For your convenience, some of the most common questions about being a live-in landlord are answered right here.
Q: What’s with the pronouns? Sometimes you say “he”, or sometimes it’s “she”.
A: I consider “landlord” to be a gender neutral term. But it’s awfully cumbersome to say “he or she” or “his or her” all the time. So for any given posting, I just pick a gender and stick with it for the duration of that posting.
Q: Isn’t it dangerous for me to rent out a room, given that I am (single/ male/ young/ old/ gay/ Buddhist/ pick-an-adjective)?
A: No. All you’re doing is opening up a special kind of home-based business. You’re providing a service: lodging. If it wouldn’t be dangerous for you to provide other kinds of services out of your home, such as tutoring, counseling, or piano lessons, then it’s not dangerous to provide lodging.
The only things that would make it dangerous for you to rent out a room would be if you’re an idiot, or a doormat. If you’re unwilling to advertise intelligently and screen your tenants, or if you subscribe to the rather stupid notion that you’re morally obligated to rent to anybody who crosses your path regardless of whether they can afford the room or are a good fit under your roof, you’re very unlikely to be able to provide a good experience to your tenant, or to have a good experience as a landlord. Also, if you’re unwilling or unable to lead, you will fail as a landlord.
Q: What is the difference between a lease and a rental agreement?
A: Both a lease and a rental agreement are contracts that lock the landlord and the tenant into specific responsibilities. However, a rental agreement rolls over from one month to the next and can be modified or terminated by either side, subject to the time limits and rules of the state in which you live. By contrast, a lease has a term, or a specific number of months during which it is in effect. Until the lease term expires, the tenant has the right to occupy the space and the landlord has the right to collect rent from the tenant if the space is not rented to somebody else. The only person who can cancel a lease is a judge. So a rental agreement can be regarded as a less formal, short term lease.
Q: Why does a rental agreement have to be in writing? Isn’t a handshake agreement good enough?
A: Having an agreement written down allows you, and your tenant, to understand and agree on exactly what the deal is. It helps prevent misunderstandings, and when your tenant’s needs change (and they often do), it creates a starting point from which you can negotiate. A written agreement helps you to establish boundaries and expectations, and also the consequences of not following them. Also, if for some reason the tenancy goes badly, having a written agreement helps you to ensure you stay within the law while you proceed with an eviction.
Q: What is the Uniform Owner Resident Relations Act?
A: The Uniform Owner Resident Relations Act is a United States federal law that has been modified or ratified to suit each state. It establishes the responsibilities that landlords and tenants have to one another. It sets up minimum notice periods for entering your tenant’s dwelling or changing the terms of a rental agreement, and it specifies how damage deposits must be handled. It spells out the circumstances under which you must provide a rent abatement, and it forbids the landlord from engaging in abusive behaviors such as locking a tenant out or confiscating property.
Q: Isn’t it illegal to discriminate against tenants?
First of all, not all kinds of discrimination are illegal. Landlords discriminate all day long when they set their rent prices and their house rules. There’s no law on the books that requires you to accept a tenant who smokes, who has pets, who can’t show evidence of having enough money to pay for the room, or who exposes you to risk due to some aspect of his or her conduct. Showing up to the interview drunk or on drugs, or being unable to pass a basic criminal background check, are crash and burn offenses no matter where a person is trying to rent. It’s very hard for, say, a convicted pedophile to find a place to live.
Second, the law acknowledges that there’s a huge difference between signing someone up for an apartment in a building you manage (even if you happen to also live there) and sharing a kitchen and living room with that person. When you’re sharing living space, it’s legal to state gender preferences in your advertisements, although the terms of service of the Web site where you advertise may forbid it.
If you’re simply uncomfortable renting to a particular person, try to take the time to figure out why. If it boils down to a simple issue of appearance, religion, ethnicity, marital status, or anything else, I hope that you would still rent to that person, but the law doesn’t actually say that you have to, since you’re not in the business of renting out space (you’re not a real estate agent acting in an official capacity), and since the space in question is also part of your own home. So, even if you were a complete bigot (and I hope you’re not), when you’re in your own home it’s still legal to be as bigoted as you wanna be. I don’t recommend being obvious about it.