Filling an extra room in your house or apartment is very much like online dating. First, you need a way to hook the applicant with pretty photos.
Then you need to screen and vet this person to make sure you’re compatible.
This includes examining their personal and professional profiles:
- Is this person someone you can get along with?
- Can you see yourself living with this person?
- What does their credit look like?
- Have they had a steady job or career for most of their adult life?
Renting a Room vs. Subletting
Keep in mind that if you’re renting, the process of renting out a room is called subletting, and you need to have your landlord’s permission in order to do this. Also, the laws for subletting vs. renting a room in your own home are different. The most important difference is that you’re considered a landlord if you have your own home and rent a room to a tenant.
When you sublet a room, the person who ends up living with you will be considered your roommate, instead of a landlord-tenant relationship. But regardless, the process of renting a room is similar in both instances, whether you own or rent.
Live in a Condo? Check the HOA
The rules might be totally different if you live in a condo, where the homeowner’s association may prohibit additional occupants that aren’t family members. Also, each city and town have different zoning laws that may require a license or permit in order to rent to someone who isn’t a relative.
My Sublet Experience
A number of years ago, I found myself in need of a roommate after my ex and I separated. He moved out of our lovely duplex apartment in the super hipster Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. At the time, my ex and I were renting, so as many couples do, we split the rent.
After he moved out, I decided to keep the two-bedroom duplex because it was in such a cool area of town, plus I really did not want to have to search for a new place to live. After a few months went by, I decided to take on a roommate to fill the second room, which was cozy and smaller than the one I was in.
Because the place was charming, I thought I would be able to rent it out pretty quickly. It was just a matter of making sure I wasn’t violating anything major on my rental agreement and of course, I wanted to find the right person.
Finding the right person to move into your house is crucial, but attracting that person using the right channels online is the first step to finding this person.
So did I find the right person in my search? I did, actually! But there were a number of things I did in order to attract this person, and steps I took to make sure I did as much of the legwork ahead of time, to avoid problems.
These are 22 tips you need to know if you’re interested in renting out a room in your house.
1. Make Sure the Space Is Rentable
First and foremost, you need to make sure the proper heating, plumbing and electric systems are in working order and in place before you rent. For example, a municipal law in San Francisco requires the property owner to provide heating that’s capable of maintaining a room temperature of at least 68 degrees.
Not following this rule could result in a fine or even legal action from the tenant.
Make sure to follow the tenant laws that govern your city and state.
2. If You’re a Renter, Ask for Permission from Your Landlord
(If you don’t rent, skip to the third tip.)
Even if your landlord is a nameless, faceless entity, you need to get permission to sublet.
Whoever moves into your home now shares the space and responsibility of paying rent to the landlord which means his/her name needs to be on the lease. It’s also to cover yourself in the event that your future roommate ends up damaging the property or breaks any rules.
In my case, my landlord was really lenient and when I emailed him to explain my situation, he said it was fine as long as she signed the lease and had a steady job.
3. Get the Space Ready for a Mini-Photoshoot
I can’t stress enough how important photos are. It’s what captures and draws in potential renters. Think of it as the hook and if you don’t take the best photos you’ll lose out on potential renters.
The idea is to get as many interested applicants as possible so you have options and a pool of people to choose from. You don’t want to pick someone who put in an application simply because he/she was the only interested person.
Awesome photos make this possible, so make sure to follow the steps below.
Clear Out Clutter
First thing to do is clear out all clutter in the room and make sure to take some clean photos that showcase the best parts of the room. You can also crop out some of the clutter if you know how to use the basics of a photo editing tool.
Ensure Bright Lighting
Does the sun shine brightly at a certain hour? If so, snap the photos during that time, and don’t forget to open the curtains and blinds to showcase the best possible lighting for your images.
If the room doesn’t get a lot of sun or if it’s a gloomy day, turn on the lights and make sure it’s bright.
Accentuate the Best Parts of the Room
Is there a lovely garden right outside the windows? Does it have a reading nook, unique loft area or private deck?
Take lots of photos of this and make sure to include it in the description.
Blurry Photos Should Be Trashed Immediately
Honestly, there’s nothing worse than blurry images! Also, make sure the photos are a good size, pixel-wise. If you’re unsure, photos that are at least 750 pixels are best.
I’ve seen photos posted by landlords that are so small it’s hard to tell what it looks like.
After taking photos of the room, take additional pictures of the rest of the house such as common areas, shared bathrooms, living room, kitchen, and outdoor space.
4. Use Online Photo Editing Tools to Perfect Your Photos
I’d recommend using a few easy online editing tools that can make your photos look better.
When editing, use the following basics to help you:
- Does the photo need to be cropped? (i.e. Is there clutter at the foot of the bed?)
- Is the photo crooked? If so, straighten it.
- Is the photo slightly dark? If so, you can brighten it slightly.
I personally use Pixlr, which an easy tool that’s completely free to use and helps you easily crop, straighten, and brighten photos.
5. Don’t Use Filters
It’s one thing to create a flattering Instagram filter for a photo of you and your friends or that last trip to the mountains, but it’s another to do it for a room that someone will be living in.
You want to portray the room in the most honest and realistic way possible, so there’s no need to use filters.
6. Photos of the Local Neighborhood May Also Help
Sometimes landlords like to highlight the best parts of the neighborhood, especially if it’s in a cool area or location where the walkability score is high.
If you live in a highly desirable area, include photos of the local things to do and see around the area, such as the bakery, coffee shop, clothing shops, restaurants, and parks.
7. Consider Taking Video of the Room
A video can be very helpful when showing potential applicants what the room looks like. It doesn’t have to be long, you can just show what the room, closet, and bathroom looks like.
If the room currently has furniture in it but will come unfurnished, just note that in the image description. I think it’s always helpful to see what the room will look like with some furniture in it.
Use Craigslist, Trulia, or Zillow and see what rooms in your area are renting for.
8. Rent out the Master for More Money
To save some money and get more for the room, consider renting out the master bedroom or basement area if you have one, since it may have an attached bathroom and would offer more space as well.
Just make sure the basement is fully equipped with the proper plumbing, electricity, and heating.
More space and an attached bathroom are great ways to entice renters since it’s more private. If there’s a separate entrance and a parking space, even better.
9. What to Add to the Cost of the Room
When deciding on how much the rent will be, think about extra costs to include in the monthly amount. Consider common areas like the bathroom and kitchen and what household products you want included, since you’ll both be using them.
When my roommate signed the lease, I had her pay an extra $20 to cover things like toilet paper, laundry detergent, paper towels, and garbage bags.
Doing it this way made me feel like I wasn’t the mom who needed to provide these things to her kid. I think it also gave my roommate peace of mind that she was contributing and not using my things all the time.
I’ve also heard of people pitching in each month for maid service, to keep the place spick and span. This also takes the pressure off of one person to constantly clean — especially if the other person is messier.
10. The Best Sites to Post Your Ad
Remember when the only go-to site for finding tenants or roommates was Craigslist?
Technology and apps have opened up a lot of options for finding someone to rent out your room. Many of these sites pride themselves in helping you screen roommates and screen out shady and scammy internet bots and weirdos.
There are a number of sites you can use to find a roommate, including Roomates.com, RoomieMatch, and Roomi.
PadMapper.com lets potential applicants find your place by location and has a useful map to navigate through in order to narrow down your search to a certain neighborhood or street.
When you sign up, it gives you an option to sublet or rent out a room.
RoomieMatch.com promises to filter out all “scums, scams, and red flags” when looking for a roommate.
In a way, they’re the anti-Craigslist, as they offer help you navigate through the sometimes anonymous and shadier side of the web. They use human touches throughout the process and make it easier for you to screen potential roommates.
They offer a free search and a paid version for $19.95 for the whole year.
Roommates.com is another similar site that helps you find the perfect roommate.
You can create a profile for free but you need to pay in order to access the account and communicate with potential roommates. They have a three-day trial for $5.99 and a 30-day account for $19.99 or 60-day package for $29.99.
It’s important to note that messaging with others on the site is a bit complicated because the other party must also have a paid account to read your messages.
Roomi’s website is beautifully laid out in an Airbnb-ish way and is easy to navigate through. The site helps you screen potential roommates and is designed to help you quickly find someone to live with.
In addition to finding a roommate, you can also temporarily list a room for rent.
It costs $2.99 for three days and $9.99 for 10 days.
Roomster.com is another site that lets you post a room, an entire place, look for a roommate or tenant.
Applicants search based on neighborhood, city or ZIP. You need a Facebook account In order to sign up. This is to make sure you’re a real person and not a bot.
After logging in, it gives you the option to choose a room or list a room.
Hotpads.com doesn’t focus primarily on roommates like the other sites, but it’s a large platform to post your room for potential renters. The site allows users to search by location and their app is also very easy to use.
Do friends of friends increase the trust factor when finding a roommate? I say yes.
It’s free to post, and communication is super easy with Facebook Messenger.
User friendly and well-designed site Lovely brings renters and homeowners together. The interface is similar to HotPads, as it allows you applicants to filter searches by using a map.
I actually ended up using Craigslist to find my roommate. I definitely met a few iffy people along the way too. But, it could work if you are super clear with your description and what you’re looking for.
I leave it as a last resort because there are other sites that have easier platforms to work with, such as Roomi, HotPads, and Roomster.
11. Target Local Colleges
Since it’s just a room and not a whole unit, you might want to target sites that cater to college students or check out the local college or university’s housing agency or online college newspaper.
Another good way to spread the word is to ask your network or friends and family if they know a single person who is looking for a room to rent. Post it on Facebook.
12. What About Airbnb?
I wanted to add Airbnb to the list because it might be worth considering as an alternative to finding a full-time tenant or roommate. Airbnb would probably work best if you reside in a big city, where there are lots of tourists and business people traveling through for work.
If you’re a renter, you’d need your landlord’s permission.
There are pros and cons to using Airbnb so consider the following to see if it matches your needs.
Pros of Using Airbnb
- You may make more money with Airbnb charging a per-night fee for the room
- You wouldn’t have a permanent person living in the room
- It could be fun to meet different kinds of people (or this could also be a con, depending on your social preferences)
Cons of Using Airbnb
- You’d have to keep the room and common areas really clean
- There’s the risk that no one books the room and it sits empty
- A constant stream of strangers in your home (again, this could be good or bad, depending on your personality and lifestyle)
13. What to Look for in a Roommate or Tenant
During my search for a roommate, I met all kinds of characters. At first i was open to living with a male roommate but after meeting a few oddballs who also happened to be men, I decided to ditch that idea and focus only on females only.
Because I haven’t had a roommate since college, I wanted to be clear about my expectations so there would be zero room for misunderstandings, which leaves the door wide open for a tense situation down the road.
Write down what kind of tenant you’re looking for and include non-negotiables. Cohabitating with a nightmare tenant will be stressful and so not worth it! So it’s important to be upfront and detailed in the description.
This is what mine looked like:
- Has a full-time, steady job
- Doesn’t have pets
- Doesn’t do drugs or have substance problems
- Is busy with her own life/schedule and doesn’t work from home
I also had a very strict no-sleepover policy. Meaning, my roommate shouldn’t bring any sleepover pals, period. Quiet time started at 9 p.m. because I worked East Coast hours and needed to be up very early.
Overall, I hoped this person would lead a stable life.
14. What to Ask When You Screen
Ask about employment, including current and past positions.
How long has the applicant worked at their current and previous jobs? Look for inconsistencies because their income is crucial to stability and you getting those rent checks on time.
I like to ask questions that pertain to future goals and aspirations, as it applies to the living situation. Are they only looking for a temporary place to live, or is this a long-term situation? Do they travel a lot for work?
It’s up to you to gauge as much as you can about the applicant, but the main thing to keep in mind is how well you think you can get along with this person and the everyday living together situation.
While you blatantly don’t want to discriminate, you also want to use your gut and if something is telling you there is something “off” about this person, move on to the next applicant.
If the person is a student, ask for proof of college enrollment.
15. If You’re Extra Cautious Try a Video Call First
Just like online dating, some people prefer to be cautious when deciding whether to meet in person. Think of it as a double layer of screening.
This is a good option if the applicant lives out of state and can’t make it to your place in person until a later time. Google Hangouts to great first step in getting to “meet” him/her.
16. Ask for References and Actually Call
I asked for previous references and contact information for former landlords.
My roommate had lived at home prior to moving to Los Angeles for work, but gave me the number of a few work colleagues and managers she had worked with.
I made sure to call and everyone vouched for the fact that she was a very smart, kind, and respectful person and would make a great roommate.
17. If You’re Short on Time Schedule an Open House
If your place is a highly desirable area and has a high walkability score, consider saving some time with one-off roommate viewings and just schedule one day for everyone to come by, meet you and see the space.
Of course doing it this way means you might not be able to have a ton of one-on-one conversations with everyone, but it saves you the hassle of coordinating a time for them to come over and meet you and see the room.
18. How to Run a Credit Check
When I told my landlord I was looking for a roommate to fill the second room, he didn’t require a credit check, but instead asked for proof of employment. He also asked that I “use my best judgement” when filling the room. However, I’d consider my landlord a rare case and would strongly suggest you run a credit check if you’re interested in an applicant.
First, you need an application from them and obtain their permission to run the credit check. The application should include:
- Full name
- Birth date
- Social Security number
- Previous two addresses
- Contact information for previous landlords
Then you need to collect a fee to run the report from the potential tenant.
Note: Sometimes prospective tenants will bring their own recent copy of their credit report to save some money on the fee. It’s really up to the landlord to decide if they want to pull their own report, but oftentimes landlords prefer to do their own credit pull to include the background check.
You can use any of the big credit bureaus to run the credit check. They offer easy ways for landlords to run credit checks easily.
Some of the costs are unclear, but most the tenant is responsible for paying the fee, so if anything just collect this fee from them ahead of time.
- Experian: No fee for landlords to run a credit check for tenants
- TransUnion: Offers a resident screening but it’s unclear how much it costs. They also offer SmartMove, to help landlords and tenants streamline the credit check process and it’s free for both parties to use. The landlord needs to invite the renter.
- Equifax: Offers resident and tenant screening
- Cozy: Offers full screening reports on tenants, including a credit report and background checks. A background check and credit report cost $24.99 each, and a full screening report is $39.99 (to be paid by the potential tenant).
19. What to Look for After You Pull the Report
Look for the following negative marks:
- Accounts in collections
- Past due or discharged accounts
If you see some negative marks, this may be a red flag, as their financial history may indicate how they behave in the future. However, use your common sense and if you see one negative mark on a late payment.
For example, just ask the applicant about it and find out what happened. Perhaps it was a rare instance that won’t happen again.
If you see a bankruptcy that happened a handful of years ago, it doesn’t always mean that you should automatically dismiss this person. The biggest reason people declare bankruptcy is because of the inability to pay back expensive medical bills.
Sometimes, life happens, and people can’t predict the certainty of income and sudden debt. It may benefit you to simply talk to the person and ask what happened.
20. Tailor the Rental Agreement to Include Your Rules
You can easily find a template for a rental agreement, but make sure to tailor it to include all of your house rules and expectations as well.
Pinterest offers a number of free rental agreements that you can download for free.
Here’s what to include in the rental agreement:
- Amount of monthly rent
- Length of the lease
- When it’s due
- Whether utilities are included — which ones and how much
- Expectations for things like parking, common areas, laundry
- Expectations for living together as it pertains to routines — cleaning the kitchen, common areas, noise level, overnight guests.
- Rules for pets (if you accept them)
If you’re renting, ask your landlord to provide you with a lease agreement with the new tenant’s name on it.
Make sure to provide the new roommate or tenant with a copy of the lease agreement.
21. Take a Deposit of a Full Month’s Rent With the Lease
Before they move in, make sure you take the deposit and let them know that if anything is damaged, it would come out of those funds.
22. Learn About Tenant Laws in Your State
It would make sense for you to brush up on the basics of tenant laws in your state. Understand what rights your future tenant will have and what rights you will have as landlord, especially if this is your first time renting out a room.
Landlordology has a map-based laws and regulations page that may be helpful in your research.
Finding a tenant or roommate to occupy a room in your house may seem simple, but getting your ducks in a row beforehand is crucial to your success.
As with anything that has a lot of moving parts, your due diligence is important and being prepared will help minimize problems and clear up any misunderstandings beforehand.
In my case, I was able to find a really great roommate who lived with me for six months. She understood the rules and because she was busy with her job, friends, and weekend activities, I hardly ever saw her anyway.
She knew when to pay rent and we both knew what the expectations were from the other person. This set us up for smooth sailing and a drama-free living situation.
What has your experience been with renting out a room?