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This is another post from Tamara aka Mid America Mom, who rents out two of her spare rooms to rooommates.  The unique perspective she brings to the table is that she and her husband decided to rent out their two spare bedrooms while they have two younger children.  
She briefly goes into some insight about their run in with legal requirements for renting out a spare room.

We gained experience in legal issues when we were buying our current home.  Our real estate property listing noted that one of the three bedrooms was “non-conforming”.  Something about the room made it illegal to be called a bedroom by the local building code.  The bedroom in question was in the basement.  It had what you would expect in any bedroom- a door, window, carpet, electrical outlets, and a closet.   The seven foot ceiling and small window high on the wall were suspects.



Our Realtor told us that the window was not an egress window (window that allows safe exit in case of an emergency).  We also had the same windows in the basement family room that we were converting into a master suite. With the intent to rent out the room in the basement, having professionally installed egress windows was our first priority after we closed on the home.  Now we have 4 conforming bedrooms and can rent any of them.



Not knowing the neighbors and wary of visits from city officials, I researched if we were allowed to have two rooms for rent.  Luckily we could review our city’s residential zoning and occupancy rules on-line.  Our property is classified as a single family dwelling according to the zoning map.  Two roomers/boarders and family members are allowed to live in a home under this classification.  How many people can live on a property is outlined in occupancy rules.  Our city uses a calculation based on the above ground “habitable” square footage.  This meant we could not include the square footage for hallways, stairs, bathrooms or the finished basement.  Doing the calculation we found six people can live in our ranch bungalow.  This knowledge was helpful as we had inquiries from a couple and a single mother for only one of our rooms for rent.  We were not able to accommodate them, as we are a family of four with two rooms for rent.



A lease or rental agreement is not required for someone to rent a room.  Many landlords have a verbal agreement with their renters.  Our target market is a female that is moving into our city and needs a short term room, about one to four months.  Typically they do not meet us in person or view the property beforehand.  For everyone’s understanding and peace of mind we require a signed rental agreement and small deposit before move in.  A rental agreement assures them that they have secured a place to stay for at least one month and assures us that someone will be paying rent.  The rental agreement we use is based on a model lease we found on a local municipality’s website.  I was pleased that it cost us nothing.  It was a good base, but we had to make some modifications.  Our first renter happened to be pursuing a degree in law and offered assistance with the agreement, free of charge.  With her help we added specifics about the landlord’s right to enter the room, controlling the heat, and early move out provisions.  These items were too vague in the original model or not covered by state or local law.




We mutually agreed with our first renter to an early move out as she was interning in our city for ten weeks.  However, I wanted a legal form that a landlord would use to give a tenant notice to move.  With some web searching I found a free copy of a “Notice to Quit” form and guidelines as to when to deliver it.


No more legal issues or concerns have come up since then but I suspect they are never far away.  But if they do arise I have confidence that through a simple internet search we will find the information to guide us in the right direction.


Mid America Mom

Creative Commons License photo credit: controlarms


I live in the basement and rent out the two spare rooms as you all know.  I had a hunch that there was a requirement to all rooms having a closet and secondary means to egress.  In my particular situation, because I’m the homeowner, I see living in the basement a non-issue.  I’m taking the risk to live in the basement rather than offering the basement as a habitable room to a renter.  In case anyone is wondering, I did install (2) smoke detectors way back when I started this gig. So all is well there.


  • Bill November 23, 2011, 4:48 pm

    One other legal aspect to look into is whether you fit under any local Innkeepers Act legislation.
    Where I am located if you rent out rooms in your home and have common areas you share with the tenants you are exempt from the local Residential Tenancy laws and fit under a different set of rules.
    The rules in place under our Innkeeper’s Act allow landlords to evict tenants on the spot if they are causing a disturbance or not paying which gives you considerable leverage if problems arise.


  • Mid America Mom November 1, 2013, 4:22 am

    Wanted to give an update!

    We had a visit from our local code enforcement official in the summer. A “neighbor” filed a complaint about us having two roommates in our home. I suspect a local resident, that lives down the block, called it in. We had informed our immediate neighbors when we started back in 2011 and never had any issues.

    The official was professional. It was productive conversation and it showcased some of my research into our city codes. She sent me over to city hall. I am now in possession of the required home occupation permit. I was not aware that this is covered under home occupation rules and require a permit in my city.

    No fine and all is well.


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