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Should you Charge Rent if You’re Housing Someone Additional?

Jeff:
Fun question today, this is from Chris in our homeroom group, and this is the question about, should you charge rent if someone lives with you either to help out or just a college student? Or how much should you charge? How should you do it?

I thought it was a really, really good discussion because when you integrate into a multigenerational family team, one really cool asset to doing this is building up a household, and one way to do that is have someone live with you. I know we’ve had four-ish or five people, I think, live with us over the course of seven years of marriage. Jeremy, you guys have literally a duplex you own that is just to host and have probably thousands of people come through that place. But yeah, this is something to think through.

I love some of the caveats you said, Jeremy, so I’ll let you share those. But what I will say quickly is there’s not one exact answer. For those four or five people, we’ve almost done four or five different situations. So I would say, be really mindful of what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you trying to get help in the home and then you can give rent as a value for that? Are you trying to do ministry and discipleship? Well, then that should be something else. Are you trying to do a mix of both? That should be something else. Are you trying to just have someone be a decent bystander on your family culture that can hopefully be blessed and be a safe place and not lonely? Maybe a college student that just needs an active presence in your life. I’d probably put that one in the ministry discipleship category, then that plays out a certain way.

So a couple of rules that we like to do is we’ve charged rent all across the board. One thing we tend to do is we have never charged the exact market rate. We always, even if it’s just a rental thing and there’s not work exchange or anything, we still will come down a hundred or 200 bucks, usually just because we see that as a ministry thing of people, someone being in our home. And then another one caveat we usually do, and we have done, is you can do your own grocery shopping, you can have your own food, and you need to do that, but if you’re going to join us at dinner, we’ll cover that. We want you to be at our table, we want you to be in relationship with us, so dinners are on us. You don’t have to worry about that. We’d love to provide that every single night, if you’re going to be there.

Those are just the caveats we’ve done. But Jeremy, how have you guys done this? More on the side of exchanging it for work. I love the way you do it with the credit and work backwards, et cetera.

Jeremy:
Yeah. This is a big one for us because I love it when families do this, there are some major landmines. It’s great to have a single live in your house. I always encourage this when you have, especially a larger family, a lot of littles in a season like that, because having somebody there that can watch the kids, that can help with various… We call them household assistants. Oftentimes with nannies, we’ve had a whole podcast about that…

But I would say one of the biggest watch outs is if the reason… A lot of times, when people open up a room in their house, they put out almost a shingle and say to their whole community, the whole world, “We have a room that is available”, and the first person who usually jumps is somebody who actually needs housing. If their number one reason for moving in with you is because they don’t have a place to live, that is a bit of a red flag. Doesn’t mean it’s always bad, but I’m just telling you guys from experience. If that’s the number one reason… And those are usually the most available people, they are looking for a place to live, they want to move out of a situation that’s not super healthy or they don’t like, and so if that’s their number one reason, what I found is over the course of the first month or two, things start to fall apart because your vision may not line up with that.

So what I think about is, first of all, when we have a room available in our house, we stamp it with a vision. “The vision for this room is X. It is”, let’s say, discipleship. So I’m going to find the most teachable person, we’re going to hold this room open for somebody who wants to really learn from our family. Or “This room is for a household assistant. We want the best person we can get, that wants to really do life with our family inside the house and is willing to really help us.” So you have to be very clear about the vision for the room. If you have a room and you say, “This is for somebody who needs housing”, that’s fine. That’s the vision. Make sure that you’re clear about that. It’s really important to have a vision.

Chris’ specific question was, should you charge rent? Well, we do. Let’s say we stamp over a particular room, household assistant. Well, what we’ve learned over time is that if you say to somebody who comes in… They’ll oftentimes say, “Oh, this is great. I’ll help out for 10, 20 hours a week. That’d be great.” Usually over the course of a two or three month period, that 10 or 20 hours will turn into like 10 and then turns into seven and then five. I’ve had a lot of friends who are literally like, “We have somebody who’s living in our house to help our family, and they haven’t spent one hour helping our family this whole week.” And so they’re like, “Do we kick them out? What do we do?”

And so what we tell people is the best way to set this up is to actually have a rent amount, like Jeff said. Maybe a little bit below market rate, so let’s say that’s $300 a month or $400 a month. Then you could have a generous hourly rate, 10, $15 an hour, and you basically say, “I want you to track your hours, you’re helping our family, and it comes off your rent. So if you have a really busy month, you’re a student and you need to really study, fine, you’ll need to pay a little extra rent.” But that incentivizes them to actually work for the house, which over the course of months is hard to do.

The last thing I’ll say, you guys, is it’s often important to actually have an expected end-date for these. For us, it’s three to six months is usually when it starts to feel like, does it make a lot of sense for us to keep doing this? Because at least when you’re specially stamping discipleship as a major reason you’re doing it, then I would say integrating them in an indefinite way into the household, usually it can end really poorly because after about seven or eight months, somebody’s got to decide like, do we kick them out? Is it not working anymore? So having a check-in day or an end-date can really protect that relationship in the event that it does expire and we’re having to have an awkward sort of conversation about that. But those are just some ideas for how to do this, but we really encourage this. Man, if you could figure this out, this is such a blessing, both to that single person and to the family.

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