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Making House Sharing Work
The traditional housing arrangements – a single person or a family unit living in a rented or owned home – don’t always work for everyone. Alternative arrangements are becoming more popular, due mainly to the economy and to the aging population. The recession forced many young people to move in with their parents or grandparents, or to find roommates to share living expenses. And as people get older and have trouble living independently, they may look for shared living arrangements.
These kinds of alternative housing can benefit everyone involved. However, whether you are a young person moving into your parents’ home or an older person creating a new arrangement, there are some things you need to do to protect your interests and to maximize your likelihood of success.
First, think through the decision carefully. Is it the right decision for you? What other options might you have? What are your basic requirements concerning space, privacy, guests, access, etc?
How well do you know the person or people with whom you are considering living? You should never agree to live with someone you don’t know well. And of course, even with people you do know well, you need to think about potential conflicts and how to defuse them.
If you are opening your home to someone, especially an unrelated person, it probably is best to meet with an expert in family law and talk through any potential issues. And regardless of the arrangement, you should talk to your insurance professional about whether you need to change your property and/or liability coverage or get new coverage.
It is best to identify and iron out potential difficulties before you move in or welcome someone else to your home. Among the issues you should discuss are:
Once you have discussed these concerns and come to an agreement, write it down and have everyone in the household sign it. If new issues arise or if circumstances change, have the same kind of frank discussion.
- What areas are private space? Even in a shared home, there should be a room or rooms where people cannot go without your permission; the exception might be if the owner of the home is concerned that you are doing something dangerous or illegal in your private space.
- What areas are public space, and how can they be used? For example, who decides what TV program will be on in the shared living area? Does everyone have unlimited access to the kitchen, or are there times – such as late at night or early in the morning – when residents are not allowed to cook?
- Who gets to park in the garage or driveway, if there is one, and who gets to store what in storage areas such as the attic or basement?
- What are each person’s responsibilities? Will each person cook for himself or herself, or do you want to cook and eat jointly? If so, you should establish a schedule for cooking, but also for shopping and cleanup. How will you determine who cleans the public rooms and the bathrooms?
- Who pays for what? Unless you own the home, you most likely will pay some kind of rent. But what about other expenses such as utilities, food, home maintenance?
- What are the rules about guests, especially overnight guests? How many guests can you have, and how long can they stay? Similarly, if you want to entertain friends for the evening, what are the rules for that?
- Are pets allowed? What kind, and with what restrictions?
- Who has the ultimate decision-making ability? If one person owns the home and the others are essentially tenants, the owner probably has the final say. But what input do the tenants have about issues that might affect them? And if everyone is a tenant, who takes the lead?
Then focus on making the most of your new living arrangement.