Roommate best practices?
February 7, 2017 3:28 PM   Subscribe

An opportunity has come up for me to earn some extra income that is not desperately needed, but would be really nice to have. The opportunity comes in the form of a living breathing human roommate, so I need to tread carefully. Please help!

I live in a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom condo that I co-own with my ex-husband. I'll be buying out his share in our upcoming divorce, and money will be tight. I hadn't seriously considered finding a roommate (tenant?) until one of my good friends mentioned that his long-term girlfriend would soon be finishing school and moving to our city. They both have very conservative parents who don't want them living together until they are at least engaged. So his girlfriend has been looking for places to rent. I know that in this city, renting is expensive and the pickings are slim. He's been worried that his girlfriend won't find anything decent.

My friend and I have only had a brief conversation exploring the possibility. His girlfriend hasn't seen my place yet, and she and I have yet to meet each other, so we don't even know if she'd go for it. But I need to ask for advice and give this some more thought before I formally offer her the option of being roomies with me.

Benefits or neutral impacts for me:

~ I'll have a little extra income to help me with the scary new mortgage. I would absolutely NOT consider looking for a random stranger to come live with me, so this is money that I wouldn't otherwise have.

~ I'm hardly ever at home anyway, which makes having so much room to myself seem like even more of a waste. I work long hours, and spend most evenings at the gym, out with friends, or at my boyfriend's place. I stay over at my boyfriend's at least 3-4 times a week, so roomie and I would have plenty of time and space apart. My boyfriend never stays over at my place, because his dog is used to being walked very early in the morning and it just makes more sense for us to be at his place.

~ She is also most likely going to be staying over at my friend's place quite a lot, though I am fine with her having my friend come over too.

~ I also rarely ever cook or use the kitchen, so we won't be fighting over use of the stove, and the fridge is largely empty. When I buy milk or eggs, they always go bad before I can finish them. I honestly wouldn't mind if someone else was eating or drinking my groceries, because I hate throwing wasted food away. And if it's something I really don't want her to touch, we can always have a rule about those items being labeled.

~ My unit is laid out very well for a roommate situation. The second bedroom and bathroom are on the opposite side of the unit from the master bedroom and ensuite bathroom, so noise is a minimal concern. The washer and dryer are in the hallway, so we'll both have easy access to it.

~ I want to help out my friend if I can. I know, getting a roommate is a big deal and maybe it's naive of me to offer this kind of help. But it's not like I'm offering to house someone's crazy drunk uncle who's been living out of a van. And getting a roommate to offset mortgage payments is a normal thing that lots of people do, right?

Benefits for friend and his girlfriend:

~ She'll have a safe home in a new, well-kept building that is close to downtown and all major transit lines.

~ I'm willing to drop my price below market rate due to the aforementioned benefits to me, as there is no opportunity cost of renting my spare room to her.

~ The room is already furnished and pretty much ready to move into. She currently lives a 12 hour drive away and has a small car, so my friend said it would be a big help if she doesn't have to schlep any furniture with her.

~ I don't mind at all if she has my friend come over at any time of day or night, or stay over (which I've seen is a regular point of contention in other roommate situations). If the two of them have friends over, 90% of them are also friends of mine, so that should also be fine.

Definite and potential drawbacks:

~ My friend is the sweetest, most considerate and respectful person. He is responsible, reliable, extremely tidy and quiet, and I would not hesitate to have him as a roommate - but he's not going to be my roomie, SHE is, and while I hope his girlfriend is a reflection of him and he is vouching for her, I really don't have any idea who she is or what she's like to live with. He hasn't even lived with her, so who really knows. I've seen photos of her and she looks like a regular, very well put-together young lady, but again, who really knows.

~ If this goes south, I could lose my friend, and several other mutual friendships would be strained if not ruined.

~ What do I do if they break up and things get weird or even hostile between them?

~ I'm unclear on what type of legal relationship this would be. Would I be the landlord and she the tenant? If needed, would I be able to evict her on the basis of taking back the space for "personal use" or selling the condo?

~ I still need to do the math to figure out how much I'm going to be taxed on the rental income, and how much my home insurance is going to go up for having a roommate. A third party friend who I told about this is convinced that I will have almost nothing to show for all the potential hassle after taxes and additional expenses.

~ I wouldn't be able to do laundry at 2am anymore, but I'm trying to break my habit of staying up way too late anyway. I often put off doing chores until it's the middle of the night, just because I know I can always do it later, and then kick myself when I fall asleep on the couch while there are still wet clothes in the washer.

~ No more privacy to walk around naked whenever I want, wax my legs in the living room while watching Netflix, or otherwise do whatever I want wherever I want in my home.

~ I'll have to keep my bathroom tidy if I ever have friends over, so that they can use my bathroom and not hers.

If we do decide to go ahead with this, when she visits this spring to look at potential rentals, I'll meet her and give her a tour of the place. I can talk to her and get a feel for her personality and discuss what our expectations would be in terms of quiet times, sharing chores, having friends over, having parties, etc.

I'd appreciate your thoughts and advice on all of the above, and anything else I should consider.
posted by keep it under cover to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I see from your profile that you are in Canada. Exactly how it's treated varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but generally speaking, Landlord-Tenant law does not apply to situations where you are residing with the owner of the home.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:43 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

One way around some of this might be to offer it to her temporarily, as a trial run. That way you have the option, after a decided amount of time, to tell her that you really prefer to have your house to yourself. That would also allow her to test it out, and give her a place to live while she searches for other options. It would allow for a graceful end.
posted by Vaike at 3:50 PM on February 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

jacquilynne, thank you for linking that resource. I just checked the fact sheet for my province, and the tenancy legislation doesn't apply where "the tenant shares bathroom or kitchen facilities with the owner."
posted by keep it under cover at 4:00 PM on February 7, 2017

Seconding a trial run. Three months or even six. I have had many roommate experiences and generally I find I can put up with anybody for about six months (obviously I have never had a true nightmare roommate experience). Even if it doesn't work out great, you get to keep the money!

You do want to ask some tough questions about the stuff that does matter to you, and actually listen to her answers (and not just hope that everything will work out). I've actually had, on average, a better experience with random craigslist roommates than friends and friends-of-friends, I suspect because I was more aggressive about my due diligence with the randos. Basically don't go into it thinking of how it could work out, go into it thinking of what you will do if/when it goes wrong. (I'm actually very pro-roommate for you, it just seems like you have a lot of the pros in mind already.)

If she's coming out of a traditional undergrad dorm, big shared house, or moving out of her parents' home for the first time, it's extra-important to lay down ground rules and be really clear about what you want from a roommate experience. Like, it's fine that you don't use the kitchen much, but that probably still doesn't mean you would be down with her leaving pans of food on the stove and leaving for a two-week foreign vacation (true roommate story! sorority sister of a friend! she would also just stone cold drop food on the floor and not pick it up, and once slept on the couch for several days because her bed had too much junk on it).
posted by mskyle at 4:07 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

This sounds totally ideal to me.

Most of the stuff you say you wouldn't be able to do isn't true at all, for either of you, considering how much you'll be at the homes of your respective partners. Obviously you can do laundry and wax your legs in the altogether if nobody else is home.

Obviously, it is up to you two how you want to run time in a shared space, but personally for me I appreciate a phone call (or text) when someone isn't going to be home. Like "Hey I won't be home tonight; may not make it back until Thursday" or "Weekend at Jeff's, see you next week" is both polite and gives both of you notice about when you can expect to (probably) have space to yourselves.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:28 PM on February 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm willing to drop my price below market rate due to the aforementioned benefits to me, as there is no opportunity cost of renting my spare room to her.

There is an opportunity cost -- you've mentioned taxes, insurance (and you might need a tax preparer as well), not being able to wax your legs if the roomie is home, not having to worry about how clean the bathroom is, etc.

I would caution you that if you want to give a discount, make it a fairly small one, no more than $50 off the market rate.

If things did go south and you asked her to move out, or she herself wanted to move out, that's going to be more difficult for her if she has figured out her monthly budget (and perhaps added recurring expenses that aren't easy to drop) based on having to pay far less in rent than she would owe elsewhere.

Also, it's not clear if you have been asked to provide a lower than market rent -- I've found that anytime I've agreed to some sort of rent arrangement, the person who is paying the lower rent doesn't hold up their end of things or ends up not being able to pay the lower then market rate (and deciding I'm a very mean and terrible person for expecting any rent at all). You might be reluctant to evict this person due to their relationship with your friend if that was to happen.

You might also want to get an idea of how tidy they keep their current place. I'm assuming you are directly in contact with this person already. Ideally, do this when you know they are home -- maybe you are on the phone with them and they have mentioned being at home or something like that -- ask for some photos of their place. If someone is a lot more messy than you, or a lot more tidy than you, it's much tougher to get along as roommates.
posted by yohko at 5:47 PM on February 7, 2017 [4 favorites]

Seems totally reasonable. I would charge market rate (or at least close) and put the arrangement in writing, including who is responsible for utilities and maintenance.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:16 PM on February 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Put everything in writing. Put everything in writing. Put everything in writing.

Then, if it goes south (sounds like a good match, but how do you know until you actually live with her) you can point to the lease and say, "You're great, but this isn't working out."
posted by Pearl928 at 6:47 PM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

+1 to put EVERYTHING in writing. I've had a number of craigslist roommates in NYC where I was essentially their landlord (I was the leaseholder, my landlord didn't want to deal with roommates and told me they would only work through me). While all but one of my roommates were delightful people that I'm still in touch with today, that one bad roommate made me SO GLAD that I had an agreement in writing allowing me to terminate our rental agreement (with appropriate notice, of course).

If this person is a reasonable, responsible person, she'll be happy to have things laid out in writing as well. I know I felt that way when I moved into my first place and signed something with my new roommate who already lived in the apartment - it signaled to me that the person I was renting with was on top of her shit and took our agreement seriously.
posted by AlisonM at 6:56 PM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Since my divorce I have rented rooms in various capacities. Initially I rented to another single mom. She lived with me for four years, and towards the end things did get tense, and we struggled and fought, but we were good friends and have worked through our issues. I still see her all the time, and consider her and her boys my extended family. I have also rented rooms to other people, through airbnb and hosted exchange students- each one has it's pluses and minuses, but really the money each month has made each one worth it. Renting a room in your home, while challenging- is a way to have passive income- which is pretty hard to come by nowadays.
posted by momochan at 8:00 PM on February 7, 2017

Yeah, it sounds like you've already done a really good job of the cost-benefit analysis of having this lady as your roommate! I 100% nth the advice to do up a lease in writing and to make it clear from the beginning that this should be approached as a trial short-term arrangement first to make sure it's working out for both of you.

Is there a way you could maybe Skype with your potential future roommate first to try to get to know her a little bit more? Can you arrange to meet up with her for lunch or something when/if she's in town for anything prior to her moving to your city? I think that might go a long way towards assuaging some of your trepidation about a personality clash.

As for the "what if they break up?" question, I think as long as you have a cordial and respectful roommate relationship with her, even if things go south with her and your friend, that shouldn't make too many waves between you two. You may have to tread a little carefully around mentions of your friend, but if you two are living together long enough, you should have enough of an established relationship outside of the context of your friend that it shouldn't be too awfully awkward. (Hopefully.)

Good luck! This sounds like a great opportunity, especially if you two end up clicking really well!
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:15 AM on February 8, 2017

Thank you everyone, I'm not going to mark best answers since every answer was helpful!!
posted by keep it under cover at 12:27 PM on February 10, 2017

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