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If you’ve already made the decision to rent out a room in your house, the first natural inclination is to ask your group of friends or ask them if they know of somebody looking for a place to live.  The rationale being, you know your friends and you trust your friends.  Some of your friends may even have been great college roommates and you hope the trend will continue.

The reality is friends don’t always make the best roommate when you’re the homeowner.  Why is that?  Because when you’re the homeowner, you’re setting up a business arrangement with your friend, which could have disastrous results.

How is it a business arrangement?

When you’re renting a room out, it may seem like all you’re trying to do is ease your monthly budget, but take a step back and look at it.  You’re actually profiting from the arrangement by building equity in to the value of the property.   That’s why the arrangement is more like a relationship between a customer and business owner.

In this arrangement, there can be (usually are) un-happy customers where they express their complaint to the business owner.  When you’re renting out a room, the same situation may arise.  The un-happy customer, your roommate, may complain about an issue to you, the homeowner.  It’s then up to you to decide whether it’s a valid complaint and remedy the issue.  If you, decide not address your roommates because you feel otherwise, it may then lead to arguments.  Imagine having an argument when your customer is your friend. Yeah, not a pretty thought.

For this reason, I post online advertisements looking for roommates that way I can avoid having a business arrangement with friends.  So far, my experience with renting to strangers has been favorable.

Where Trouble Can Start

Let’s take for example you’re renting out your spare room to a friend from college.  Your friend looses their job and doesn’t have any emergency funds saved up, so they fall behind on the rent payment.  Your friend gives you the “give me until next week so I can find another job” line.  You decide to go along, after all, you two are friends and you can’t turn your back on friends.

A few weeks turns into a month, a month turns in to several months and your roommate still has no source of income.   Your anger is at an all time high because your friend is mooching off of you.

You’re stuck.  You can’t ask your friend to leave because, well, it’s your friend and if you did ask your friend to leave, he or she has no place to go.   To add to your frustration and anger, your friend is taking their sweet ass time finding a new job because there’s no pressure of being evicted from, you the homeowner.  As you can see, this is a bad situation to be in.

Conversely, if you had a roommate that you found by means of an online advertisement or flyer, chances are you probably don’t know them and have no emotional attachment to them.  So, if they fail to make the rent payment, you won’t feel bad asking them to leave, allowing you to bring in a paying roommate(assuming if you still want to play the roommate game again).

For some, renting out your spare room to an unfamiliar roommate brings an apprehensive feeling – you’re playing the roulette game.  Where a winning spin brings a reliable trust worthy roommate while a loosing spin garners a troublesome one.

From my experience, I found roommates whom I found through online mediums were respectful of my place and my ground rules.  I have several assumptions why this is so and they are as follow:

  1. The authoritative figure
  2. Easy come and Easy go

I’m going to try my best to explain these assumptions.

The Authoritative Figure

When you were growing up, have you ever had you dad say “not in my house” or something along those lines when you wanted to do something, but it was against his wishes?  He was in charge of the house because he’s the head of the household.  I feel when you’re the homeowner, you have this authoritative figure when you have a roommate outside your circle of friends move in.

When you’re the homeowner, you’re the person in charge, you’re the person that’s going to set expectations on what it’s like living in your house.  If they can’t live within the bounds you set(I’m pretty easy going so my limits are relaxed, but not too lax), then they’re probably not going to be a good fit.

Conversely with friends, you can’t show that authoritative figure even in your own house.  After all, you two are friends because you make mutual agreements to hang out and do stuff together.  That doesn’t necessarily carry over to being roommates when you are the homeowner.

Easy Come, Easy Go

When you made your selection on a roommate, usually, that person feels grateful that you’ve selected them over someone else, thus ending their search for a place to live.

This is usually the carrot hanging in front of them not to piss you off.   As easy as it was to find a roommate for an empty room, it’s just as easy to find another roommate to replace them if things don’t work out.  In short, the last thing on a roommate’s mind is to start trouble and go through the entire process again.  In the past, if my roommates wanted to do something out of the ordinary, say have a friend stay over for the weekend, they would always ask permission first rather than forgiveness.  To this day, I still don’t have a full grasp as to why strangers as roommate are respectful of my personal property?  Is it because I treat my stuff with care or I treat their personal belongings with care.

Like during the weeknights for instance, most of my roommates past and present keep to themselves.  They spend most of their time on their computers and TV’s in their room.  If they’re cooking or doing laundry, they clean up(although not always spic and span, but the effort is there) and try to keep out of one another’s hair.

Take Away

The important thing to keep in mind is that it’s a business arrangement between you and your roommate.  If you feel that you can have this kind of relationship with your friend.  By all means go ahead and live with your friends, just remember how to deal with customers when they’re your friends.

If you feel any hesitation, please trust your instinct and don’t have a friend move in.  Because loosing a friend over money is not worth it in the long run.

Lastly, business owners develop friendships with their customers as a result of their business relationship and like I said before my situation with my roommates is no different.

All my roommates were strangers initially.  Over the course of time, I’ve become friends with some of the people who were renting from me.  I still keep in touch with a few of my past roommates.  I can say that’s it’s been a pleasant experience because of that.

  • Justin October 14, 2010, 1:22 pm


    Like the in-depth analysis on strangers being good investments for the house. You hinted at it a bit at the end of your post ,but what happens when strangers become friends? Are you then in the same position as if a friend had moved in originally? OR is this a different type of friendship/customer relationship that has been established with basic ground rules of “pay your rent or you’re out!?”

    I own a home and 3 of the 4 past roommates have been friends before moving in. I’ve found it helpful to use my network to inquire if anyone they know is looking for a place when I have a vaccancy. The uncertainty of having a roommate that I don’t know and a stranger having the potential of not working out well is my biggest deterrent.

  • Matt February 6, 2017, 4:44 am

    I had exactly the situation you described with a good friend from high school as my roommate shortly after I graduated college. The only difference was we were splitting an apartment neither of us owned. But it was a very stressful and painful experience. Had a stranger done something similar, it would have been much easier to make a clean break.


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