Get a room: House shares and room rentals up in down economy


During the Depression, it was so common for homeowners to share housing costs by renting rooms to strangers that a whole romantic milieu arose from the practice, with teenage (or, in Lolita's case, younger) girls falling for the remote, lonely, mysterious older men who shared a kitchen table with their family. Signs show that practice may be returning. It's green -- more people on your square footage means your ecological footprint lessens! It's friendly -- sharing your lives with others, even just at occasional mealtimes, is a way to break down the barriers that keep our communities stark and lonesome. Best of all, it's financially savvy -- spending to light and heat a 2,000 square-foot home when you really only need 1,200 or so is both expensive and hard to avoid, without the considerable and not easily reversible process of selling your home and buying a new one.

Rooms for rent has been in the news a lot lately, and I know a lot of families here in Portland who choose to offer one or two rooms to a singleton who's willing to help with the mortgage payment, the electric bill, and maybe the gardening or the bike repair. My littler sister has shared a room in a family friend's home for several years, and been through all the ups and downs.

I've discovered, in my experience with house share situations, that it's important to very clearly set expectations ahead of time; whether you will share the food expenses, who can use the kitchen, when; what the rules are about cleaning up after oneself in common areas; how comfortable you feel about leaving the bathroom door unlocked; what exactly is going to be charged for rent and utilities (a flat dollar amount? a percentage?); whether the phone/internet/leftovers are on- or off-limits. What about in your town? Have you rented a room, or are you thinking about it? Any tips to share?