Room for Rent
June 19, 2007 3:12 PM   Subscribe

Renting a room out: what do I need to know?

(These previous questions got close but didn't quite give me everything I need)

I own my home, and am going to post Craigslist for a roommate. I'm planning on doing a month-to-month (no commitment) lease

1. Should I require an "application"? Run credit checks? If so, how? Where should I get forms for such?

2. Do I have to report rent money as income on my taxes?

3. How do I protect myself against getting ripped off? Is it sufficient to ask for a security deposit plus first & last months' rent? If the roommate, say, skipped town with all my DVDs, computers and musical equipment, would my homeowner's insurance generally cover it?

Any other advice or recommendations would be greatly appreciated. I'm just outside of Seattle, if there's any local resources I should know about.
posted by puddleglum to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've rented rooms and been a room renter. Mostly it's turned out fine. Howver, even when it has not turned out fine it hans't been "roommate skipped town and took all my stuff" There is a certain amount of trust involved in sharing your space with people, make sure you're ready for that sort of sharing. On to your questions.

1. I've never done the credit check thing but I've often been in college town situations where people were students and the fact that they were matriculated was evidence enough of loans or ability to make rent. I think the best thing to do is CALL REFERENCES and make sure you're not just calling the last/current reference who might have a vested interest in getting that person out of their home. You can ask for work/school references in addition to housing, but in many cases it's overkill.

2. Depends. Here in Vermont I'm not sure if you're supposed to report it BUT a renter can claim some amount of their rent off their taxes if the landlord.lady also declares it. This is a state by state question but generally yeah you're supposed to report it but no not everyone does.

3. You choose someone good. I know this sounds sort of overly simplistic but you're in the pole position and you can be picky. If you're hanging on to someone's deposit, they're very very unlikely to stiff you for something. In my personal experience this sort of scenario never happens, you're more likely to have them accidentally break something or skip out on the last months' worth of bills. You also want to have a clear understanding of as many eventualities as you can [i.e. "rent is due by the fifth of the month or else _________" and make sure you have consequences that aren't just "or else I'll be really steamed!"]

Here is some other advice

1. Figure out if the room is going to be one set price or rent + utils and try to outline about how much those extras will cost for your prospective renters. At my last place we shared not only phone/internet/heat/electric/plowing/water but also a cleaning person who came once a month which was a godsend.
2. Outline what spaces are theirs, what spaces are shared and what spaces are yours. Think about where they will park, store a bike, store a grill, whatever. How much can they change the room? Is it furnished?
3. Think about your pecadillos in advance. Is the place chilly in the winter? Do you not want them to have partners staying over every night? Do you have noise concerns? Do you share cooking? Cleaning? Will them staying up late bother you? Do you have pets with requirements? Do you not want to share a phone? Is it okay if they don't share the phone? What if they want cable?
4. Tell them to get renter's insurance! I'm not 100% sure whether an owner-occupied place qualifies (check), but you want t make sure that they understand what you are and are not liable. Insist [or provide] surge protectors and other safety and comfort type equipment.
5. Basically the more guidelines you can hammer out in advance the better. The first conversation with a prospective renter seems fairly informal but in many cases it's the time when you have the "this is what you get, this is what I'm offering" conversation. In my one situation where a rental deal went bad [someone who could not keep quiet at night when we were sleeping after many attempts to agree on terms etc] that coversation and our ad where we called the place "quiet" was what we pointed to when we had the "this isn't working out" discussion.
6. even if you're going month to month, you'll still want some terms. When they'd have to give you notice, under what circumstances they get their deposits back, etc. You may want to call the tenant's union in your area to get more of an idea on this, I don't know too much about what the laws are.

If a roommate situation works out well, it can be great for all involved and often a fair amount of planning in advance can help that all go smoothly.
posted by jessamyn at 4:33 PM on June 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

I've had housemates for most of my adult life and have never been horribly ripped off. The worst that has happened is somebody skipped out and left me with a month's worth of house bills.

I rely primarily on a phone screen plus a lengthy face-to-face conversation, and secondarily on references, ideally from a mutual friend.

I don't see the point of credit checks. I rely on gut checks instead. I've learned to pay a lot of attention to those subliminal red flags that pop up. Do I feel relaxed and expansive around them, or do I feel tense and uncomfortable? Would I choose to spend time with them under other circumstances, or would I avoid them? They don't have to be your best bud, but you don't want to cringe when you see them coming, either.

If I have any serious concerns that they would steal my stuff, I wouldn't rent to them.

In addition to all the typical bones of contention (Jessamyn mentions a bunch of them, to which I would add drug, alcohol, and TV use), I look for successful prior shared housing experience (I don't want to have to potty-train them) and evidence of a friendship network and life interests (so they're not lying on my sofa 24/7).

When I decide to have them in the house, I take the first month's rent plus a deposit equal to a month's rent. They get whatever's left of back that after final bills and cleaning.

As for the income thing: when I checked that out, I was told that you can handle it either as income, or as shared household expenses. The latter is easier and cheaper, so that's how I do it. I'll be interested to hear any arguments for doing it the other way.
posted by ottereroticist at 5:50 PM on June 19, 2007

I'm the resident manager of an apartment complex that rents rooms. Here's my perspective on this.

1. I don't process rental applications, but the people that do find a credit check invaluable. In addition to getting a feel for the potential tenant in person, you get a feel for how they are with money. Sometimes really friendly, really compatible people have left a trail of crazy debt in their wake. After all, people who are looking to rent a room are often doing so to save money. A portion of those people looking to save money are doing so because they don't have any.

2. The rent doesn't go in my pocket, so I can't speak to this, but I would suggest talking to an accountant about this.

3. You protect yourself any way you can, but preferably by asking for an application fee (about 50 bucks - this covers the cost of a credit check), and a security deposit, typically a month's rent. Many people will decline paying the last month's rent and tell you to keep the deposit instead, but now you have nothing to cover damage they may have done to the place. Also, as jessamyn says, getting someone good helps.

Here's the deal with "a room for rent": where I live, and where I manage, this attracts a very large quantity of eccentrics and drunks. Some of them may be very experienced with their rights as tenants, and know how very hard it is for you to get them out once you let them in.

It is extremely important that you feel comfortable setting down rules and enforcing them. The rental company I work for has a pretty extensive list of rules that accompany a lease, and believe me, people try to take advantage of them or work around them all the time. Tenants that seemed pretty cool on the day they moved in will, over the course of a week, stop taking out their trash, or pull all the batteries from the smoke detectors, or overflow the toilet and not do anything about it. If you don't have the stomach to tell someone they're out of line, why they're out of line, and toss a fifty dollar penalty at them (or whatever consequence you might set), don't go forward with this.

You have the advantage over a rental company in that you only have one vacancy, and not, say, ten. Use that advantage.
posted by rocketman at 6:05 PM on June 19, 2007

Definitely get a security deposit. You might feel like a jerk but all the stories about this start out with "they were the nicest seeming people," etc.
posted by salvia at 6:29 PM on June 19, 2007

I've rented out rooms for years. I say start with short lets - you can put up with anything for 3 months - and advertise to particular groups rather than craiglist. If you are in a big city you can easily pick up people visiting: try to find out where the noticeboards for visiting staff are at the local universities, theatres, hospitals and so on - these all tend to have people who come to a city for a month or two. Long enough to want a base rather than a hotel, short enough to get out of your hair soon.

I think getting lodgers from workplace noticeboards is much much safer than relying on t'internet. Do you have friends/colleagues who can put the word out? Friends of friends come with their own problems, but those problems don't tend to be of the running-off-with-someone's dvds variety.

And yeah, be upfront about what you want from them - here are a few things you might want to consider:


Short lets might well appreciate an "all-in" rate, based upon average bills. Otherwise be up-front about their share (are they paying half? a third? Gas? Water? Electric? Taxes? Phone? Internet?).

The Room

The rooms I let out I painted (landlady white, nobody cares that much as long as it's fresh and clean) each year or so, or between tenants if they stayed longer. To begin with I used to say "paint it what you like, I'll pay" to those who wanted different, but after a terrible purple+green experience I changed that rule sharpish. Once someone is in the room that is their room - you knock, and you don't tell them to clean it until they move out.

The dreaded chores

What are they expected to do chore-wise with respect to the area outside of their room? If you like to clean the bathroom each day, say so. If you're a once-every-2-weeks person, ditto. You'd be surprised how many people are actually once-every-6-months and get shirty once you ask them to do stuff: it's much much easier to say up-front what your expectations are and how they should try to fit in with them. Likewise, ask them how they like to keep it - if they want to clean more often than you, consider upping your own game as hey it'll be their house too. If you and they are up for it one way to get round all these problems is to share the cost of a cleaner.
posted by handee at 4:39 AM on June 20, 2007

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