Even Roommates Need A Contract

by admin on October 29, 2013

I am a homeowner who rented a spare bedroom to a single male boarder and his two dogs. Currently, I am working like the dickens to get him to move out, with light at the end of the tunnel. This has been an uncomfortable, and occasionally ugly process.

He’s mid-30’s, works full time, with no drug or alcohol issues. When we met, he was living at a campsite. Yes, I know….red flags. He explained he was having trouble finding a rental due to his two larger-sized dogs. I mentioned having a spare room. I was clear that I didn’t need a roommate financially; that I was looking for someone who would be helpful around the house, with the result of increasing my free time on weekends. In return, I’d charge less than market.

It felt like a good fit; and he, and his dogs, moved to my home sans-contract. Despite my words about helping out, he quickly settled into a routine of doing the bare minimum, and then often only after having to nag him about it. For instance, cleaning up after his dogs in the yard. His attitude after moving in changed markedly as well. The enthusiasm and friendliness melted away to gruff indifference, in which “hi” seemed like a challenge for him. Any request to change his MO was met with defensiveness, and a willingness to argue.

I put up with it for about two months. At that point, he had eroded my goodwill. Besides the small rent I was collecting, there were no benefits to having him around. Besides dealing with his poor attitude, the negatives included his taking over the common spaces and television in the home whenever he was not working. Besides sleeping, he spent no time in his room. I began spending all of my time in my bedroom in order to avoid him….almost as though I was the renter.

At the sixty-ish day mark I no longer looked for tactful ways of saying things, and made it clear I would no longer be accepting rent from him. This was met with anger, which (regretfully) I served back in a healthy portions. I believe I mentioned something about his state of poverty as a middle-aged adult bearing a direct relationship to his attitude problem. When I mentioned his laziness around the house, his reply was something to the effect of, “since you own the home, you should be prepared to do the work necessary to maintain it.”

He’s got a few days left in the rental period, at which point I will give him the option of leaving on his own. If not, I will have no other choice than to file trespassing charges. Uggg, not how I hoped this would turn out.

Besides the obvious advice of not finding renters who live at campsites, what could I have done better to ensure my renter knew my expectations, and would not move in without being prepared to meet them? A weekly “chore list” feels like I am treating an adult as a child, but otherwise I am relying on their word and character, which seems like a crap shoot at best. 1027-13

The “two large dogs” would have been the first red flag for me.  Regardless of how well behaved they are, they will still create more dirt and possible wear and tear on the house.   It’s like you had 2 or 3 roommates, not 1.

It is good to give people a helping hand up but through these experiences we do discover that some people are in their predicaments because of choices they have made and continue to make.

Now you know the value of a rental contract even if it’s for a roommate, particularly for unconventional rental situations where labor is swapped for a room or a reduction in rent.   Having a weekly “chore list” would be childish if it was you, the homeowner, laying out a list of mandatory chores to be done each week as if you were the parent commanding a child to obey.    But having a conversation prior to the move in date to discuss each person’s expectations of the living arrangements and then codifying them in a written rental contract is a wise way for two adults to reach an amicable agreement with no misunderstanding as to what was expected later on.   COmunicate clearly what you expect a renter to contribute to the operation of the house; i.e. prompt cleaning of dirty dishes, bathroom cleaned once a week, if a shared laundry then clothes cleaned and removed from the dryer and laundry area promptly, dog poop cleaned up in the yard weekly (and have some place where this is intended to go…compost pile?  special trash bags and can?), a security deposit for any damage the dogs do to the house (scratches on door jambs is common), etc.

{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

Helen October 29, 2013 at 8:08 am

You were a tenant, but you failed to act like one, and you may find it harder to eject your boarder than you think — as with or without a contract, he could have tenant rights. You should probably talk to an attorney about this one. Refusing to accept rent doesn’t automatically allow you to eject him in many states, and you probably will have to evict him.

If you wanted him to fulfill certain duties in exchange for reduced rent, you should have put it in writing. You should have done a background check, gotten a security deposit, and called his references. You also can’t expect a tenant to not use common areas just because they’re renting. Renting gives them equal access to common areas, and they can spend all their free time in them if they want.

You clearly want a maid or a handyman, not a roommate. So, I would look into hiring occasional help instead of renting out a room and expecting help from your tenant, if I were you.

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Helen October 29, 2013 at 8:09 am

*You were a landlord. Ugh.

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Abby October 29, 2013 at 8:21 am

I hate to break it to you, but I don’t know if it’s going to be simple as, move out or I’ll file trespassing charges. You might get lucky and he just leaves rather than deal with the hassle of legalities, but from what I understand, eviction proceedings, even with no legal contract, can be a nightmare. I knew a girl who was letting her boyfriend stay at her apartment. Only her name was on the lease, and she paid rent with no money from him. Yet, when she broke up with him and asked him to move out, he wouldn’t, and when she called the cops they said he had established residency and she would have to go through eviction proceedings which are complicated. My aunt and uncle are landlords and the eviction proceedings for people who have violated every term of their lease and haven’t paid rent in months can still take over a year.

After hearing a number of tenant horror stories (I deal with commercial and residential real estate leases for work), there is no way I would ever want to be a landlord.

If you tell him, you have X days to move out, then I am packing your stuff up for you, leaving it in the street, and changing the locks, that is technically not legal, even though it is your house and he has no contract with you. You could do it anyways and hope he thinks that it’s easier just to set up camp somewhere else than fight you in court. Most people do.

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Jo October 29, 2013 at 8:28 am

Unfortunately, I have the distinct feeling that this may not be as easy as the homeowner thinks…in today’s world, a renter has a LOT of rights, even if it puts the homeowner at a disadvantage, even if the renter is not paying, even if a lot of things. Then, add to that the fact that winter is coming, and if the person gives a sob story about not having anyplace to go, legally there is very little you can do without a prolonged and costly battle.

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ferretrick October 29, 2013 at 8:28 am

You should most definitely have created a formal lease agreement, particularly to codify what “help around the house” and to put in writing that you were offering lower rent in exchange for this labor.

You need to do research now-not at the end of the rental period, to find out how to go about evicting him legally. Depending on your state, he very likely has tenants rights now and the right to a certain amount of notice before eviction. Based on your description of his circumstances, I don’t think it’s likely he’ll come after you, but you should know a lot more about the laws governing tenancy. Forget trespassing charges if he has tenants rights-he’s not a trespasser. Call your local police department or look online to find out what the steps are to evict someone in your state.

And read up on landlord rights and responsibilities and how to protect yourself before entering into another tenant agreement. Definitely learn how to draw up a legally binding lease agreement.

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Eggcellent October 29, 2013 at 8:35 am

LW, you need to check out landlord-tenant laws in your state. Some states require lengthy eviction notice periods, even for at-will or month-to-month tenants. You may not be able to just file trespassing charges against your tenant without going through the eviction process, which means, unfortunately, you might not be able to get him out of your house any time soon.
In the future, you absolutely need to have a lease agreement signed before letting a tenant move in. It should spell out the amount of rent to be paid, including any chores you expect to be done, the condition you expect the room to be kept in, and the length of the lease. There are places online where you can get help writing a basic lease, but you should consider having one drafted by an attorney.
Please note: I am not a lawyer, and I am not your lawyer. This is just some friendly advice.

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Miss Merlot October 29, 2013 at 8:35 am

OH and I have just bought a flat, and found the most perfect lodger through http://www.spareroom.co.uk – it also has a sister site for the US called http://www.spareroom.com.

As well as enabling you to get a “feel” for your potential new flatmates through their written ads / messaging section, the site has a fantastic advice section subdivided for every section of the rental community, both live-out landlords / live-in landlords and tenants / lodgers (in the UK there is an important legal distinction between the two sets). They also have a downloadable contract which covers pretty much all scenarios, and we also used. It was invaluable for me when researching my rights, and those of the lodger as well.

In the UK, a lodger has no rights when residing with a live-in landlord – not sure what the situation in the States is, but here you would be entitled to change the locks while they were out and request police escort for when the lodger comes home to find that out! The only obligation is to return their stuff again afterwards.

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Elizabeth October 29, 2013 at 8:36 am

You do not make any mention of the two large dogs beyond their owner’s unwillingness to clean up after them in the yard so safe to say that the animals were not the problem. Rather, you focus on this person’s attitude as the problem.

It appears that you had expectations, and this person is lazy (lazy may have contributed to ending up in a campsite, perhaps?). I think you may have been too patient with him; at the first hint of trouble (meaning him not maintaining the bargain), it was time to confront. Lacking immediate change, it was time to ask him to leave. I think you let this go on for too long.

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Shutterbug October 29, 2013 at 8:46 am

I recently had an issue with a family member who we allowed to rent our old home at a significantly reduced rent (to allow them to get back on their feet; they didn’t save a dime) and who abruptly moved out, stiffing us on the rent, but left his personal items in the house for several weeks. Obviously a written contract spelling out all expectations and obligations of the renter is best, however I’m more concerned about the way the OP is handling the eviction. Since this person has established residency in her home, she can’t simply tell him to leave or she will file trespassing charges. According to the attorney we consulted for our situation, she has to give him at least 30 days notice after which, if he refuses to leave still, she can then file formal eviction proceedings. If she still wants to rent a room, I’d also recommend she ask for references and conduct a background check on prospective renters.

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Kate L October 29, 2013 at 8:54 am

Enjoy this one: My most recent roommate (we were co-signed on the lease) moved out in the dead of night, without telling me (she left her keys on the kitchen table, so I thought she was home and sleeping in the next day)! She left her furniture behind, a huge mess (including knocked-over bottle of baby powder in her bathroom), and tried to prevent me from finding her forwarding address. I did track her down and had to threaten a lawsuit to get the rest of the rent. She claimed she shouldn’t have to pay for utilities/rent for the rest of the month (only 2 weeks left on the lease when she pulled this) because- she wasn’t living there!

When I expressed shock that she left so abruptly, her response? “I can move out whenever is convenient for me”. It’s not typical to include move-out conditions (because decent people notify their roommates!), but you might as well put requirements for 24 hours’ notice and forwarding addresses in any lease/roommate contract that you sign.

Oh, and she is a financial analyst for the US federal government. I’m not having another roommate until it’s the man I marry.

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Rap October 29, 2013 at 9:05 am

Honestly, you really should have had a rental agreement, even for a month to month situation, possibly outlining the weekly chore list.

Also, really, having seen the other side of it, having a codified chore list prevents abuse by the landlord as well. I was lucky to not have this happen, but a good friend of mine got a “great deal” on a room in college from a local who “just wanted a little cleaning help” – who really wanted a full time maid.

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Kate L October 29, 2013 at 9:05 am

Also, sorry LW, but I haven’t got much sympathy for you after reading this:

“Besides dealing with his poor attitude, the negatives included his taking over the common spaces… Besides sleeping, he spent no time in his room.

…I believe I mentioned something about his state of poverty as a middle-aged adult bearing a direct relationship to his attitude problem. ”

You can’t rent an actual ‘room’ without access to common facilities, and you can’t demand an adult go into his room (unless you make a schedule, but it would be very difficult to get an adult to agree to that). The only exception I’d make is sleeping in common areas, as that limits *your* ability to use the common areas- my college roommate used to sleep in the living room overnight for no particular reason, so after the 3rd day I had to wake her and politely say “Oh, I think you fell asleep, but I need to make dinner so I didn’t want to startle you awake when I use the appliances”.

I can almost picture a letter from the POV of the renter: “I pay rent and do the basic cleaning up after myself, but my landlord seems to resent me for being in the house! To me, bedrooms are for sleeping, so I read/watch TV in the living room, but my landlord seems to have a problem with that!”

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Saucygirl October 29, 2013 at 9:07 am

Not accepting rent is definitely necessary in order to evict, so you’ve accomplished step one. Here in Arizona you can also give 5 day health and safety notice of eviction. Excessive trash falls into this category. I’m not sure how much dog poo there is or where it’s at, but if you are having trouble getting rid of him, you should look into if you can go this route.

Or there is a 10 day for possible drugs and disturbing peace. You said he gets angry, so again, check into if he what does qualifies as disturbing peace.

And if things unfortunately get nasty when you try to get him to leave, and cops become necessary, in Arizona, we can give tenant a 24 hour notice of eviction for crime violation, which includes being arresting for any reason.

I would make sure though, that he is actually considered a legitimate tenant, since you have no lease. Do you have access to cancelled checks showing he have you the same amount each month? Receipts given back acknowledging you accepted rent? These are things you should be doing, especially if you decide to rent again.

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AthenaC October 29, 2013 at 9:11 am

“It is good to give people a helping hand up but through these experiences we do discover that some people are in their predicaments because of choices they have made and continue to make.”

Is that ever the truth. I once had a (now ex-) boyfriend who watched me work myself almost to the point of insanity, taking 27 credits my last semester in college (9 of those graduate-level, the remaining 18 undergraduate-level) with two kids, just to finish college as soon as possible and to be able to support my family. When I started working I was able to support my family on my first job out of college. It was tight, but doable. Well, the boyfriend decided he was resentful of me because my career was starting and his was not, due to him squandering opportunities that he felt he was too good for. At one point he said to me, “We don’t ALL have the luxury of a salary job!” Right. Because someone just handed to me. Mutual friends tell me that in his mind, his unhappiness and lack of a career is STILL my fault, several years later.

Along the lines of an informal landlord / tenant issue – I had a friend once who had done some time in jail (wrong place, wrong time type of thing), and when he got out I let him stay with me until he could find a job and another place to live. He finally found a job; to his credit, not for lack of trying – it’s one of our catch-22’s that encourages a vicious cycle for people in his position who are trying to rebuild their lives. But the place to live didn’t materialize. He wasn’t even looking. Overall, I didn’t mind having him around, except for the fact that he had no sense of personal property boundaries. What was mine, his, or my husband’s was everyone’s. A legitimate way to be, but not the way I am comfortable living.

Finally, I gave him a deadline – find a place by X date because you are not staying here any more. Again, he didn’t even look for places. True to my word, I kicked him out. In October. In Alaska. I offered him a ride to the local homeless shelter (I’m not completely heartless), but he declined. The guy was so stubborn he walked (he didn’t have a car yet either) several miles away and slept in an abandoned parking garage near his job for a couple nights.

Then he calls my husband – “Don’t tell Athena, but could you give me a ride to go look at a place?” Look what happened – just like magic! Of course my husband gave him a ride, and of course my husband told me he was going to. A couple days later he had a place to sleep that wasn’t outside, and when he got tired of walking to work, he bought a car.

What I have learned about this friend is that he will avail himself of my kindness, but won’t do anything for himself until he hits rock bottom. So I remember him whenever I need to remind myself to not feel guilty about enforcing boundaries and limits to generosity.

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JWH October 29, 2013 at 9:18 am

I know Admin has remarked before that people who say “get a lawyer” aren’t realistic. But in this situation …. OP needs to get a lawyer or at least see if the local landlord-tenant court has a landlord-tenant center (these are typically staffed by law students and volunteer lawyers) who can give OP an idea of the rights and responsibilities of landlord and tenant in this situation. From the description given, I would not be surprised if the tenant has had a few go-rounds in landlord-tenant court before. If so, he can make the eviction process incredibly difficult if OP does not understand the relevant law and court procedures.

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Cat October 29, 2013 at 9:25 am

I would have had a red flag if he, in middle age, had not been able to put aside enough money for a down payment on an inexpensive home-especially given the collapse of the housing market we have been in. If he owned his home, his dogs would not have been an issue. Big red flag.
I have been a landlord only once and I was fortunate to find renters who were related to the neighbor who shared the other half of the duplex. They were thrilled to be next to her; she was happy to have her relatives there; and the man took charge of the lawn, all repairs, and paid rent early every month. After two years, they were ready to buy ,but they had poor credit because they had bailed their kids out of a mess. I hold the mortgage and gave them a three-percent interest rate and took little money over what I paid for the place. This letter makes me very grateful for them.

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Wendy B. October 29, 2013 at 9:25 am

Call a lawyer.
Do it now.
Do not have any more conversations with him about moving out, let your lawyer do that.

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flora October 29, 2013 at 9:27 am

Maybe it’s my own recent experiences, but I’d love to hear things from his side.
My husband and I were the renters, without a contract because our landlady needed extra cash and was hiding the extra income from the government. Did you communicate clearly the extra chores he could do? Did you lay out any rules about where the dogs could or could not go? Also, being a resident he is not obligated to make small talk with you in common areas. Some people just like to come home and relax.

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Magicdomino October 29, 2013 at 9:30 am

Sounds like the dogs were and are the least of the OP’s problems. I’ve known a couple of people who charged little or no rent in return for labor. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but you have to know the potential tenant well enough to know if he or she will do the work. As others have pointed out, you also have to spell out the terms in writing. The expense of running such an unusual contract past a lawyer might well be cheaper than the expense of getting the tenant out.

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Allie October 29, 2013 at 10:17 am

If you do not need the money, don’t have a roommate. Simple as that. At the end of the day, even a contract is still just a piece of paper and the wrong person will make it just as difficult for you to enforce. If you need help around the house, hire someone to do it. Paying a handyman will cost you less in the long-run than being stuck with the wrong roommate. I hope this guy leaves without further difficulty. Be glad he just turned out to be an ungrateful boor. He could have been dangerous.

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shhhh its me October 29, 2013 at 10:56 am

“Help around the house.”……….
It really could mean almost anything , cutting the small lawn once a week to doing all the domestic (cooking ,cleaning , law care , laundry , shopping ,errands ect )and major repairs. I knew someone once who discounted rent on a room and expect the person to do some serious repairs to their car and home(about 15 hour a week and about $1200-2000 a month in market price labor costs )plus the normal cleaning for the $100 a month they were knocking off the rent. So its not just tenants who take advantage of this type of arrangement. Couples who love each other and have been together decades can get into heated arguments about division of household duties and the TV. A spouse may do more then they feel is fair for the sake of the marriage but strangers in barter agreement don’t have that relationship all they are trying to do is “get a fair deal.” Even 2 very reasonable people are very unlikely to agree exactly what “help around the house” means. Bartering is still buying and selling the parties have to agree on the price. A reasonable person may think cutting the lawn and shoveling the snow are worth a $200-400 rent reduction. A different person may think that $50-100 a month is fair for the exact same thing. So get a contract discuss in detail what sharing the household duties means.

I would be very careful about the legal issues , illegal eviction can have serious penalties. You may be liable for theft or damage if you put his belonging outside without a court order, you may be subject to fines dog boarding and moving costs. I’m not giving you legal advise only strongly suggesting you seek legal advise before proceeding.

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Harley Granny October 29, 2013 at 10:57 am

I’ll leave the legal aspect to the others, they know more about that than I do.

But I totally agree with Admin. Put your expectations in writing. Lower rent in exchange for above and beyond normal household duties.

Chalk this one up to lesson learned.

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Green123 October 29, 2013 at 11:20 am

“I was clear that I didn’t need a roommate financially; that I was looking for someone who would be helpful around the house, with the result of increasing my free time on weekends. In return, I’d charge less than market.”

It rather sounds like the OP wanted to hire a live-in maid and instead ended up with a regular guy and his pets.

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The Elf October 29, 2013 at 11:28 am

And this is why I don’t even let my guests stay longer than a few days. It is so easy to establish residency, and then once they’re living there they have rights. Those rights make it devilishly hard to kick them out even with a contract.

I think you are a generous person, but probably a little naive. You should have had a contract, spelling out exactly what chores were expected. That would make it easier to kick him out when he breached it. As it is, you may find yourself in a many-month eviction process, during which he will get surlier and may stop paying rent. I hope he takes the high road and leaves.

Unfortunately, I have a friend like this (but no dogs and didn’t live at a campsite). Whenever he gets into a new place, usually by talking a friend into it or making an informal arrangement, he starts out being so very helpful. Then it tapers off as he becomes entitled. The bit about how the home owner should maintain his home for him? Oh yeah, that’s my friend in spades. At one address, he lost his job and the home owner said that he’d let him stay without rent until he found a job again so long as he did work around the house and yard. It’s amazing how many excuses he had for not doing this or that, and then had the nerve to gripe to me about how home owner (also a friend) wasn’t keeping up his own place!

If he doesn’t leave voluntarily at the end of his rental period, get a lawyer and start eviction. And good luck.

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Ellex October 29, 2013 at 11:41 am

Really, this isn’t an etiquette issue as much as a legal-common-sense issue (the unfortunate thing about legal common sense is that you usually don’t acquire it until you’ve been bit in the butt.) Bad assumptions on the part of the OP. Many of them.
– That you were getting a roommate. Nope. You were renting a room. That makes him a tenant and you a roommate.
– That you didn’t need a contract. This is a big mistake. Any time money changes hands you need a contract.
– That the guy would be happy with reduced rent in exchange for doing chores. His story was the large dogs that were the problem (which I can believe. Trying to find an open apartment that will allow more than 75 pounds of dog can take a while). Having a roommate or a tenant that feels like they’re more of a servant than an equal is enough to make anyone resentful.
– You had no contract. No concrete spelling out of expectations.
– You expected him to stay in his room? You’re clearly not happy feeling like you can’t use the common areas and staying in your room. Why did you think he would be any happier? Did you expect him to keep the dogs cooped up in there with him?
– You had NO CONTRACT. Which meant there were no clear penalties for not meeting the terms of your living arrangement.
– And the assumptions continue with the “move out or I’ll call the police for trespassing.” If you are very lucky he will move out without a fuss and not leave the room he rented in shambles. If you are not lucky then you are the landlord, he is the renter, and he can use renter’s rights to drag this out. Part of this is because you HAD NO CONTRACT.

Look up the responsibilities and eviction processes for landlords in your state NOW. As well as renter’s rights. Cross your fingers that all goes well.

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Library Diva October 29, 2013 at 12:01 pm

From the fact that you didn’t really know him well, to the vagueness of your agreement, to the fact that you had expectations that you didn’t spell out, this situation had trouble written all over it. Like Allie, I’d advise not doing this again. Renting to someone in exchange for chores just doesn’t seem like it will work.

OP, you appear to want more of a house elf than a roommate. A roommate won’t always want to chat. He or she will expect access to common areas, and not to be imprisoned in the bedroom when not doing chores. A roommate will want to be treated like an equal, not a charity case who should be so grateful to have a roof over their head that they’ll make themselves virtually invisible except when doing chores. In short, a roommate will expect the home that he or she is paying for. I agree that this particular roommate should have stepped up more, but were the expectations spelled out clearly, and did you stick to them? It’s hard to meet them when you don’t know what they are, and when they seem to be ever-increasing, you won’t want to meet them.

If you must do this again, I’d suggest making modifications to your space, in addition to what the other posters have proposed. Pick up a second TV and a couch or comfy chair second-hand and set them up in the basement. Or, make your dining room more of a hang-out space. Find some way to have two non-bedroom places to chill out so that one person can’t dominate them both. If the house can’t be reconfigured at all to do this, then definitely don’t do this again. That’s a sign that your space can’t really be shared in this manner.

I’d also suggest that you find someone you don’t look down on. You kept mentioning that he was living on a campsite as if it was a grotesque character flaw. The sad reality is, a lot of Americans are only a couple of wrong turns away from ending up like that. Furthermore, I give the guy credit for not abandoning his dogs. It would have been very easy to do, and it certainly would have made it easier for him to find a home. The fact that you thought less of him and viewed him as a charity case almost certainly fed into your interactions with him.

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Elizabeth October 29, 2013 at 12:22 pm

I hope you are not located in oh-so-liberal Massachusetts. You will have a very difficult time getting this person out of your house in under a year. And yes, that means even if he isn’t paying rent you can’t get him out under today’s laws in Massachusetts. Good luck

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Dee October 29, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Before finalizing an agreement with potential renters a landlord would be well-advised to make a surprise visit to the renters’ current home; if refused, then there’s the red flag. An unexpected visit will tell more about a renter than any conversation or promise ever will. And check the previous references, not the current one, as the current landlord may be so eager to get rid of the renters that he/she will lie about their suitability. I know this is irrelevant in terms of a “campsite renter” but that would be the biggest red flag of all. If a person is homeless they really can’t expect their next rental to be a great one; they have to start somewhere, and to prove themselves they will probably have to settle for something they can’t degrade any further. Not particularly pleasant but it is the proving ground and good renters pass the tests and continually move up. Generosity should be given to those who need it; camping as a rental solution isn’t necessarily because of bad luck. Pick carefully to ensure you aren’t enabling someone who has used others before. Oh, and for the other side of the coin – if OP didn’t want to get things in writing, then how do we know he/she wasn’t seeking to abuse the renter in terms of how much work was expected in exchange for rent? Sounds a bit suspicious to me.

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Calliope October 29, 2013 at 12:44 pm

“I would have had a red flag if he, in middle age, had not been able to put aside enough money for a down payment on an inexpensive home-especially given the collapse of the housing market we have been in.”

This really isn’t fair. There are plenty of responsible, hard-working people who can’t afford to be homeowners. Being poor is not a character flaw.

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gramma dishes October 29, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Am I the only one whose first thought as I was reading this was “Good grief!! How did she know he wasn’t a rapist or mass murderer? Or that his dogs would not turn vicious at any little thing?

This whole situation just all sounds too scary for words.

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livvy17 October 29, 2013 at 2:03 pm

@Green123 – Well, wasn’t she entitled to “a maid” if those services were offered in barter? If it was agreed that he would work in that capacity in order to get cheap rent for himself and his animals, why do you make it sound like she’s being ridiculous?

I agree with those who’ve suggested getting some legal advice – this is more a legal issue than an etiquette one.

However, on the etiquette side of things – As difficult as it may be, whenever money above a paltry amount is involved, get it in writing. Whether it’s how much two families renting a vacation house will each pay, or how the groceries on said trip will be shared/paid, or landlord/rentee, it’s better to have a written understanding (email is fine!) of what each party’s responsibilities are. Sometimes people just forget what they agreed to….and email can serve as a reminder. For those loathesome individuals who will not stand by their promises, such writings become evidence of agreements. An oral contract is still a contract of course, but human memory is notoriously bad. Get it in writing.

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Redblues October 29, 2013 at 2:54 pm

I have an eerily similar story. However, the ‘renter’ was my brother, he had a wife and 3 kids, not 2 dogs, and he didn’t pay any rent, or utilities, or have a job (living with us was supposed to facilitate his and his wife’s job searches), and it was 15 months, not 2. From the beginning, they were offended that I did not provide child care, which I had never promised to do, and which they didn’t need anyway, being unemployed. They haven’t spoken to me since they left, 4 months ago, for a living situation which is funded by the government. In retrospect I have this to say: 1)People are consistent, and it is their consistent behavior that gives them whatever kind of life they have. 2) People do not value what they do not earn. They may enjoy it, they may feel entitled to it and angry when it is taken away, but they do not value it.

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Onlyme October 29, 2013 at 3:17 pm

In the OP’s defense she didn’t have any experience and lesson learned.

Since I’m not sure where the OP is can’t comment on the laws in their area. What I can say is I had the same problem. Rented a room (well actually an ex) stayed in my house up to 2 years after we split. (Yeah don’t ask, I have a pretty high tolerance). He was asked to move, started screaming about having rights and then I handed him what is called a Residential tenancy act in my area. There are provisions for the home owner and “roommate” (or whatever you wnat to call him). Because we shared a place (namely the kitchen and/or bathroom in my area) I could give him notice and ask him to leave immediately. (He could have also left without notice but I didn’t see that happening).

Anyways just make sure you’re full know what your rights are as the homeowner who shares her house.

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Marozia October 29, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Not when you said ‘two large dogs’, but when you said ‘campsite’, that was the red flag. First of all, no home to maintain. Second, no rubbish to take out.
I’m sorry to say, but you got a pig in a poke. Either get a lawyer or change the locks in the house.

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mark October 29, 2013 at 3:52 pm

I always think of the saying “No good deed goes unpunished”.

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Lisa October 29, 2013 at 4:31 pm

OP, you may end up with some legal issues yourself if your house is not zoned as a rental (probably depends where you live). Also, if you are not reporting the rent as income your “tenant” could report you to the IRS.

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LiLi October 29, 2013 at 4:35 pm

It does sound like the OP is a little naive here.

From the roommate etiquette standpoint- He is absolutely expected to clean up after his dog or any of his messes. But between expecting him to stay in his room and “help you clean up” it does sound like you were almost expecting someone to pay you for the privilage of helping to tidying up your house. If money isn’t an issue a roommate isn’t the solution, a maid service is. Or perhaps taking in a clean roommate might help pay for a maid service.

Legally as other have stated, hire a lawyer. You may have put yourself in a bind. Depending on the laws where you live he likely has certain rights as someone who lives in the house.

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Ergala October 29, 2013 at 4:43 pm

@Cat ““I would have had a red flag if he, in middle age, had not been able to put aside enough money for a down payment on an inexpensive home-especially given the collapse of the housing market we have been in.””

That is truly unfair and ignorant. It’s not just the down payment, it can also be the cost of living in the area and bad credit. We were trying to buy a house a year ago and were all good to go when suddenly the paperwork came to a halt. Turned out my husband had been taken to court 8 years prior and we never knew about it. Our old landlord had told the fuel company that we weren’t moving out after all and went into the apartment after we moved out and hiked up the heat. The fuel company didn’t send us a bill and apparently the summons to court was sent to our old address. Because my husband never showed up they got a default judgement in their favor. That flagged him and we had no clue until we tried to buy a house that any of that had even happened. When I called the company they said they had no record of us having an account with them and the court house there said they had disposed of the file after the company failed to respond to a letter the court had sent asking if they wanted to pursue him again due to non-payment. So now we have no proof on either side and a nasty negative mark that automatically disqualifies us from any type of house loan.

OP: It’s a lot more complicated than you think. Trust me. The laws are usually very strongly in favor of the tenant. We are moving in December and I know that our landlord isn’t happy because it’s in the middle of winter but there is nothing he can do about it. Our neighbor has become a neighbor from hell and we have no access to stuff we absolutely need access to. Because of this we have no heat until Thursday, we were not aware we were out of oil and had been told by the neighbor with access that we did indeed have oil. I have two small children I have to worry about in this cold…it has already snowed and the temps are in the 20’s at night now. Also be careful if you go after him for damages, find out what is considered normal wear and tear in your state. Here they can’t really go after you for carpet problems unless it’s stuff like dark stains and cigarette burns. You can’t chase after them for small nail holes in the wall from hanging pictures (we had one place do that to me when I was single). Thankfully we’re leaving our place in better condition than it was when we moved in…(the carpets were filthy and at least 30 years old…wallpaper is peeling near the ceilings…you get the idea). We’ve put in a lot of work to make it nice.

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Valley October 29, 2013 at 4:49 pm

“I would have had a red flag if he, in middle age, had not been able to put aside enough money for a down payment on an inexpensive home-especially given the collapse of the housing market we have been in.”

Really??? An inexpensive home where I live costs around 300k and that’s for a fixer upper. So not being able to scrounge together a measly 60k for a standard 20% down is character flaw?

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jojo October 29, 2013 at 5:07 pm

In one year, I had more than 20 room mates as the result of a student exchange programme. I am also a landlord, renting out two properties.

What I have learnt:

1. Go with your gut. If you have any reservations at all, even just a tiny niggle, don’t live with that person or rent to that person. Even if their background checks are immaculate. Just don’t.
2. EVERYTHING YOU EXPECT MUST BE SPELT OUT IN BIG LETTERS IN THE CONTRACT.
3. Everything must be done legally and above board at every stage.
4. Treat others as you would expect to be treated.
5. Communal areas are for everyone and there should be a cleaning checklist divided equally among all residents. Everyone has a right to use these areas, within the bounds of reason. If you don’t like it, you can always go to your own room.
6. Every item on the itinerary, listing all goods that come with the tenancy ( i.e., bedding, furniture) should be photographed and the pictures dated by the tenant upon moving in and handed to the landlord so the leasee won’t lose their deposit if something is already damaged.
7. A separate fridge and food cupboard for each occupant.
8. All utilities should be divided equally among occupants- that includes significant others who may not be living there but spend all their time there.
9. No loud noise after 10pm. Ever.
10. All animal care and cleaning up after is the responsibility of the owner. Definitely no dangerous or illegal animals.
11. One month deposit, one month in advance. No exceptions.
12. You can’t expect anything from anyone. Anything they do over and above keeping communal areas clean, looking after their pets, keeping the noise down and paying the rent on time is a massive bonus and should be met with appreciation.
13. It’s your tenant’s home too.
14. At some point you will be screwed over, and screwed badly. Suck it up, put it down to experience and move on.

OP sounds really quite patronising and righteous. I’d be irked living with her. I know many fine, kind people who have fallen on hard times and been on the verge of being homeless. To be put down and disrespected for that is massively rude. He may not be a good tenant and he’s obviously rubbed OP up the wrong way but OP’s expectations are sky high. I doubt my super neat, quiet as a mouse workaholic friend who spends all her time working or studying in her room, would match up to OP’s requirements.

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Alie October 29, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Can I also just chime and and say: Absolutely check your city and state laws about evictions. There are different provisions for homeowners renting out a room in some places, but the laws can vary so without knowing what state (and maybe even city) you live in, we can’t tell you what you have to do. The one bit of advice I can say: Absolutely don’t self-help evict (putting his stuff out on the street one day without permission to evict). It’s illegal just about everywhere and you could get in trouble.

If you need legal help and can’t afford a lawyer, talk to your local legal aid groups and law school clinics.

Also, never, ever just let someone move into your house without a written agreement AND giving yourself a refresher course on the landlord tenant laws.

I know it sounds awful and harsh from this perspective, but I do agree with tenant protection laws. A lawyer friend of mine’s client was wrongfully evicted and the guy literally ended up losing all of his things (his stuff was put out on the curb one day, he didn’t know, stuff was stolen within half an hour). And it turned out the guy hadn’t violated his lease at all, the property manager was embezzling checks.

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Alie October 29, 2013 at 5:29 pm

(Also, don’t suddenly change the locks on the house. That is also self-help eviction and also illegal just about everywhere.)

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MsDani313 October 29, 2013 at 5:59 pm

@Dee, if my potential landlord showed up to my house unannounced that is a red flag to me. Showing up to someone’s house uninvited is rude and presumptuous. My refusal to let you in is no way different than my current landlord showing up unannounced

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Another Michelle October 29, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Many years ago, my mother went overseas for a year, and as I was just out of high school, she thought I was not ready to be left to look after myself. Therefore, she asked her best friend’s son and his fiancee to live with me for that period. They were given very low rent and had to help in the garden. There was no contract, but my mother had known the son since his birth (!) so she thought this would work. Never could she have been more wrong. We did everything separately (unless they did a big shop, which never provided me with anything I actually wanted, and then they wanted half the cost) and they pretty much never saw me as we just didn’t click personality-wise. However, the garden became overgrown with weeds and the son decided to plant marijuana! Once he hit his fiancee, he was thrown out (by my eldest sister) but the fiancee wasn’t happy at that arrangement!

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Kate October 29, 2013 at 11:36 pm

OP (and others), it’s a bit unfair to pay out on someone just because they don’t own a home by a certain age. I’m in my mid-20s and my husband is in his early 30s. We’ll be renting for quite a while yet, not because we’re lazy or unemployed (husband works one full time job, I work two part time), but because we’re studying and housing in our area is expensive and very scarce. Also, I’d never expect someone else to move in and do my cleaning because I couldn’t be bothered.

For your sake hopefully he moves out without incident and you learn from this experience to ALWAYS get things in writing.

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Rap October 30, 2013 at 8:56 am

Well, I think the thing that redflagged me was “living in a campsite” as opposed to “not owning a home”. But… yes, I would be learly of the finances of someone who was middle aged and living in a campsite because he couldn’t afford a place to rent, forget about owning.

“Also, I’d never expect someone else to move in and do my cleaning because I couldn’t be bothered. ”

But in fairness, that wasn’t what the OP said or described. The OP was offering the room at a reduced price with the understanding that the tenant would perform chores. While personally I wouldn’t do this sort of agreement, and OP can correct me if I am wrong, it sounds like the tenant couldn’t afford an at market room ie he was getting a place cheap in exchange for chores, as opposed to he was paying full price and also expected to be a maid

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Cat October 30, 2013 at 9:50 am

To those who are convinced that a single man, in middle age, may have been unable to buy a house in this housing market- I speak, as a single woman, from experience.
I worked a very poorly paid position and took on two additional jobs in order to have money to put by. Yes, it was difficult, but I bought my first home at 35 years of age. I had good credit because I didn’t spend money I didn’t have. Even today, I have a cell phone that makes phone calls-that’s it, phone calls and a computer that has been referred to as an “antique”. I drive an inexpensive car and follow a budget.
What I did not do was to sit around watching television and relaxing. I worked a six day week and a fourteen hour day. I didn’t expect an executive position; I worked whatever job I could get.
I don’t buy the notion that, in this country, one is a victim of circumstance and cannot control ones own destiny. Rugged individualism has collapsed into “poor me”.
There was a story some years ago about a black woman who worked as a maid all of her life. She gave something like $150,000 to a non-profit organization. Her secret-she worked for it and saved it.

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shhh October 30, 2013 at 10:56 am

@livvy17

I can’t answer for green but a weekly maid service here costs near to what renting a room would, so expecting lawn care and cleaning even twice a week as en example for a rent reduction for a room would be on the ridiculous side. Fulltime live in maids get paid (more then minimum wage BTW)in addition to room and board.

OP’s expectations may have been reasonable but when the terms are so vague Dogman may have been completely reasonable too. Even “I expect you to clean up once a week and I’ll knock $50-200 a month off the rent.” is vague. Does that mean tidy sweep and vacuum or tiny , sweep , vacuum , laundry , clean out the fridge , range ect and scrub from floor to ceiling

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Dee October 30, 2013 at 12:07 pm

@MsDani313 – by my suggestion of a surprise visit I did mean that the prospective landlord would call first, to request that visit immediately. Having said that, if a prospective renter is told that they are almost approved to rent the new place, and then the landlord shows up on the doorstep to see what condition the home/yard is in, without notice, and the renter refuses … then that certainly would be a red flag. New renters are asking to be trusted first, before proving themselves, and a landlord is quite within rights to expect a bit of proving beforehand. And I speak as a longtime renter, too. I would have been quite happy to have a landlord politely ask to have a cursory look around the “old place”, and it’s a bit rich for the renter to all of a sudden be insisting on privacy when they’ve already trooped through the landlord’s house. Yep, red flag.

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Ergala October 30, 2013 at 12:11 pm

@Dee are you perhaps a landlord up North where I am? We inquired about renting a house and the owner told me I was not allowed to babysit any children (including my nieces…2 of them) there, that we were not allowed to have candles or fry any kind of food (it will ruin the walls), my two cats MUST be declawed before moving in (strictly indoor kitties but one of them is 13 years old…)…oh and that I have to get a job as a waitress at a new place opening up. I tried to explain that I’m a stay at home mother and we are home schooling so I will not be job seeking nor do I need to. Nope she was INSISTING on it. If she had shown up at our door I would have immediately thought she was way too intrusive and not submitted a rental application. Landlords have to give 24 hours notice if they want to enter your apartment/rental unless there is an emergency….this would be a HUGE red flag to me if you just showed up. Would show a lack of consideration, trust and personal boundaries.

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