Plan B: Taking on Boarders or Roommates

Plan B: Taking on Boarders or Roommates

When she and her boyfriend bought a house in east Medford two years ago, Sarah Steinberg figured that finding a border for a spare bedroom would be an ideal way to tackle monthly mortgage payments and stay afloat during tough economic times.

Besides, she reasoned, it could be fun to cohabitate with others and share household responsibilities.

With the current economic crunch, more and more homeowners are subletting rooms in their home to ease tight budgets. For Steinberg’s part, however, she got a crash course in the importance of selecting a good roommate.

Case in point? She refers to him as “wiener dog man,” a roommate whose interest in the house intensified when Steinberg and her boyfriend agreed to allow a dog into the home as part of the lease.

The reality? “He peed everywhere,” Steinberg says.

Add to the wiener dog saga that the roommate would not share household items and plastered personal photos on every wall of the home and “wiener dog man” made two previous roommates look like choice picks; one who lounged on the sofa for seven hour video game marathons and another who disappeared for days on end.

“I was seriously thinking we could write a book on roommate horror stories,” she says now, “but we’re a lot more selective now.”

While it’s not uncommon, or unreasonable, to seek a roommate situation to keep living expenses low, doing the necessary legwork to ensure a successful setup is crucial. An extra bedroom or an above-garage apartment may seem like a natural moneymaker, but taking on borders can be unpredictable without laying down ground rules and finding the right tenant.

Consider situation-specific rules necessary for various rental setups; a separate living area might have more flexibility than a shared living area, for example. General expectations should be clearly defined, and included in any advertising, to yield a better selection of possible applicants.

After an initial meeting, complete a background check and credit report for potential tenants. Even the nicest of apartment hunters can have a dark past and credit scores can indicate whether rents have been paid on time. Deposits are not unheard of for rental situations. If an almost-perfect border has some dings on their credit report, increase security deposits to cover damages or potentially unpaid bills.

Personality is important. If they pass a general background check, interview potential borders more than once and discuss extra curricular activities. Do they smoke? Drink? Work nights? Host frequent noisy parties?

Discuss the atmosphere of the home, especially if living areas are shared and outline a typical work week. Discuss the types of food they eat and how certain areas and items, such as pots and pans and a washer and dryer will be shared. Gauge potential borders willingness to be accommodating.

Ashland resident Malena Marvin, who has lived with roommates her entire life, says living habits should be compatible for a peaceful existence.

“It seems like the most important thing is to be compatible with eating habits and food and cleanliness,” Marvin says. “I’ve found those are kind of the bottom lines for living with others - kitchen sink and refrigerator.”

Much like renting an apartment or house, put expectations in writing about the living area. Will pets be permitted? How many and what type and size? Are modifications, such as painting and excess wall hangings, allowed? If it’s not in writing, it’s subject to interpretation.

Perhaps most importantly, Steinberg warns against being too eager.

“Don’t be in too big of a hurry. You want to find someone more interested in finding a quality living situation and not just trying to find some place to move into real quick,” she says.

“We’re being a little more selective these days. We have someone lined up who is a better match for us. We even told her we might lower the rent so she’ll move in. We realize how important it is to find someone we can live with, especially after wiener dog man.”

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