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How to Avoid a Nightmare When Renting Out a Room in Your House

Young female placing a sign that reads

We’ve all seen them – scary movies of someone renting out a room in their home to a perfect stranger only to have it turn into a nightmare. While these are mostly Hollywood scenarios to the extreme, the fact is, the risk is there as more and more struggling homeowners are opting to rent out a room in order to meet their mortgage, utility bills, and keep their homeowners insurance and auto insurance current.

Unfortunately, allowing someone you may not know into your home could come with consequences – from having some of your stuff stolen to safety concerns. That’s why, before you rent that spare bedroom to just anyone, take a few precautions and follow the simple steps below to ensure your experience doesn’t become one you’d rather forget.

  1. Take inventory of your available space

In other words, does the room you intend to rent out have access to a private bathroom and entry? It may be necessary for you to move out of your master bedroom, if it’s the only room that has a separate entry and bathroom. Your privacy or theirs should not be taken lightly. Think about that before you let someone into your space.

  1. Kitchen privileges

Decide in advance – before you do anything – if your new boarder will have kitchen privileges. This isn’t something you can address later on or things could

become unpleasant should the person help themselves to your left over pizza without asking or use your pots and pans to cook foul-smelling exotic dishes and leave everything unwashed in the sink.

  1. What are local rents going for?

Research how much similar rooms or apartments are going for in your area to make sure you’re not asking too much or too little. Sites such as are helpful in setting a fair rent based on local rates and your zip code.

  1. Place an ad and be specific

When placing an ad in your local newspaper or Craigslist, be specific. Include pictures, if possible, and make sure you’re clear about access to the bathroom, kitchen, backyard or pool. Also, be precise about the type of tenant you’re looking for. If you prefer a male, female, college student or retiree – say so in the ad.

Furthermore, unless you’re a smoker yourself, mention your preference for a non-smoker, if the smell of tobacco offends you.

  1. Conduct a personal interview of potential tenants

As soon as you start getting calls about your ad, set up appointments to interview each applicant. Don’t make any snap judgments by renting out the room to the first person you see, regardless of how much you seem to have in common. Remember, people are on their best behavior when interviewing for a job or a room to rent.

While most people aren’t thieves, vandals or possess violent tendencies – you can’t be assured they won’t display an interest in your valuables or a need for “anger management” at the outset. Protect yourself by requesting references, proof of employment or student and immigration status. Call former landlords as well as anyone they may have rented a room from in the past. It’s in your best interest.

  1. Check their credit and background

If someone seems like the perfect fit, don’t just rely on gut instinct. Do a credit and background check on them. You can use a variety of available sites that offer the service, including Equifax Identity Report at a cost of about $10. Better to be safe than sorry, so don’t feel guilty about looking into your future boarder’s past.

  1. Don’t wait to set boundaries and ground rules

Make sure to be upfront with boundaries and ground rules, once you’ve selected a boarder you feel comfortable with and feel you can trust. Let them know immediately what is and isn’t expected of them. It’s best to create a rental agreement that both parties will sign, detailing the living arrangements and rules to be abided by.

This should include set privileges, access to common areas such as the kitchen and other rooms in the house, as well as the backyard, pool and hot tub, if applicable. In addition, inform them of when the rent is due and if they will be responsible for a portion of the utilities and food.

In the end, you want to find a boarder who won’t put you, your family, your home and your homeowners insurance at risk.

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