be annoyed letting it in and out when she's not home? Be very honest with yourself while thinking about these questions because it is not fair to expect a person to live in your house and never been in your way, no matter what boundaries you try to draw up ahead of time.

If you can't wrap your head around these decisions and you can't imagine talking through the conflicts when they arise, I don't think it's a good idea. But if you can, it can work out just fine.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:52 AM on August 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ask her how much time she expects to use the common areas (living room in particular) because you can't play your stereo/piano/playstation while she's watching her Firefly marathon on the living room tv. Seriously consider how much you don't want someone other than your spouse in the living room while you're doing your living room thing.

If this is even remotely a thought you are having to think about in deciding if/how this roommate situation would work out, the answer is that it's not going to work out, and you shouldn't ask your friend to move in.
posted by Sara C. at 9:00 AM on August 3, 2013

If you do it, you must have a signed lease and get a security deposit. Do not skip this step because she is a friend. This is crucial.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:22 AM on August 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is no way that I would do this. A) because I'm an introvert who felt absolutely awkward having a roommate as an adult and B) renting a room is complicated enough without the additional fussiness of it being a friend.

But a couple things that you should probably consider are how long she'd want to live with you/how long you'd want to have her living with you, how long each "lease" period should last [and yes, you should have a lease, a REAL lease], and whether a trial period might be a good idea. Things that should go into the lease include expectations about cleaning, guests (especially overnight guests), quiet hours, use of common/shared household items. There is probably a guideline somewhere online about this.
posted by sm1tten at 9:41 AM on August 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Quickly, because I'm running late: I do this. I live with a hetero couple who actually just had a baby. We are all pretty introverted, so that helps. I sometimes get pangs of wishing I lived alone, but I can't afford it, and anyway, it's probably good for me to have to interact with someone.

If you can all have boundaries and be respectful it could be a great situation -- I love my housemates. One of them was my friend beforehand, so that helps. The best thing we've done is have a housekeeper come in twice a month, so we never fight about cleanliness.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:53 AM on August 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have done this, and am currently doing this (with roommate 3 and 4). I am you in this scenario. To add to the list, I really would want a second half bath available, since we have had similar morning schedules, and it just makes life nicer. The other key thing that has made me comfortable is that the roommates have had a set end point to their stay, and no one has stayed more than 6 months. I do like the company, since they are all good people, but I like having the house back to me and my husband.
posted by florencetnoa at 10:45 AM on August 3, 2013

I'd say that if you can't talk openly about your fears and concerns about this situation then don't do it.

If you feel like you could sit down with F and really talk about the situation, explain what you'd want the arrangement to look like. I'm sure that she's going to want plenty of time to herself, graduate school can be intense.

If you can discuss everything openly and come to an agreement, do it for the first semester. If, after that, it's not working out, no hard feelings, you're both free to go your own way. If it's working out, great! If not, wish her well in her new place.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:40 PM on August 3, 2013

I'm a big introvert, and I did this in my last house - a good friend needed a place to live after having some roommate trouble. He first was staying in the spare room next to my bedroom, and it was working out alright, so I invited him to stay. What I did do was get my basement fixed up so that he had his own bedroom and bathroom down there. We still shared the living room and kitchen on the main floor, but the upstairs was all mine, and the downstairs all his. This arrangement worked out really well. If you have a finished basement, and can finish off the bathroom so that there is a shower, then it might work for you - I would be cautious of letting her stay in a bedroom that is close to yours - feeling like you need to retreat into a bedroom with the door closed to get some alone time is not going to be comfortable, but having a floor of the house that is just for you and your husband would hopefully be ok. What do you use the finished basement for, and can that use be moved into the bedroom you were thinking of renting her?
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:17 PM on August 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

The first thing that jumped out at me was the shared bathroom situation.

Let's assume F will be having lovers over. That could make for some tricky logicstics, potty-wise.

Think also about worst case scenario -- two people in the house with stomach flu or food poisoning. Shit's gonna get real, real fast.

To me, one of the joys of your own place is not having to tap-dance around these sorts of issues. I would rather cut back on other costs, or work a few more hours/week, to maintain privacy and control over my domain.

Let's also assume your baby makes it's way to the world sooner rather than later. I'm not sure if I were F, and I were a grad student, I'd be willing to deal with the disruption of an infant's schedule in my living environment.
posted by nacho fries at 1:58 PM on August 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

As someone who has lived with good friends multiple times thinking "well this will be cool, i know them really well and know what they're like"

1. No, you don't. Someone as a good friend you hang out with all the time Vs living with someone and dealing with/observing them while they're at home is a COMPLETELY different thing.

2. I ended up being seriously pissed at several close friends this way. A few friendships were pretty much destroyed entirely. There's people i used to hang out with 3 times a week that i barely talk to in passing any more because of this. There's others that it almost became a situation as if i had dated them and broken up, where there actually had to be a LONG cool off period before we could reconnoiter and actually start being friends again. The chances of this making you at the very least temporary not friends are extremely high

3. Isn't part of the point of being an adult and having your own place that you don't have roommates and have to vote on stuff or be involved in weird conflicts when you force your way because it's your space? This seems like a shitty regression to go through, especially since...

4. I think you might be creating a situation that is very unfair to her here if you do this. It's your place, you're a couple. You will always outvote her and always have the nuclear trump card of not just 2 vs 1, but that it's your place and she's living in it. Quite a lot of "the landlord lives in the same residence as me" situations end up being pretty fucked up and power-imbalancey. It's almost a parental power imbalance there. She has quite possibly never been involved in a situation that worked like this and if she agreed to it would be essentially going in to it blind not even knowing what about it would be shitty for her, even if you outlined it to her at first.

This sounds like it would be something that would make you unhappy, and also be a bit of a shit sandwich for her. In addition to that, those are like... additional stressors on a situation in which you could already very plausibly ruin your friendship.

How would you feel about her inviting friends over? Lovers? Etc. This is where i'm getting in to how it's almost parental. Regardless of what you say about her being able to treat it as her home, how much are you really willing to or going to in practice walk the walk and not be awkward about it or make it feel like that's something which is discouraged?

I would have extremely different thoughts about this if your property had like, a basement MIL or a room above the garage with a bathroom or something, but an actual extra bedroom in your house... yea, this is just a weird situation and a crappy situation waiting to happen.
posted by emptythought at 11:40 PM on August 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Consider too where you all will relax, when all three of you are home. A family member just moved in with us, and when I get home from work to find him stretched out on the couch watching ESPN, I think "hey that's MY couch! Get yer ass up! And while you're at it, turn off this nonsense and put on Bridezillas" - but right now, for all intents and purposes, it's his couch too and he has every right to lounge on it.

Is that something you & your spouse can handle?
posted by lyssabee at 10:20 AM on August 4, 2013

Just some anecdata: I am very introverted, and my home is pretty much my sanctuary. My friend Blair was considering letting a friend move in with her and her husband. I told Blair I thought it was a terrible idea--being a married couple is one way of having roommates, but adding someone else to that mix would be entirely different. No walking around naked, no sex wherever/whenever you want it, and you'd probably feel like you were always entertaining. Blair did it anyway, and she was miserable SO SOON after the move. I don't think the friend lasted 3 months in the house! Blair couldn't stand having to use a different bathroom and carry all her toiletries downstairs every morning, tiptoeing around, coming home after a long day and having someone else curled up in front of her tv, etc.

If any of those things sound unpleasant to you, skip it! As much as I'd love some extra money, I think the price I pay to have my home exactly the way I like it is TOTALLY worth it.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 5:49 AM on August 5, 2013

when i moved in with a good friend for six months it worked out surprisingly well. it was important for us to have space- we each had our own bathroom and we had different schedules (i worked M-F 9-5, while he worked afternoons, evenings and some weekends). we were both in long-term relationships so we didn't have a bunch of random people spending the night. he was used to having roommates (and had just kicked out the previous one) but i had lived alone for ten years previously.
posted by noloveforned at 10:00 AM on August 5, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you for all your replies. As it turns out, she came over for dinner yesterday and has found another place to live.
posted by Adridne at 10:24 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

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