Shared space can be tricky, especially if you or your tenant have never shared housing with somebody not a family member. People who have barracks, military, or even shared college dorm experience have an advantage: they learn to live with a group of unrelated people in a fairly structured environment where rules and expectations are very well defined. For those of you who haven’t had that experience, this post will help establish a basic understanding of what “normal” amounts of privacy is, in an unrelated shared living situation.

Access

Just because you’re renting out part of the house doesn’t mean your tenant, or you, have automatic access to the entire house at any time. There’s going to be space within the house to which you, or your tenant, has exclusive access.

Any space you define as “yours”, particularly your bedroom or your children’s bedrooms, must be off limits to your tenant.  Similarly your tenant’s bedroom is off limits to you except by advance permission or in the very rare case of emergency repairs.

Noise

Humans are not silent.  Expecting your tenant to create no noise whatsoever is unreasonable.  Some noises, such as footsteps or the flushing of toilets, are normal and unavoidable.  Unusual noises such as music, television, cooking noises, loud talking, and shouting are avoidable.  They are also unnecessary during the sleep hours you establish as part of your rental contract.

During the sleep hours, you or your tenant should be able to walk around your rooms or speak in a regular tone of voice without waking each other up.  If that is not possible, either one of you is an extremely light sleeper or your walls are very thin, possibly too thin to make your house a desirable place to rent a room.

Neither you nor your tenant should expect absolute silence at all times.  If one of you is an extremely light sleeper, so that speech at a normal volume wakes you up, you’re not well suited to a shared living situation and should live alone.  Also, outside the designated sleep hours, requests for complete silence are unreasonable and should not be made or granted.  If your tenant goes to bed early or sleeps late and cannot tolerate the sound of a flushing toilet or a spoken conversation in the kitchen or common area, he should not be renting a room.  Most people can tolerate low volume living noises.  Now, if every tenant you have is complaining about normal living noises, you and your home are the common denominators, and odds are your walls are too thin.

There Is No “Ours”

There will be some of your belongings you will permit your tenant to use, such as kitchen utensils.  Permit on-site use only.  Your tenant must never take these belongings outside the house or lend them to other people.  Also, there are entire categories of things you can encourage your tenant to use, but other categories he’s forbidden to touch.  Your tenant should never “borrow” your clothing or your car, for example, but you might be OK with letting him use the TV.

It’s reasonable to take turns buying laundry detergent or toilet paper, but avoid buying large items in conjunction with your tenant.  If you go in together on a big item like a microwave, or if you let your tenant buy the kind of furnishings that are semi-permanent (like drapery or light fixtures) it will most likely create hard feelings when he leaves.

Guests

You may of course have as many guests you want, for as long as you like.  Have overnight guests if you believe it’s appropriate.  But you need not follow the same rules as your tenant, unless you’re claiming that there’s a moral imperative behind your rules, in which case what’s moral for your tenant is moral for you too.

Your tenant’s overnight guests are of two possible types.  They may be romantic interests, or they may be friends or family who need temporary lodging.  If it’s someone from out of town who’s just passing through, that’s one thing, but if this is someone who lives nearby and you welcome him or her as an overnight guest, it will be hard to refuse a second time, or a third, especially if the guest is having an emergency of some kind.

Once you allow your tenant to extend your overnight hospitality as though it were his own, you lose all control over who comes through your door.  Eventually the overnight stays will turn into a weekend stay, or a three-day stay.  Sooner or later, the guest will be in your home more often than not, and you will have what amounts to an extra tenant who pays no rent, uses water and electricity, has no regular chores, and probably eats your food as well.  Your tenant, who doubtlessly trusts his friend or significant other, will not necessarily supervise that guest.  Also, if the guest is a work buddy, friend, or family member, word will eventually spread: your tenant’s place (they will not think of it as “your” home) is a good place to crash.