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5 tips to observe before renting with mates

By George Hadgelias

So you have a spare room, and a friend or family member needs a place to stay so you offer to rent it to them.

Or maybe you’re the renter – and a friend or family member offers you a spare room, and in the process you’ll be keeping them company and helping them out with some cash.

It sounds like a win-win situation. What could possibly go wrong? So much!

Read on to avoid a rental relationship nightmare.

A good idea gone bad

“Don’t do it,” wrote one friend, when I asked how it went when she rented from a family member. “WORST THING I EVER DID”.

While she acknowledges the renting was probably a trigger for something that was going to happen anyway, she remains upset by what happened and concerned that others may make the same mistake she did.

“I think in hindsight it was the start of the end of the relationship,” she says. “The renting led to breaking down of boundaries and then ultimately the breaking of the relationship. We barely speak now.”

So how can you avoid this kind of relationship breakdown if you’re renting from, or to, friends and family?

1. Think before you jump

Heard the old saying: “You don’t know someone until you live with them”?

Anything that annoys you about that person now isn’t going to vanish when you live together. In fact, it’s likely to get worse, and be more amplified and irritating at such close quarters.

So give the situation and the personalities some thought. Ask some questions: What’s at stake here? What could go wrong? Should you do it? Could it ruin your relationship? And what would happen if it did?

2. Sign an agreement

No matter who you rent to, or from, and no matter what the reason, always sign a rental agreement. Yes, it may be awkward to negotiate at first, but the consequences could be far more damaging.

If you get it right from the start, living with friends and family can be a great experience, and one you might repeat. For instance, Leona told us about a couple she knew who were romantically involved deciding to move in together. They’d only known each other a couple of months and it was her apartment, so she had him sign a rental agreement because she didn’t know anything about his living habits.

“They said it was awkward at first but saved any potential resentment or misunderstandings,” Leona says.

It ended up working out really well. So well in fact that several years later the same couple lived with his mother for about eight months, and before they did they again signed an agreement that outlined their living arrangements.

3. Outline the ground rules

Getting everything right at the start is crucial to any good living relationship. Barri rented from a friend-landlord, and says that outlining the ground rules was the key to their successful cohabitation.

“We were living together,” he says. “So it was as much about living with friends as the landlord/tenant relationship.”

Barri recommends sitting down and setting out the ground rules before doing it. Not just the financials, but also any house rules – like who can sleep over or who does the chores.

“Try not to do this in the pub and give each other time to think on it after first talking,” Barri says. “Put it in writing and get a witness.”

4. Respect the financial transaction

Renting from anyone – friend, family, or stranger – is a financial transaction. So treat it like one. Keep money front of mind and don’t avoid discussing it.

“Don’t ask for any favours with rent or bills,” Barri says. “It puts horrible pressure on your friend-landlord as they feel they have to agree and then if you don’t pay, they’re in a horrible position, putting the whole relationship into jeopardy.”

“And, from the tenant side, it’s really important to think about your friend’s financial commitments here,” Barri says. “It’s their mortgage at risk, not yours.”

Always pay rent and bills on time. And create a kitty for day-to-day expenses like household shopping, cleaning, supplies etc.

“Friends or family constantly having to ask for money from each other is just really awkward and unnecessary,” Barri says.

5. Take away the most common friction points

It doesn’t take long living with someone to work out what you’re friction points might be – and once you do, preempting them and taking steps to solve them before they get out of hand can avert a relationship breakdown.

No matter your age, gender, or who you’re living with or renting from, the most common share house complaints (other than money) are about cleanliness and who ate all the food.

“Get rid of those stupid arguments about housework,” Barri says. “If you can afford it, get a cleaner. If you can’t afford it, keep a rota and stick to it no matter what.”

Barri also suggests getting a regular basic shop sorted to be delivered to eliminate those arguments about who finished the milk.

And, finally…

Like any relationship, communication is everything when you’re living with friends or family, so make sure you think it through, talk about it, and have an escape plan in place to enact well before it all goes pear-shaped.

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