What to Know Before Renting out a Room in Your House

By Janet Schaaf · June 06, 2024 · 11 minute read

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What to Know Before Renting out a Room in Your House

Renting out a room in your house can be a good source of extra income but generally isn’t something you want to do on a whim. From legal and financial considerations to aesthetics, there are lots of things to think about before offering the space to a potential housemate.

Here are some things to consider before renting out a room in your house.

What Are Some Room Rental Options?

Renting out a room in your house doesn’t have to mean having one long-term renter, although that’s certainly one way to go. Here’s a look at a few different rental options.

Short-term Rental

One option you might consider is offering short-term rentals through a service such as Airbnb or Vrbo. This could be a good option if you live in an in-demand tourist area or have a home in an out-of-the-way locale that might attract someone looking for a place to relax and unwind. Some travelers prefer to stay somewhere that feels more like a home than a hotel.

Recommended: 25 Things to Know When Renting Out an Airbnb

Long-term Rental

Having a housemate who is planning to rent a room in your home for an extended period of time can be one way to have a steady income for that time period. It’s a good idea to have a formal rental agreement that clearly outlines expectations of both parties.

Furnished or Unfurnished Rental

Whether to offer a furnished or unfurnished space will probably be determined by the type of renter you’re looking for. If you live in a college town, prospective renters might not have any furnishings of their own, so will likely be looking for a furnished rental. As with a short-term rental mentioned above, a furnished rental will probably be a given. A potential long-term housemate, though, may have their own furnishings to bring to the space.

What Financial Considerations Are There?

For some people, the sole reason for renting a room in their house is to have some extra income. With income, though, generally come expenses.

Return on Investment

It’s not likely that a spare room is ready for a renter without some updating and perhaps even some repairs. Keeping a record of how much money you spend preparing the space will help you determine if you’re coming out ahead financially. It may take some time to recoup the money you spend before you make a profit. And it’s a good idea to have a record of any ongoing expenses you incur to make sure you’re charging enough rent to offset those costs.

Recommended: What Is Considered a Good Return on Investment?


In most cases, there will be income tax implications, so it’s wise to treat renting a room in your house as a business of sorts. As such, it’s a good idea to consult a tax professional who can answer detailed questions about rental income.

The IRS considers rental of part of your property, such as a spare room, as taxable income. And, like some business expenses, there are expenses related to this type of rental that are tax deductible. Any deductions claimed must be directly related to the portion of the home that is used for rental purposes and is generally calculated as a percentage of the home’s total square footage.

Recommended: 25 Tax Deductions for Freelancers

Are There any Legal Considerations?

It’s wise to look at your state’s landlord-tenant laws as a first step. Some states are more landlord friendly, while other states have a wide range of protections for tenants, putting more limitations on landlords’ rights.

Even if you’re just renting out a room to an acquaintance, you’ll likely still be considered a landlord and must adhere to regulations that apply to your situation. The Fair Housing Act protects potential tenants from discrimination except in limited circumstances. Shared housing is one of those circumstances because the government concluded that sharing one’s personal space has “significant privacy and safety considerations” in a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling.

Neighborhood Restrictions

Aside from governmental legal considerations, it’s a good idea to check your apartment lease or your neighborhood or homeowner’s association, if you have one, as some homeowner’s associations may have regulations about leasing all or part of your home. If you’re renting a home or apartment, your lease may specify whether you’re allowed to sublease or if you’re restricted from doing so.

Your homeowner’s insurance policy may also include a clause related to leasing part of your home. Some companies may allow you to rent a room in your home without any change to your policy, while others may disallow it completely. There’s a chance you may see an increase in your premium, as well. To be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to let your insurance agent know of any change in your home’s occupancy.

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Screening Tenants

Finding the right person to share your personal space may take some time. You likely have certain things you’re looking for in a potential renter along with other things that might be deal-breakers. Maybe you’re looking for a non-smoker who has a solid rental history. A rental application is one tool that can help you find a housemate that fits the bill.

You may want to run a credit check and a background check on any applicants who are truly interested in renting a room in your house. These checks generally have fees associated with them, and it’s a good idea to specify in the rental application who will be responsible for paying for credit and/or background check.

The applicant’s permission is required to run either of these checks and they are entitled to know if the results of either a credit or background check resulted in the denial of their rental application. It’s important to make sure you’re complying with fair housing laws when screening potential tenants and aren’t discriminating against certain applicants.

Rental Agreement

Having a formal, written lease in place will go a long way in protecting both you and your renter. A thorough agreement might include:

•   The leasing period — it’s typical for a lease to be for one year, but if you’re renting a room to college students, you may consider a shorter lease for the duration of the school year. This section might specifically note the move-in and move-out dates.

•   Rent amount — including the due date, how you would like to collect it, and any late fees you might charge.

•   Security deposit — the amount and conditions for returning or withholding it at the end of the lease.

•   Utility costs — are they included in the monthly rent or will the renter be responsible for paying their share of the total bills?

•   Shared spaces — expectations around common areas like the kitchen, living room, and bathroom.

•   Pets — are they allowed or not, as well as policies about pet messes and noise.

•   Cleaning and maintenance — will the renter be responsible for regular house cleaning, including private and common areas, and home maintenance, inside or out?

•   Parking — if there is a parking space available, is it included in the rent or is it a separate charge?

Covering a wide variety of things in a rental agreement can go a long way in avoiding misunderstanding and miscommunication between you and your tenant. Having an attorney review the agreement is a good way to make sure you’re not missing important elements. Lease agreements are legally binding contracts when signed by both parties.

It’s also a good idea to do a walk-through of the room with the tenant before signing the lease and again before they move out. Any damage can be documented (e.g., carpet stains, scratches on woodwork, torn window screen, among other things) so it’s clear that the tenant isn’t responsible for that damage. A final walk-through can be done before the tenant moves out, during which any additional damage can be documented and accounted for.

What Are the Costs of Renting a Room in Your House?

You may encounter costs preparing a room to be rented as well as ongoing expenses related to having another person living in the home.

Preparing the Room for Rental

Safety for you and your tenant are important concerns. You may want to make sure doors and window locks are in good working order. Your tenant will likely want their room to be private, so a keyed lock on their door can go a long way to easing any concerns they might have about living in someone else’s home. Providing a combination safe for the tenant’s valuables might be a nice gesture.

Installing locks on doors to any areas you don’t want your tenant to have access to is another layer of safety you may want to consider.

Fixing loose railings, sticking doors or windows, flooring trip hazards, and doing other home maintenance that could become safety issues is important in making your home and the individual room an attractive rental prospect for tenants.

You may want to make some cosmetic changes, too.

•   Painting the walls a neutral color may allow a prospective tenant to imagine their belongings in the room, instead of bright colors that might be a distraction to them. Using an easy-to-clean paint finish, like satin instead of flat, may also save you some effort after your tenant moves out.

•   If the room is carpeted, you might consider having the carpet cleaned, either professionally or using your own carpet cleaner. If the room is furnished with upholstered furniture, it can also be cleaned. Doing so will help the room look and smell fresh.

•   If you’re renting a furnished room, make sure the furnishings are clean and in good condition. Even used furniture can be presentable.

•   If the tenant will have a private bathroom space, the fixtures should be as modern as possible, but more importantly, clean and working. If the faucet drips, if the bathtub leaks, if the toilet runs — make the repairs before renting the room.

•   Is the bathroom a shared space? You might consider adding some baskets or other types of storage for the tenant’s personal hygiene products. Making a cabinet available for their own use would be nice if there is space to do so.

•   Cleaning, decluttering, and updating other shared spaces such as the living room and kitchen can make your home look more inviting, possibly increasing your chances of finding a renter.

•   You might consider adding some storage space for a tenant’s use. It could be as simple as a stand-alone cabinet or a designated area in a basement or garage. The rental agreement could specify what isn’t allowed to be stored (e.g., no hazardous chemicals) and how much storage space is allotted. A prospective tenant might feel more comfortable storing belongings if the space is able to be secured.

Recommended: 20 Renter-Friendly House Updates

Increased Utility Costs

An extra person living in the house will likely increase utility usage. Costs for gas, electric, water, sewer, and other utilities will probably be more than you typically pay without an extra person in the house. You may want to calculate your average utility costs over the past year to have an idea what an extra person’s use might add to those costs.

Some landlords include the cost of utilities in the cost of rent, while others might require the tenant to cover a percentage of each monthly utility bill. When renting out a room in your house, it may not be convenient to have separate utility connections for a renter.

Covering the Cost of Making Your Room Rental Ready

Depending on how much work needs to be done, getting a room in your house ready for someone to rent could be a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars. You may be able to keep costs down by doing some of the work yourself, but you might need to hire a professional contractor for some tasks you don’t have the skills to tackle or don’t feel comfortable doing on your own. It can help to think of this as an investment with a potential for a return in the form of rental income.

Taking some time to save money for the expense of getting a room in your house rental ready can be a smart choice. It can at least be one way to pay for some basic tasks, while considering other funding sources for more expensive repairs.

If you don’t have cash on hand, you could put all these expenses on one or more credit cards. But because credit cards carry such high interest rates, you might want to avoid racking up a credit card bill you can’t pay down any time soon.

Homeowners who have equity in their homes might consider taking out a home equity loan or home equity line of credit. These secured loans use your house as collateral. The application process can be lengthy and typically requires an appraisal of your home. Also, you risk losing your home if you don’t repay the loan.

Another option is to apply for a personal loan. Personal loans are typically unsecured loans, which means you don’t have to put up any collateral to qualify for them. Many personal loans also have fixed interest rates.

The Takeaway

From your personal comfort level for sharing your space with someone to financial and legal considerations, there are lots of things to consider before deciding to rent out a room in your house. You may need to complete some repairs to make the space safe for a tenant, and there may be some decor updating necessary to interest potential renters. However, you can likely more than make up for these upfront costs in rental income.

Think twice before turning to high-interest credit cards. Consider a SoFi personal loan instead. SoFi offers competitive fixed rates and same-day funding. Checking your rate takes just a minute.

SoFi’s Personal Loan was named NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Personal Loan overall.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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