Is it common to be charged rent when house-sitting?
August 12, 2022 2:06 PM   Subscribe

As the title asks - I am about to house-sit for a friend’s parents for a month and they are charging me (well below market rate for a house, but still non-trivial) rent. I’ve previously house-sat for others for free, with the understanding that looking after the house, taking mail, feeding pets etc was “payment” in exchange. Is this unusual?

My friend’s parents are going on vacation and were concerned about leaving their house unattended for a whole month. As it happens, I am newly arrived to their city and was looking for temporary accommodations while house hunting myself. Friend introduced us virtually, we met in person to suss each other out/look at the house, all good. At the end of our meeting they asked what a reasonable rent to charge would be, and named a price (well below market for their house, more in line with the sort of studio apartment I would have been looking for). A little flustered, I asked for about 25% off (to account for various inconveniences) and they agreed.

I relayed this to my friend shortly after, and they apologized saying they “don’t know why they’re being weird about this, they certainly don’t need the money.” (Friend’s parents are retired university professors and live in a nice house in a well-to-do part of town). Others I’ve mentioned this to since have also expressed varying amounts of indignation on my behalf, insisting I’m being taken advantage of, etc.

I personally just filed it under “somewhat odd, probably wouldn’t do it myself, will colour my perception of them in the future” but did not think it egregious, especially since I was a second hand connection and they don’t have any particular intensive maintenance tasks or any pets to take care of. Is charging rent in this situation a common thing, or as unusual as my friends/family say it is?
posted by btfreek to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In normal house-sitting circumstances, they would pay you. I do find it egregious for them to charge you in that context.
posted by quadrilaterals at 2:07 PM on August 12, 2022 [85 favorites]

Best answer: It seems like a miscommunication somewhere they think they’re doing you a favor as you look for more permanent housing and you think you are doing a favor by house sitting.

However, if the conversation was started as “we are looking for someone to house sit for us” then you should definitely be paid.
posted by raccoon409 at 2:13 PM on August 12, 2022 [56 favorites]

Agreed that you should not be paying anything for this. If you are doing anything for them, including checking their mail or watering their houseplants, they should be paying you.
posted by donajo at 2:18 PM on August 12, 2022 [7 favorites]

Seems like they are trying to have it both ways: they want a trusted person in the house, an employee, to be present and keep a general eye on things and do a few chores while they are gone; and, they want a tenant so they can make some money.

I can see why you are flustered.

I don't think it's too late to go back to the conversation. I would. I would consider giving them two options:

Explain you were surprised that they asked for rent and you responded without thinking. But instead you'd like to present a few options. Since you needed a place, you'll housesit for free (no money exchanged), with the understanding that you might leave early if you find a permanent place; or, they can pay you and guarantee you'll stay the month.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:20 PM on August 12, 2022 [32 favorites]

Best answer: Also, if your friend thinks their parents are being weird, your friend can tell their parents they are being weird.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:21 PM on August 12, 2022 [52 favorites]

Yep, I'd expect a normal housesitting arrangement to be free and only last a week or two, this does seem off to me, especially given the generational difference; I'd be more likely to expect them to offer it free and maybe see it as a kindness to their kid's friend.

I guess it's maybe more understandable if the first conversation with them was phrased as "btfreek needs somewhere to live for a month" rather than "btfreek might be able to housesit for you". But housesitting standard where I am is definitely free for friends. If they're charging rent, I'd be expecting them to at least completely clear a bedroom for you to put all your own stuff in - if you're just moving into a room that has their stuff sitting about/in drawers etc, that feels more like a housesit (free) than a rent-paying situation.

I did once move into a friend's empty flat while she was overseas and I paid her bills as they came through the door. But that was for 5 months, and basically enabled me to go back to college without paying any rent, and her house was already sitting empty so it gave her the security of it being inhabited and bills administered.
posted by penguin pie at 2:22 PM on August 12, 2022

Best answer: My friend’s parents are going on vacation and were concerned about leaving their house unattended for a whole month.

Were they actually trying or planning to get a house sitter, or were they just "concerned"?

As it happens, I am newly arrived to their city and was looking for temporary accommodations

This makes it seem very possible that they thought they were doing you a favor, which also happened to address a concern of theirs. Even as a favor they could have been more generous and just let their child's friend stay for free, but if they weren't actually planning on getting a sitter I wouldn't find this egregious.
posted by trig at 2:26 PM on August 12, 2022 [19 favorites]

I think this does hinge a bit on the specific arrangements. If they have given you your own space, and you are free to stay out as late as you like, take a weekend trip, have guests over, etc. - the sort of things that you'd do in a rented room in a house - then maybe paying a reduced rent is appropriate. However, if you need to be back by a specific time every night to water the plants, take in the mail, etc., devote significant time to yard maintenance, or you are crashing on the sofa and living out of a suitcase, that's definitely more of a housesitter situation and it should be free or paid.
posted by yuwtze at 2:33 PM on August 12, 2022 [6 favorites]

I find it weird they are trying to charge the the market rate for a studio (hence, the only 'deal' here is that you're getting more space), but I personally wouldn't expect to be paid - you aren't a professional, you are getting a nice place to stay while you apartment-hunt, they are getting a house sitter, everyone wins. But yeah, the expecting rent is a bit odd since they have not advertised this as a sublet situation. That said, if they say, live somewhere like NYC where it's common to sublet out an apartment for just a month, then I suppose it's less shocking. And like trig, it's unclear to me whether they feel like they need a house-sitter or whether they just liked the idea of it when they heard about you.

In any case, I agree you can explain you were caught off-guard and still try to negotiate, and I think getting your friend to help is the way to go.
posted by coffeecat at 2:34 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Anytime I've "house sat" in my kid and teen years, it's actually been pet sitting, house checking, and plant watering. Sometimes staying full time to care for animals. I was always paid for it. (Though not much, but again, teen). I have not done it as an adult, but usually it's paid or the staying there is the exchange.

Seems like there's some lack of clarity as to who wants what and what the balance of favors is.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:34 PM on August 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, I think it's REALLY bizarre to charge a house sitter rent, but I also think it's bizarre to *need* a house sitter if you don't have any pets or other high maintenance needs aside from getting mail and stuff. Sounds like "housesitting" was sort of an unspoken pretense for "subletting" with big fat quotes around both of them on both sides of the table, and no one really saying anything to clarify. Especially your friend, yeesh thanks a lot!

I'd chalk that as a small L, but overall a W for getting a below market sick sublet for a month!
posted by windbox at 2:35 PM on August 12, 2022 [11 favorites]

Not normal. I've house-sat around the world and never paid a dime.
posted by dobbs at 2:42 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

This should be for free - you're doing them a favour. Given their heightened perspective of the "value" of your getting to house sit for them, I'd also be wary of them finding some "damage" to their belongings and asking for compensation for it. People who are well-to-do and do things like charge rent to people housesitting for them tend to also have a high opinion of their stuff.

In comparison, my partner and I went out of town for 2.5 months. As it happened, friends of ours - who work from home, being office workers in a pandemic - were having their kitchen and floors redone during that exact time and had been looking for a place to stay, without much success. We offered to let them stay at our place, since we would feel better about having someone look in on it and they needed a place to stay and had budgeted like $3K for it. Between us and them, we agreed that they'd cover our utilities for the time we were gone, since it was deep winter and would result in increased heating and electricity use, so $500 for 2.5 months, but even then I felt guilty as heck about it, but they *insisted* on paying us so we accepted it. We - established adults with good paying jobs and reasonably nice (smaller older urban) houses - were all getting a good deal out of it and everyone was happy.
posted by urbanlenny at 2:43 PM on August 12, 2022 [4 favorites]

Yeah, this sounds like a major missed communication. I think the most likely scenario is that they weren't planning to have a housesitter (how long is it for?) and they thought they were helping you out. Having said that, if you need temporary place to stay with a much more understandable agreement, consider signing up for TrustedHouseSitters. I have a friend who uses this as a way to visit new places with her family and they also like to take extended stays out of country and so they use it to have someone stay at their home, water the garden and keep an eye on things. In both scenarios, no money changes hands. Almost always there are pets to care for, she has two cats, but she's cared for a variety of animals during her stays so that's definitely a thing to know going in. Caring for the animals and the house and plants is the exchange for a free, furnished place to stay. I've never used the service but may be worth looking into for you. She has another (single, guy) friend who uses it as a way to travel almost full time while working remotely. He supplements with AirBnB stays, short-term rental apartments and camping.
posted by amanda at 2:55 PM on August 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

House sitting is usually a situation where you're helping the house owner out and you either get paid in money or paid in getting free accommodations. I've seen situations where there was a long-term housesit where someone might be asked to pay utilities that they used while still getting free "rent" on the place. Seems like your friend's parents basically saw this as an opportunity to make some money and offer their kid's friend a discount on a place and also have the place looked after. If the word "house sit" wasn't mentioned it's entirely possible this was just an honest miscommunication. If the word "house sit" was mentioned then the parents are unclear on the concept. If it's okay with you, the deal you worked out, I'd leave it as-is but if you feel weird and want to do something about this then bluedaisy's script is excellent.
posted by jessamyn at 3:05 PM on August 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

There's some cognitive dissonance because you and your friends are expecting them to act like generous elders, but they see it more as a "just business" situation.

If they ask you to do anything that wasn't previously discussed, be prepared with "ok, and just so you know, my rate is $--/hour for errands."
posted by dum spiro spero at 3:16 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Reading these responses and thinking a bit has made me realize what's probably going on here - the favour I'm doing is actually for MY FRIEND, whose idea this whole thing was in the first place. (For context: he is in his late 40s, his parents probably mid-late 70s; I'm early 30s.) Coming from him, the whole thing had an air of "middle-aged man anxiously trying to manage affairs for his aging parents" to it, whereas his parents seemed possibly mildly concerned but not overly so about leaving their place empty (as I said, no pets; they also have a gardener for lawn stuff, an alarm system, and trusted neighbours down the street).

Anyway, as I said I'm not overly fussed about it - I'd already budgeted for housing for the month and will probably just take windbox's attitude to treat it more like a great deal for an awesome sublet (nice house with a view, 5-minute walk to the beach!). I appreciated everyone's perspectives about the housesitting/communication aspects and will definitely try to be more direct BEFOREHAND if this sort of situation comes up again. Thanks!
posted by btfreek at 3:33 PM on August 12, 2022 [32 favorites]

My understanding has always been that housesitting is essentially a job and that the payment is free rent. Just to doublecheck, I looked at a few websites that match housesitters to homeowners, and they all specified that the housesitters either get free rent or get paid. Not so much as a hint that a housesitter every pays anything.

But I'm also wondering if they ever used the term "housesitting," rather than their child saying "Btfreek needs a place to stay. Would that be OK?"
posted by FencingGal at 3:35 PM on August 12, 2022 [5 favorites]

What will happen if they decide to cut their vacation short because of illness, say, or complications of travel, or because of political problems or natural disaster at their proposed destination?

I imagine they’ll expect to come back to their own house and perhaps even displace you, but if you’re renting the house they would have no right to do that.

I think you should call them back and raise that issue, and perhaps they will rethink the whole idea of charging you rent. They’re really setting themselves for trouble by asking you to pay.
posted by jamjam at 3:45 PM on August 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

It strikes me as a bit unusual but not out of the realm of reason. If it were me I would treat it like I was keeping an eye on the place in exchange for cheap rent.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:46 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Your read on the situation in your update makes sense - I wouldn't try to negotiate with them, sounds like they thought they were offering you a sublet deal (which, I mean, they are), and weren't actually committed to finding a house sitter.
posted by coffeecat at 5:02 PM on August 12, 2022 [5 favorites]

My friend ended up in a somewhat similar situation once where there was a language barrier. You didn't mention that, but just wanted to bring it up.
posted by mermaidcafe at 5:54 PM on August 12, 2022

Nth-ing that while you can accept the situation as-is as far as paying rent, you do need to circle back and get it crystal clear (in writing) what happens if they return early or otherwise try to force you out before the end of the month. If you're paying rent, you're a tenant, and in most jurisdictions they aren't allowed to just unilaterally remove you immediately. (In some jurisdictions they might not be allowed to rent to you at all without a license or various other things, so that could be a whole other thing.)
posted by tubedogg at 1:04 AM on August 13, 2022

No, it is nowhere near common, to my knowlwdge. I have never heard of it. Either a person is a tenant or a house sitter. If you are housesitting for them, they should pay you.
posted by nfub at 1:56 PM on August 13, 2022

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